Sunday, July 22, 2007

What's in a name?

The whole thing started last Saturday. Writer and blogger Rick Perlstein was a guest on Mike Feder's show on Sirius Left. While at the Sirius Satellite Radio studios, he discovered something that disturbed him.

Sirius has a variety of talk channels. And two in particular dedicated almost solely to political talk, one for each side. The one for liberal talk is called 'Sirius Left'. And it's right-wing counterpart is dubbed 'Sirius Patriot'. So, Perlstein was a bit miffed that Sirius allegedly was trying to decide who is a patriot and who isn't. He was offended by it, and issued a call to arms for the slighted to voice their displeasure to the satellite radio provider. He kept at it for all of last week, demanding his readers and other web activists voice their displeasure. And of course, this little meme has spread across the internet.

All fine and dandy, but what Perlstein didn't mention, or probably notice prior to his appearance, is that 'Sirius Patriot' is not new. It's been around for years. I knew about it three years ago. And Sirius didn't even come up with the name. In 2000, Salem Communications acquired several AM radio stations in Minneapolis-St. Paul. One of these was WWTC, a long-dying AM station that had gone through many formats and owners over the previous two decades. Salem's other two stations were already airing the company's stock Christian-oriented programming, so the decision was made to test out their new format. This one was made up of wall-to-wall conservotalk, mostly from a roster of hosts from their own syndicated network. Guys like Michael Medved, Dennis Prager and Hugh Hewitt. When WWTC signed on their new format in March 2001, the station and format were dubbed "The Patriot". This is the only Salem talk station I've found thus far that carries this moniker. Since then, they've used simpler branding and uniform logos.

Now, when "1280 The Patriot" signed on, I just scratched my head. My first reaction was that only a right-winger could come up with a name so absurd. Was I offended? Not really. Sure, it's a bit crass, but it's just a radio station after all. Though, the Patriot moniker seemed as equal on the absurd scale as "Fair and balanced". In short, I just didn't think much of it, particularly for a station that was and still is a ratings bottom feeder in the Twin Cities market.

Flash forward to a few years later, as Sirius was looking to change around their political channels. They wanted to rename their 'Left' and 'Right' to 'Liberty' and 'Patriot'. As it turns out, Sirius Right got the name change, and Sirius Left remained.

The outcry over this name game prompted Sirius Left morning host Alex Bennett to chime in, explaining what the whole hubbub is about. He posted his response on his own site, as well as his unofficial Yahoo! Group. And the way he sees it, it's much ado about nothing, and a bit foolish. Here's part of his response:

About two years ago, SIRIUS decided to re-image its talk channels; the programmers were thinking of changing the names of the political stations to SIRIUS Liberty (Left) and SIRIUS Patriot (Right). At the last minute, at my urging and that of others, we kept the name SIRIUS Left, since it was a better name than any other to describe what we were doing. "Patriot" made it through. At that point, I complained that the "Patriot" name was offensive. I even went as far as to argue against it on the air, but the change had already happened and since no one followed me into the breach, the name stuck.

My question is simple: where were all of you when it mattered? The chances are that those pillorying SIRIUS didn't subscribe to the service then and probably don't have it now. Rather, this was brought to light by a blogger by the name of Rick Perlstein, who says that this whole matter came to him while he was a guest of SIRIUS on the Mike Feder Show. One has to assume that Mr. Perlstein doesn't have SIRIUS either, otherwise he would have known about all of this long ago.

To me, this is at best a tempest in a tea pot. SIRIUS listeners are a community, a family if you will, and they have barely mentioned the question. In fact, when this whole thing was brought up to the listeners of program, they thought it to be trivial at best. I suppose the big question is, aren't there more important things to send letters about? This is why I've come to hate liberals and their cowardly little persona, "the Progressive" - sitting down for five minutes to send a letter makes you actually believe you are an activist. To those offended: Have guts, proudly call yourselves Leftists; start living it rather than chasing after causes that are trivial and banal.

I have worked for SIRIUS for 3 1/2 years now. They hired me at a time when no one else would because I was a Leftist. Sure, I was offered jobs if I would change my political stripe, but I couldn't do that and still look at myself in the mirror. SIRIUS has never told me what to say or what to think. They have encouraged me to speak my piece and have never interfered in the content of the program. They were doing this channel before Air America ever existed and they were - and are - doing it better. No one told them to do it, they just felt the channel had to exist somewhere and if not in this new method of distribution, then where? SIRIUS also proudly airs "OutQ," a GLBT channel which is the only radio station of its kind in the country. This is the freest I have ever been, and going back to any other type of corporate radio would be impossible for me to consider.

You are attacking the good guys when you should be savaging the bad. That is what makes me mad. That is what prompted me to write this. One blogger wrote something, and then without questioning if he even knew what he was talking about, thousands took to protesting this trivial matter. The world is melting, people are dying, whole populations are being displaced, the United States has become the bad guy, people starve, 50 million people go without healthcare, genocide runs rampant - and all people do is complain about the name of a radio station on a service they don't even listen to? George Bush would be proud.

The truth is, Bennett is right. Is this really worth the hassle? Especially since there's bigger fish to fry in our society? Bennett has never been one to mince words, and perhaps that's what makes him so good at what he does. And he's been around too long to read talking points faxes, opting to say whatever he wants. Needless to say, this whole controversy is a non-starter. I felt that earlier this week when the Perlstein thing started to gather steam.

Never mind the name game. If people are so adamant about left vs. right programming on Sirius, then they're focusing their energies in the wrong direction. Chew on this: As stated earlier, Sirius has two main political commentary channels: Sirius Left features exclusive hosts such as Bennett, Feder, and Lynn Samuels, as well as Ed Schultz, Bill Press, Stephanie Miller, Thom Hartmann and Mike Malloy. Sirius Patriot consists of Bill Bennett, G. Gordon Liddy, Michael Reagan, Sirius' own Mike Church, and an NRA-oriented nightly show, among others.

But that's not where political talk ends on Sirius. The likelihood of finding more conservative opinion there is much greater than finding liberal talk. Granted, there's a lot more conservotalk than left-leaning talk in the marketplace. And Sirius seems to represent this. For news/talk programming, Sirius offers up the following:

ABC News & Talk: This channel consists mostly of shows syndicated by ABC Radio Networks. Sean Hannity, Larry Elder and Mark Levin, all notorious conservatives, are prominent here.

FOX News has two offerings available on Sirius. One is a straight feed of the Noise Channel (ch. 131). The other is 'FOX News Talk', consisting of the radio shows of most of FOX's usual gang of idiots. Bill O'Reilly, John Gibson and Brian Kilmeade are all here, with programming from the Noise Channel filling in the gaps.

CNN Headline News is the straight feed from that network. Low-rated conservative favorite Glen Beck gets lots of facetime here. Do they still do the headlines thing?

Rounding out the Sirius news/talk offerings, they've got CNN, CNBC, BBC World Service, World Radio Network, two NPR channels, Bloomberg Business Radio, and other channels devoted to comedy, female-oriented talk and entertainment news.

And then there's Sirius OutQ, which is LGBT-themed programming. Outside of the outspoken Michelangelo Signorile and a news program, it's mostly lifestyle chat, entertainment gossip and music programming.

Of course, Howard Stern looms large on Sirius. He's got two channels devoted to his show, his old WXRK/CBS archives, shows about the show and other hosts such as Bubba The Love Sponge. Stern occasionally gets political (he's basically a social libertarian who doesn't like Bush), but the raunch factor, especially on satellite radio, likely turns many off. But Stern is the 800lb. gorilla at Sirius, and he is especially tight with Sirius boss Mel Karmazin. Lots of money tied up in him as well.

So basically, actual liberal talk can be found only on one channel, Sirius Left. See where I'm going with this?

Granted, Sirius was a pioneer in liberal talk on the airwaves. Sirius Left was around long before Air America, when they were airing the feed from the now-defunct I.E. America network, home to Hartmann, Malloy, Peter Werbe and others. Small independent shows, such as The Young Turks, also aired for several years here. They also had an Air America-dedicated channel, prior to that network signing an exclusive deal with XM (think they got burned on that deal?). But as of now, it's Sirius Left and that's about it. And no, I don't consider NPR to be 'liberal talk'. It's a bit more general interest, arts programming and in-depth news.

I have long thought that it would be a good idea for Sirius to roll out a second liberal talk channel. Since Air America left, they've been limited to only one. And it's been a struggle to shoehorn all that talk in one space. As a result, the shows of Miller and Ed are time-delayed. Hartmann is only on for one hour live, to make room for Lynn Samuels. The rest of his show is bumped into the overnight hours. A second channel would help clean some of that up. So, given that Air America is not an option (though Hartmann has long had his own deal with Sirius), how would they go about fleshing out two channels of liberal talk? Here's an idea:

  • Put the JRN stuff (Press, Miller and Schultz) together live on one channel.
  • Seek out other content providers. One obvious place would be Head-On Radio Network, which programs a rather healthy roster of live talk from 10AM-11PM weekdays. carries several proprietary shows as well, including Tony Trupiano.
  • Add non-commercial Pacifica-style shows such as "Democracy Now" and "Free Speech Radio News".
  • Independently-syndicated shows from the likes of Doug Basham and Peter B. Collins (formerly with Sirius Left).
  • Doug Stephan's six-hour morning show, formerly on Sirius Left (hey, why not?)
  • Move Samuels' show out of the way of Schultz and Hartmann. Perhaps a 3PM start time.

    See? That would be enough to flesh out two channels. Call the second one Sirius Liberty. Problem solved. And it gives progressive radio fans, who have been rather frustrated with Sirius' somewhat meager progressive talk options, another reason to subscribe.

    As for the name game on satellite radio? Much ado about nothing. Hell, XM names their alt-rock channels after "I Love Lucy" characters.

    Bob and JoAnn said...

    Add non-commercial Pacifica-style shows such as "Democracy Now" and "Free Speech Radio News".

    Yes... when the heck are we going to have access to DN via satellite radio?? When I had Sirius I hounded them about this to no avail. Now that we have XM I am doing the same thing with them, but get no reply.

    DN is an excellent, daily, award winning, investigative journalism news program. Why neither satellite radio services have bothered to provide this service amazes me.


    Jim said...

    it *is* worth the fight. any time the right appropriates a word like 'patriot' and we don't fight back, it's a loss. it doesn't take that much to fight. i'm a subscriben and i made my views clear years ago, and i do it every once in a while. sending an email is not that hard, folks.

    hashfanatic said...

    I believe that certain revelations regarding crimes during the Bush Crime Family will come to light, and the nation will be so scandalized, that the word "patriot" will take on such a negative connotation, and this whole right-wing appropriation of the word "patriot" will be a blessing in disguise.

    We will enter a period of serious self-criticism, intense scrutiny of our elected officials, judicial correction, and a national, fundamental shift of values.

    Perhaps what is needed is for a new nomenclature for "Sirius Left", to reflect these new steps forward, as we throw away our shackles and accept our true ascendancy in the political order of things.

    ctk said...

    this is much ado about absolutely nothing. i knew about this change years ago and i don't even own a satellite radio (yet). personally i think it is very disengenuous to attack sirius now instead of when it was really relevant.

    even though i agree with keith olbermann on a lot of things, including sirius as part of the nightly "WPiTW" race was i think sensationalism. hey, a name is nothing, its the content that matters.

    Dan said...

    American liberalism is unique in the world, and one of the great successes of the right has been to confuse the public by associating liberalism with communism and fascist totalitarianism at every turn.

    Bill Press is not a leftist.

    Ed Schultz is not a leftist.

    Stephanie Miller is not a leftist.

    They are liberals. Or progressives. Either one of those is fitting. But as long as we allow the right to yoke American liberalism to leftist dictatorships like Castro's, we will be at a tremendous disadvantage. Words matter.

    Lu Cifer said...

    THANK GODS I am not the only one to notice this! Why not call Ch. 146 Sirius LIBERTY or something?! And PLEASE change Patriot to PARROT since that's pretty much all the republitards do it parrot garbage lies from oxyRU$Hitler Lardbutt or the Fox "News" Nazi Brigade!

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