Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Right Wing Radio: Two Stories


While driving to softball practice last night, I rewarded myself for a day of pointless slacking by taking in the usual diarrhea-spray coming from the local talk radio station. I don't know why I do this to myself, but I'm pretty immune to right wing radio these days, and I listen to it more than I should. I can't watch Fox News without having a petit mal seizure, but for some reason radio doesn't affect me. I'm almost never surprised by what Limbaugh, Dr. Laura, Glenn Beck and the rest have to say, and I can usually predict where the conversations are heading. I'm not being arrogant — I just listen to it quite a bit, and the range of ideas available is pretty limited for these hosts and the pleckos who slip by the phone sceeners and make it on the air. "Yes, Rush, the soldiers at Abu Ghraib could have gotten NEA grants for what they did; yes, Dr. Laura, mothers who work are selfish bitches who deserve the unhappy, delinquent children they create; yes, Glenn, Terri Schiavo is a martyr for the culture of life. Yes, Bob from Indiana, Democrats are godless, gun-swiping faggots. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I get it."

Every now and then, though, something takes me by surprise and reminds me that my weird fetish is probably more corrosive than it seems. Yesterday evening, for instance, Michael Reagan — yes, that Reagan — was chatting with an animal rights advocate whose organization is calling for a one-day, nationwide boycott of chicken and other poultry, the purpose being to illuminate the plight of birds raised for slaughter. Reagan's sole reason for having this poor, naïve woman on his show was to mock her. (This seems fair enough — if you're running this sort of campaign and you don't know enough to turn down requests from conservative talk shows, you pretty much deserve what you get.) But as Reagan baited her relentlessly and childishly — asking her if chickens had souls, asking her why chicken tastes so good if we're not meant to eat it, asking her if vegans cared about all the mushrooms they slaughtered — the circuit-breaker in his brain suddenly failed, and the political unconscious of conservative radio revealed itself.

"What about all the blacks?" he asked. "Don't they love chicken?"


The summer before I started graduate school, I worked at an AM station in Harrisonburg, Virginia, where I punched in commercials and read Studs Terkel books for three hours a day during the G. Gordon Liddy show. I earned $4.50 an hour for this, which supplemented the income I was already earning from working at Subway. It was an influriating summer, listening to that little bald Nazi screech and thunder every aftenoon about "Hillarycare," or gays in the military, or the fact that Bill Clinton — a draft dodger — was going to speak to the nation on Memorial Day. All this from the guy who planned the Watergate burglary. I endured this job five days a week for three months of my life. Sometimes on weekends I'd pull and extra shift and run commercials during broadcasts of NASCAR races, which are even more boring and pointless on the radio. At night, choking on my frustration at Subway, I gave away free sandwiches to the poor kids who lived near Harrisonburg's fast food ghetto; all I asked in return was that they hang out in the parking lot and frighten the customors away.

Everyone at the station thought Liddy was the shit, especially the right-wing handjob who sat in the studio adjacent to mine and read the news at the top of each hour. Our rooms were divided by a small. soundproof window, and we used a less-than-complicated system of hand gestures to cue each other back and forth between the news and Liddy. Most days I was grateful for not having to hear him speak. I could see him nodding and grinning and slapping his hand against his leg whenever Liddy got really worked up, and I was never unsure of his perspective on the day's news. In June of that summer, he rejoiced — thrusting his fist in the air triumphantly — when ABC broadcast the news that a Cuban police officer in Miami had been acquitted of shooting a black guy in the back. This being a little over a year after the LAPD show trial and subsequent riots, a lot of black folks in Miami did not take the acquittal well; in the predictable violence that followed, several neighborhoods were torched. As my colleague finished the newscast and gave me the sign to bring up the satellite feed again, he looked at me through the plexiglass and shook his head. I was a pretty good lip reader by this point. "Fucking animals," he said. Then Liddy started in again.

I spent the rest of the afternoon running the station's commercials through the bulk eraser.