Puttin' Out the Bone

Finally, an Answer to Rush Limbaugh

Have they lost their minds, the Mays family that owns Clear Channel? I mean, they gave money to George Bush's campaign. They're friends of the family.

Have they actually given the keys to a radio studio in their Kenwood facility to a bunch of liberal Democrats and told them they can say George Bush is wasting good young lives on a senseless war in Iraq? That progressives can tell thousands of listeners of a 50,000-watt blowtorch heard in three states that homosexuality is innate and therefore should be protected from discrimination, regardless of one's personal values? That Republican outsourcing of jobs shows that compassionate conservatism is an oxymoron?

Is Clear Channel really doing that? Well, yeah.

The rationale is simple and logical: They're businessmen and women, and the real growth market in talk radio is liberal talk.

Look: If their agenda is to use the family's resources to work their politics as far as the law allows, they've got things nicely covered with hours of conservative talk radio in markets from sea to shinning sea.

Limbaugh, Hannity, Savage, Cunningham and others all run on their stations. In my lifetime, no spread of progressive talkers could ever catch the tsunami of right-wing programming heard across this country.

But when you see that America voted more than 50 percent for the Democratic presidential candidate in 2000 and just under that in 2004, you wonder why millions of people wouldn't tune in to progressive talk show hosts just as conservatives have for theirs.

A few liberals have tried in the past and failed miserably. The reason? They sucked. Former Gov. Mario Cuomo was boring. Only smart, passionate, provocative and entertaining hosts will make it. Now some are trying, and companies, Clear Channel among them, are teaming up to try to make a profit.

I'm happy to be part of a team that's making a run at liberal talk radio. Two Mondays ago Jerry Springer, Megan Hils and I launched a show on WCKY (1530 AM) called Springer on the Radio, daily from 9 a.m.-noon.

Springer, well known here as a former mayor, news anchor and television entertainer, is the lead dog with Hils and me as his sidekicks.

Hils is a 24-year-old known for some local acting stints. She's a graduate of Northern Kentucky University. As soon as last Friday, we knew more clearly why she needs to be sitting with us. When we heard that a wacky neo-con minister was saying a cartoon video going to some school across the country was a homosexual plot to turn kids gay — ridiculous on its face — Hils had to tell us who SpongeBob was. She even sang the song. With her on the show, women, young people and non-political junkies know they're invited to join in.

Hils will also do some fake calls to our show using character voices as well as perform some occasional announcing roles.

I'm sitting in the studio because Springer and I have been hanging out together for 35 years. Plus, I've done talk radio work at both at WDBZ (1230 AM) and WVXU (91.7 FM) for a number of years.

But can Springer transition from politics, news and the craziest television show in history to a thoughtful, passionate and entertaining liberal talk show host? Of course, we think yes. Humble as we are about the challenge ahead, we think he got a pretty good launch in the first week of the broadcast.

But the show will only succeed if it has broad appeal, beyond the fairly small group of Democratic zealots who yearn for Bush to be called a liar and idiot, like every day for three hours. It must draw advertisers who learn that listeners will buy their products specifically because they're sold on the show.

This is actually a movement — part business and part philosophical — that is bigger than Springer on the Radio. The entire WCKY format has flipped from classic oldies to an all-progressive lineup called "The Revolution of Talk Radio," with a mix of local, Air America and Jones Radio talents. Such partnerships are growing across America, including in nearby Columbus.

Let's talk politics and radio for a minute. Republicans have been mixing them for years. Read David Brock's The Republican Noise Machine and learn how conservatives since the 1960s have grown think tanks, columnists, pundits, writers and radio talk show hosts to plant their messages and lies in people across the land. Yes, stations made money in the process. But Republicans also needed electronic roads over which to roll their ideas through those red states, and that was the birth of Limbaugh et al.

We need to learn from that. Our drum beats also need to be on talk radio. Our view of the day's events must be as familiar as Sean Hannity's. Our people need to be able to shake their heads "yes" driving to work or cooking in the kitchen when their values are reaffirmed through a radio speaker.

We need to study George Lakoff, who writes in Don't Think of An Elephant how Republicans have learned to effectively frame political issues. As a cognitive scientist, Lakoff says conservatives have mastered the use of language that touches the part of the brain that processes emotions. We need to begin to frame discussions, even on a radio talk show, in a way that wins people over to our policies. It's the new propaganda game, and we'd better get in it.

To place us squarely in the 21st century, our radio team is combining Internet blogging with Springer on the Radio. From the beginning, we've put our daily topics on our site, www.springerontheradio.com, as well as real-time blog entries as each hour progresses. On our first day, we had 94,000 hits, with many of those listening online and blogging from around the country.

So no, Clear Channel isn't crazy to launch this new form of talk radio. They're simply testing an innovative business model. Will it succeed? Only if it makes money. And that's the way it should be.

C'mon, we Democrats aren't really communists.

PUTTIN' OUT THE BONE appears monthly.

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