Saturday April 19, 2003
Dean of talk radio still without a microphone
By Tom Hennessy
I last wrote about radio's Michael Jackson, it was Dec. 1, and the improbable
was about to happen. He was going off the air.
or so it seemed, to the pioneer of talk radio in Southern California.
to the highest rated talk host (and major money-maker) at each of the
three stations where he had worked.
Farewell to the host whose guests had ranged from John McCain to Gore
Vidal, Jimmy Carter to (candidate) George W. Bush, Mickey Cohen to Margaret
last station, KLAC, had decided to scrap talk radio in favor of an all-music
than four months later, Jackson, predominantly a liberal, is still without
a microphone. Meanwhile, talk radio has swung in virtual lock-step to
the political right, a phenomenon known in the trade as the "Rush
crush' for conservative Rush Limbaugh.
is no question Jackson is missed. During those four months, he says, his
Internet web site (MichaelJacksontalkradio.com ), has drawn a quarter-million
hits even though it is advertised only by word of mouth. Most of those
contacting him are fans wanting to see him back on the air.
also contact me: "I am sick to death of nothing but right-wing, ultra-conservative
talk show hosts,' says a typical e-mail, this one from reader Laura Gilmore.
"Michael Jackson was the only breath of fresh air in talk radio.'
with one exception, noted below, there are no strong signs that Gilmore
and others will see their idol back on the air waves soon. Just last week,
in fact, a program director for one L.A. station expressed the view that
around-the- clock conservative hosts are a better bet to increase ratings
than "if you try to be a little bit of everything for everybody .'
Hosting or boasting?
are talking here not only about differing political views, but about contrary
forms of talk radio.
The usual approach of Jackson, who had also been on KABC and KRLA, was
to provide opposing views and let listeners decide who Jackson was right.
His political opposites, such as Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly
(dubbed an "inflated gasbag' by TV critic Howard Rosenberg of the
L.A. Times), use an "in-your-face' manipulation of guests and callers
while projecting themselves in the best possible light.
When asked, more specifically, how his program would differ from conservative
competitors were he back on the air, Jackson says:
be encouraging healthy discourse about the war, not combating and putting
down anyone who doesn't follow the administration's line of logic or point
of view. I do not believe that being against the war makes you anti- or
who protest would be able to have a conversation with those who support
our president's foreign policy.'
reason for Jackson's past success has been his ability to persuade some
of the world's most famous names to come on his show. "It is seldom
that a guest turns me down. Even if they disagree with me, I think they
know they'll get a fair hearing.'
also possesses what must be one of the most comprehensive phone-number
banks in his business. Politicians, former presidents, foreign notables,
and show-business giants are only a phone call away.
all that, I challenged him last week to "create a show. You're about
to go on the air. What kind of program will it be in view of events now
responds, "This morning, I'd aim for Archbishop Desmond Tutu to speak
of peace and the future; George McGovern for his having written a powerful
antiwar essay for The Nation magazine and former President Jimmy Carter
because of his stature and experience. All three were frequent guests
on my program.
try for (Sen.) Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat who supports the current foreign
policy, and Henry Kissinger, although he might be difficult to snare right
now. Then Sen. Hillary Clinton and her husband remember Bill? Whenever
I would do my show from Washington, D.C., they both came on the program
as I broadcast from the White House.'
is off and musing. "This is a time to speak with student leaders
and members of the military to learn about their dreams for the future
and how they feel about the United States. This is a time to speak with
brilliant professors of law, and the top echelon of industrialists and
returns to his guest list. "Rather than denounce Hollywood, I'd invite
Hollywood. Meet the Dixie Chicks, Sean Penn, Steven Spielberg, etc. I'd
invite country star Charlie Daniels, who is 100 percent against dissenters
and 100 percent pro-Bush. And I'd invite Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins.
invite newspaper editors; the Washington Post 'for' the war, the New York
Times 'against.' I'd invite Rupert Murdoch (Fox Broadcasting) to see how
'fair and balanced' he sounds.'
Through this exercise, Jackson's frustration of being without a public
forum is evident.
all my decades in talk radio there has never been a time when the conversation
could be as fascinating, revealing, stimulating, inventive and entertaining.
But it isn't any of that. It is repetitious and bitter, frequently snide
and jingoistic.' Visible host?
best bet for returning to the air waves appears to be not with radio,
but television in a format, however, that would use elements of talk radio.
radio legend Chuck Blore, one of the originators of "Top 40' radio,
the repetitive "play list' format that virtually guaranteed a station
top ratings. Blore is promoting a show to be called "Talk TV.' It
would assemble daily excerpts of radio talk shows broadcast throughout
has tapped Jackson to be the host.
where the project now stands, Blore reports, "It's difficult to say.
We were supposed to have some pre-launch meetings when the war came along.
Everything is still on line with the project, but things have been put
far, says Blore, 14 radio talk show hosts have been recruited and would
have their shows excerpted on "TV Talk.' Cameras would be installed
in their radio studios.
will the show really air? Blore is confident it will. "Because of
the level of interest, we were kind of hoping it would be on by now.'
But the war, he notes, altered the time table.
show would be the renewal of a partnership that traces back more than
four decades to when Blore hired Jackson as a rock 'n' roll disk jockey
at KEWB, San Francisco. "In those days,' says Blore, "all-night
shows were required to do at least an hour of conversation. Nobody wanted
to do that except Michael. Eventually, he came to me and asked if he could
talk more than an hour.'
was agreeable to the extension, especially in view of a Time magazine
story noting that Jackson, on the air, had just persuaded a woman not
to commit suicide.
for selecting Jackson as "Talk TV' host, Blore says, "Michael
is still the dean of talk radio. Who is better qualified? Who has better
does the "dean of talk radio' have any regrets about getting into
a business that ultimately dumped him on the streets?
truly blessed I've been,' he says, "how privileged to have earned
my living, from the age of 16, in the profession of my choosing; to have
been actively involved with the growth of radio from almost its infancy
to its present.
God willing, its future.'
Tom Hennessy's viewpoint
appears Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. He can be reached at (562)
499-1270 or via e-mail at Scribe17@aol.com