Thursday, October 16, 2008

Guest host

This is the kind of thing that made me want a blog. It's weird, and local, and kind of attention-getting, so it might be something I'd try to talk about with students, if I ever get any, but at present I'm not sure how to discuss it, since I can't really get my head around it.

Yesterday afternoon, KDKA radio's afternoon guy Kevin Miller announced that later on in his show there would be an official statement from management about the content of his program and action they were taking in that regard in response to complaints that he was unfair to the Obama campaign. Now Kevin isn't somebody I usually listen to, usually because he says something inflammatory and, at least to my ear, unserious, and it doesn't do much for me just to hear him rile people up, but I was intriuged so I hung around. At 2 PM a manager at the station comes on and says that CBS is making them atone for their bias by calling the Obama campaign and giving them the use of one of Miller's three-hour programs.

The host sounded really broken up about it, sounded hurt. Some of his callers were outraged and drew comparisons to Nazi Germany. One guy called in, didn't say a word, but rather just laughed at the host for several seconds, long after I would have cut him off. Kevin just sounded dejected.

But the whole thing is weird. I mean, yeah, the show is slanted to the right, but so is pretty much everything else on that station, except that Chris guy on weekends. I figured that's the program KDKA provides because that's what they think their audience wants. It's a bit circular, but I also figured from that programming decision that these are the opinions of most people around here. Besides, the content doesn't seem much worse than what you'd get on Fox News. Some caller even said she liked it fair and balanced, so Kevin Miller and Fox News were all she listened to!

I don't see how this action does much atoning, though reading more about it, I do think there is some apology required, particularly for the racism in using that TV theme song. Will the Obama campaign take them up on it? I doubt it.

First, they'd be dealing with Miller's listeners, folks they're not likely to reach because they're squarely in McCain's camp. Though hearing Obama speak for himself would be a different picture than the soundbites Miller usually provides.

KDKA is, as one comment on the 2politicaljunkies posting about all of this pointed out, an AM radio station in a second-rate city (perhaps phrased more neutrally to reflect population ranking). On the other hand, KDKA broadcasts far and wide, and PA is supposed to be a swing state, along with Ohio, or at least that's what they told us when Kerry was running. Current polls don't show it so close, though. Eh.

I wonder what kind of a talk-show host Barack Obama would make. It seems like the job of talk radio is to tick people off. It's like an online discussion group where the only moderator is a troll. Candidates aren't about that, of course, though plenty of heat would come from the audience. Still, he's no dummy, so it might work in his favor. It's a big chunk of time.

I don't really think KDKA or CBS are that invested in being fair or in being seen as fair. If they really thought Miller took their airwaves in a direction they didn't want to go, that their audience wouldn't tune in to, that their advertisers wouldn't pay for, they'd fire the guy and give his time to a liberal. (Unless liberals are allergic to talk radio?) This seems like a publicity stunt for the station and for Kevin Miller's show. The host's supporters will rally around him, people will talk about the show and tune in daily, and they might even get a celebrity guest host once. Plus, the weirdness of the whole thing perked my ears up, anyway, and got me to listen for a couple hours.

It won't work, though, at least in my case. I listened yesterday, but not today, and not just because I had to get an assignment done before I met with my advisor about student teaching next semester. I'm told Kevin offered an apology at the start of his show, then carried on with whatever theme he had going for today's program. (Do they do studies on radio listeners? They must, for the advertisers. I wonder where one gets that data?)

Still, it seems a bit ironic that some callers thought of this as a government intrusion on free speech. If anybody's limiting expression, it's a corporation, driven by market forces. And don't conservatives like that kind of thing?

BTW, the first blog I saw about this, maybe three hours after the announcement, was Michelle at http://www.dailykos.com/story/2008/10/15/141520/73 .

It also gets covered here: http://2politicaljunkies.blogspot.com/2008/10/kevin-miller-announcement.html

Likewise the conservative blogosphere is buzzing:

A forum on Hannity.com calls it "KGB radio." Nice turn of phrase for your paranoia.

Free Republic had another early posting on this one. Probably saw this at the same time as the Daily Kos yesterday. FR also compares this to state censorship, speculating at the horrors of an Obama presidency, something parts of the right seem quite afraid of.

I don't know whether to feel bad for Kevin Miller. I would if I were convinced he weren't in on it. He sounded genuinely upset, but it also seems like this works to his benefit.

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