Talk radio brings out old war issues


January 21, 1991|By Steve McKerrow | Steve McKerrow,Evening Sun Staff

TELEVISION MAY BE the place to watch news of the war in the Persian Gulf with awesome immediacy, but radio is the place to talk about it.

Ironically, in the days after Wednesday's launch of hostilities, some callers to Baltimore's two-way talk shows were using the freedom of speech implicit in the popular programming format to argue the rights of citizens to protest the war in the streets.

Demonstrations and candlelight vigils in Baltimore which preceded and followed the outbreak of war, and especially Saturday's big march in Washington, triggered old debates about patriotism and the meaning of supporting one's government and our boys (and now girls) abroad.

"It's wonderful that we live in a country that has freedom of speech . . . but I wish the protesters would realize [that is] because we fought for it," one woman caller told Ron Smith of WBAL-AM 1190 Friday afternoon.

Another identified herself as a survivor of the Hitler regime and suggested protesters should educate themselves on World War II history.

The hawkish Smith, a former Marine who has told lis-


teners he has a son stationed in the gulf, cited polls showing that about half of those who favored longer sanctions against Iraq before the war now "support the president's policy." And he read a portion of an essay (he attributed to William Murchison) contending it is soldiers who protect the existence of pacifists.

"Why can't these protesters understand?" asked a male caller Friday of morning talker Rudy Miller on WCBM-AM 680, noting that the Congress, the president and America's fighting personnel all support the war actions.

Her response was to point out that the vote in Congress supporting the use of force in the gulf was a close one and that orderly protest is everyone's right. But she added, "They don't have the right to spit on you or insult you," as the caller had complained.

A number of callers said they were listeners making their first calls to a talk show.

"I've noticed an incredible number of first time callers," says Richard Sher, a WJZ-Channel 13 reporter who was filling in on WCBM radio Thursday and Friday afternoons. "Normally when I do this I get calls like, 'Are you and Oprah [Winfrey] still talking?' But there was none of that. People are really thoughtful about the war."

RADIO NEWS NOTES -- War news and other special programming regarding the gulf have expanded all across the radio bands.

At WPOC-FM 93.1, the station's usual country music gave way to ABC radio network news last week as the station opted to "break format and go wall to wall," says news director Merrie Street.

For several hours Wednesday and Thursday, for example, the station was all news, and Street says WPOC's 6:38 p.m. Wednesday report of the first U.S. attack might have been the first on radio in this market. Up to four news reports an hour have followed the gulf war at other times, she says, as well as coverage of presidential and Pentagon briefings.

Not only have no listeners complained about losing music, Street says, some have called to express thanks for the coverage.

Similarly, news/talk leader WBAL's CBS network reports have been coming with greater frequency, with reports at 20 minutes after and 10 minutes before the usual hourly and half-hourly news spots. Talk host Smith last week also joined the morning crew of Dave Durian and newsman Alan Walden for expanded gulf reports, including both incoming calls from listeners and phone interviews.

Daytime classical music, too, has been interrupted by war news at WJHU-FM 88.1, Baltimore's National Public Radio outlet.

The station has been carrying NPR's hourly news reports as well as a daily 2 to 4 p.m. panel/call-in show hosted by NPR commentator Daniel Schorr. The network's "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" shows have been expanded by an hour each, airing at 5 a.m. and 4 p.m. respectively, on weekdays.

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