Peace quiets talk-show lines

September 15, 1993|By Wayne Hardin | Wayne Hardin,Staff Writer

In the radio talk-show world, the Israeli-Palestinian accord is no Michael Jackson, Princess Di or Stuart Berger.

"Good news is of no significance," says Allan Prell, WBAL's morning talk-show host. "People react only if it's terrible news.

"Bad news is something we can deal with by talking about it. If it's good news, we just accept it and say, 'Isn't that nice?' "

The signing of the landmark accord Monday in Washington amid much hoopla and ceremony brought out pundits and presidents and diplomats talking about the possibility of a broader peace after years of conflict. But judging by the volume of calls, talk show junkies seemed to have greeted it with a big yawn.

"We had almost no reaction here, even when I tried to throw gasoline on the fire," Mr. Prell says. He estimates "six to 10 calls total" in two days.

"Were the lines popping on this issue?" says Zoh Hieronimus, talk-show host on WCBM. "No."

Ms. Hieronimus read a large section of the accord over the air to start her show yesterday, at one point terming the accord a "sellout" for both sides. Over Monday and yesterday, she says, the callers ran "50-50" between the accord and "people with their own agendas."

In Detroit, Kevin Joyce, host of a daily call-in show on WJR, says his listeners have not been "breaking down the barricades" to talk about the accord. This comes in a city said to have the largest Arab population outside an Arab country.

"We're approaching maybe 250,000 Arab-Americans in greater Detroit," Mr. Joyce says. "But we get almost no calls from Arab-Americans. It's just not in their culture to get on the phone. The Jewish community has been more vocal.

"The people who have called have been cautiously optimistic and hopeful. Personally, I don't think it's going to happen. Just look at the parameters. It'll be the year 3000 before some of these things are ever settled."

He says the current hot talk-show issue in Detroit is legislation that will do away with the property tax "as the mechanism for funding Michigan public education."

In Los Angeles, Diane Cridland, director of programming for KABC Talk Radio, says the accord has been discussed on all of the station's shows with "callers showing a lot of interest and lot of concern and hope."

However, Ms. Cridland wouldn't called the accord a "hot topic" in the City of Angels.

"Michael Jackson is a hot topic," she says. "The Menendez trial of the two brothers charged with killing their parents is a hot topic."

National Public Radio did the entire two hours of its Monday afternoon "Talk of the Nation" on the accord. With the whole country to draw on instead of a local area, it reports enthusiastic response.

"We have seven lines for incoming calls," senior producer Marcus Rosenbaum says. "They were always full. We heard from men, women, Israelis, Palestinians, American Jews, Arab-Americans. Some people were skeptical but only one caller said flatly that the accord won't work."

Besides Mr. Prell's anti-good news theory, other local talk hosts have their ideas about why callers haven't responded with more emotion.

Mr. Joyce says the issue just isn't "visceral enough."

Ms. Hieronimus says that "like most issues of international importance, most people are not informed enough to feel comfortable with it."

Ron Smith, who follows Mr. Prell on WBAL in the afternoons, says the complicated and abstract issues of the accord are difficult to discuss. "People are more likely to talk about issues that hit them closer to home," Mr. Smith says.

It's not just this major issue that callers greet with the great silence, says Mr. Prell.

Last week, he opened a show with a review of past audience reaction to some world events: Berlin wall coming down, ("maybe a dozen calls"); dissolving of world communism ("less than 20 calls"); South Africa, ("not one phone call in the last six months").

He then challenged his listeners to tell him why this is true.

"They wouldn't say why," Mr. Prell says.

Asked to compare the accord call response with that on controversial Baltimore County School Superintendent Stuart Berger, Mr. Prell replies, "Berger 100 to 1."

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