Quitting yak radio

Chet Dembeck

September 28, 1993|By Chet Dembeck

IT'S been several weeks since I've had my last fix. This time, I hope to abstain from a bad habit I've acquired over the last 20 years: talk radio.

It began when Alan Christian, the ex-Marine, came to host a new kind of program on WCBM -- a talk show. Amazed, I listened to the uncensored ignorance and bigotry. It was disturbing, but it was also entertaining. I followed anxiously on Halloween night when Alan and listeners stalked vampire graves in Baltimore County, only to find fresh cow manure.

In those early days of talk radio, no one took it seriously. It was, well . . . fun!

As FM expanded and AM went the way of news and talk, other budding talk jockeys began to bombard Baltimore airwaves with their own distinctive and often puerile chatter. To be sure, some were more responsible than others: John Stupek, attorney, business person, was more credible than, say, the Most Rev. Lester Kinsolving.

But the radio audience cared as little for facts and in-depth analysis as it did for taxes. Mr. Stupek went by the wayside as a regular host (although he's heard occasionally), while Mr. Kinsolving cries on. This proves to me that hyperbole and generalizations fuel talk radio. Add to this formula one other ingredient, and you have the beast's essence. As Mr. Kinsolving said a few years ago, "Controversy is the mother's milk of talk radio."

I can no longer find charm in today's talk shows. A rude Tom Marr bullies his callers. In return, they harangue anything from "welfare queens" to "slick Willie." Allan Prell giggles, while a brilliant but reactionary Ron Smith preaches Doomsday daily.

We've become a nation defined by bumper stickers and talk-show demagogues. No wonder some in Congress see themselves threatened by a huge electronic mob.

Talk shows reflect as much about political reality as afternoon soaps reflect the average homemaker's life. They are 20th-century verbal tabloids, serving the same function as 19th-century penny novels.

In a country in which citizens don't vote but call talk shows to complain about a government conspiracy that's raising their TV cable bill, is it any wonder yak radio is on the rise? In a society in which couch potatoes no longer attend church, Rush Limbaugh fills the void as the modern-day Elmer Gantry -- a self-ordained disciple of conservatism who calls homeless people "bums" and feminists "feminazis."

This is why I've decided after 20 years of listening and calling to forsake talk radio until that glorious day when it stops taking itself so seriously.

Chet Dembeck writes from Baltimore.

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