As 2003 comes to a close, we at City Paper bid farewell to one of our unlikeliest colleagues: radio "personality" Jim Quinn. You may know Quinn from his weekday morning screeds on WRRK-FM, where he raves about feminists, environmentalists, the United Nations, and so on. But here at work, we know him as the guy who walks around the office with a sidearm strapped to his waist.
No, really, I'm serious: The guy packs heat in the office. And fans of the Second Amendment will be happy to note that as a result, Quinn has never been mugged at the fax machine.
I'll admit, it was nice knowing we were prepared if the UN's black helicopters attacked the cafeteria of Steel City Media (the parent company which owns City Paper, WRRK and WLTJ). But Quinn is leaving in 2004, to be replaced on WRRK by a humor show syndicated from Indianapolis. If the UN attacks, we'll have to rely on the fact that editor Andy Newman's hands are lethal weapons.
Quinn is joining the staff of 104.7 FM, a station that in 2004 will switch from a popular oldies format to talk radio. There he'll join such syndicated right-wing talkers as Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, and Glenn Beck.
Make no mistake: These are big guns, so to speak. In addition to his radio show, Savage has a book out and had a TV career that lasted about as long as Rush Limbaugh on ESPN. His short-lived MSNBC talk show was cancelled after he told one gay caller, "You should only get AIDS and die, you pig." (Savage's defense: He thought he was making those remarks privately. Feel better?)
Hannity has a more successful TV career: He's the blow-dried conservative host of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes and author of Let Freedom Ring, which allows that while most "liberals are good, sincere, well-meaning people," many are actually as bad as terrorists. ("After we defeat our last foreign enemy, we will still face threats to our freedom, largely from left-wing extremists in our own country," Hannity warns. See you in Guantanamo!)
Glenn Beck also has a book out -- surprise! -- in which he spends an entire chapter comparing gay rights to incest. (He "confesses" to being in love with his own sister as a way of demonstrating the follies of tolerance.) But he's best known as the radio host who arranged a series of cross-country "Rallies for America," which served largely as rallies in favor of invading Iraq.
Quinn doesn't even have a book out this Christmas season, but when it comes to groundless rumor-mongering, he can hold his own: Quinn once claimed that physicians of Middle Eastern descent were openly celebrating the Sept. 11 attacks in McKeesport. He based his report on an e-mail from a listener, but despite that ironclad evidence, the story turned out to be utterly groundless. Quinn had to apologize for it later.
Think about it: Here's a guy who spends hours detecting liberal conspiracies in everything from the Washington Post to postage stamps...but somehow a single e-mail was enough to fool him. If that's the conservative standard of evidence, I imagine several of 104.7's new broadcasting talent has penis-enlargement pills in their medicine cabinets.
Really, it's surprising that assembling such talent in a local market has taken so long. Pittsburgh is where Rush Limbaugh got his start, after all. It's the second home of the Tribune-Review, the paper owned by Clinton-conspiracist billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife --who, by the way, just bought up many of the suburban weeklies in the area. (Damn liberal media!) But it took outsiders to visit this scourge upon us.
Have I mentioned that 104.7 is a Clear Channel station? Do I need to?
The Texas-based conglomerate has become almost synonymous with right-wing radio. In addition to owning 1,200 stations of its own, it syndicates Beck and Hannity and many others, and gave heavy play to Beck's rallies in markets where his show is broadcast. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, during the 2002 election cycle alone, Clear Channel entities contributed nearly $210,000 in "soft money" to Republicans -- more than eight times what they gave to Democrats.
Given that Republicans control Congress and the White House, that imbalance could reflect simple business-minded pragmatism more than political principle. The thing is, Clear Channel's business-minded pragmatism may be its guiding political principal. It's regulated by the Federal Communications Commission -- staffed by Presidential appointees -- and Congress. Backing the invasion of Iraq or Republican causes couldn't possibly hurt its interest. By contrast, it's hard to imagine a conglomerate that large sponsoring anti-war rallies, isn't it? (And if "the media" is as liberal as conservatives allege, why should we have to imagine it? Why hasn't it happened?)
Of course, any time we sniveling lefties complain about the right-wing domination of the airwaves, we get the same response: If liberalism were more popular, there'd be more liberals on the radio. The rise of conservative voices like Hannity and Savage reflects a pent-up frustration with a "biased media."
Maybe. Or maybe it just reflects the fact that we now sell information the same way we used to sell other radio programming: as something that pleases the ear. Whatever else it is, the conservative message is profoundly marketable because it is so reassuring. Poverty can only be solved if we don't do anything about it. We best help others by helping ourselves. The U.S. is always innocent, and even our worst mistakes are the result of the best of intentions. Anyone who says otherwise hates America.
Who wouldn't want to believe this stuff? Who isn't tempted to listen when someone confirms all of our beliefs? Let he who has never been promised a larger penis cast the first stone.
In fact, we lefties are becoming increasingly susceptible to partisan rancor as well. Doing some last-minute Christmas shopping Downtown, I came across The Bush-Hater's Handbook. I thought it was funny, until I realized the cover might just as easily have been put together by Regnery -- the Clinton-Hater's Publisher who has issued numerous dubiously reported tomes on Clinton, including one whose cover featured a doctored-up photo of Clinton smoking a joint.
What none of this stuff does -- nor is intended to do -- is inform anyone's perspective. It's all designed to confirm the perspectives you already have, whether they're accurate or not. Which is hardly surprising: If it makes bad business sense for Clear Channel to challenge the president, it makes even worse business sense to challenge the beliefs of millions of listeners.
As the old saying goes, the truth hurts. That's what makes it so hard to market effectively. Shooting straight may help you on the firing range -- or even at the water fountain -- but it won't get you a choice spot on the airwaves.