Monday, August 15, 2005

On the Road Again: Drive-By Radio

So I've been driving around a lot more of late, initially as part of the job search and now as part of the long haul up and back to Bellevue. And I'm listening to a lot of radio.

Let talk about other radio stations first, before settling down to my subject at hand. At home, the stereo is mostly tuned to KPLU (88.5 FM), mostly for its jazz, but I don't listen to it as much on the road. I tried to listen to Jack-FM (96.5 FM here), a random-roll, robot-radio station that ditched their DJ talent, only to be left with the reminder that most corporate pop radio of the last quarter-century is pretty crappy. Infinitely superior is local KEXP (90.3 FM), which plays what is a really eclectic mix (Johnny Cash, Billie Holiday, Hendrix, and Gorillaz all in one day)[UPDATE: And you can stream it live at]. And KING (98.1 FM) is an honest-to-goodness classical station supported by real sponsors. I've been listening to the Mariners (KOMO 1000 AM), which is an exercise in futility that gives me bonding with friends who live in Chicago and Pittsburgh.

And I've been listening to Air America (1090 AM). You can't really say "local" Air America, because as yet they haven't ponied up for a local show, but it's supposed to be coming.

The first thing with Air America you need to address is the oft-repeated media lie "Al Franken is just Rush Limbaugh for the Left". Sorry, you can't listen to Al for more than five minutes without debunking that one. Franken is a warm, affectionate radio personality, two parts Garrison Keillor and two parts favorite uncle. And while he doesn't have Limbaugh's bluster and bloviation, thought he does use lot of the same tactics that Fox News has made famous. Franken is open about his political leanings but claims fairness. He will have conservative guests on, but he outnumbers them, backed up by his female sidekick and sometimes another progressive guest. Like early Fox, Franken is more than willing to let on conservatives, who proceed to hang themselves with their own tongues, letting Al look safe and sane and rational.

Now, on the other hand, afternoon host Randi Rhodes IS Rush Limbaugh for the Left. Randi has a smoky voice made for radio, the patter of a fundy tent preacher, and a junkyard dog mentality. She fills her hours with a relentless return to her central point of the day (usually along the lines of "This Administration deserves to be thrown in jail"). Like Rush, she plays a little fast and loose with the facts (Franken usually sources his accusations), engages in chopshop audio editing of her targets, and is not above outright mockery and insult. If you're left of center, and wonder why the dittoheads always seem so twitchy, try a week of Randi. You'll be twitching too.

Lastly, there is Ed Shultz, whom I would recommend to any right-of-center radio fan who wants to try out Air America, but finds Franken suspicious and Rhodes oddly familiar but too harsh. Ed is formerly a conservative talker who had his moment on the road to Damascus and switched sides but not sensibilities. What he brings is both a knowledge of how talk radio works (he is very good at what he does) and a common sense approach and openness that plays well in middle America (unlike Rush, he doesn't screen calls). The end result is a very accessible guy-next-door approach. Some of his message is advanced for the rest of the world (Bio-diesel and wind power), but if you come out of the reddish end of the political spectrum, he's a good place to start.

Me, I think I'd more Gorillaz, please.

More later,