Talk Radio, The Last Neighborhood

by Bill Amundson


"This is Woody Paige on KNUS and today we're with Veronica B., manager of the Frederick's of Hollywood store in Cinderella City. You're on the air ... Raoul? ... Raoul, is that you? ... Raoul, speak to me."

Raoul: Yes? Me? Am I on?

Paige: You're with Woody Paige and Veronica B. on KNUS. What's your question?

Raoul: I have one question. Why don't you allow men to try on merchandise at your store?

Veronica B.: Well, Raoul, it's company policy. We try to run a clean, up front organization here.

Raoul: But it's important for my business. I'm a female impersonator, you see, and I'm in constant need of new costumes. This policy is unfair.

Veronica B.: Well, Raoul, why don't you write our main office in Los Angeles and complain about the policy? I'm afraid there's little we can do in the regional stores.

Raoul: But I've been informed that Mr. Frederick is dead, and --

Paige: Good luck and thanks, Raoul. Tom, you're on the air. Are you a friend of Raoul's? (Laughter)

Tom: No, no, ha, ha. Say, Woody, I'm getting married in September, and I think it would be a real turn-on if I won one of those musical crotchless panties that play "Here Comes the Bride," so my fiance could wear them as she came down the aisle.

Talk radio. Dialogue radio. Misinformation transformation. The last neighborhood. Sensationalistic mouthpiece for the lunatic fringe. Open forum for the common man. Egotistical ranting raised to the sublime. Savior of the AM band. Exposed nerve of raw honesty. Pure theater of the absurd.

Here in the Denver area, talk radio is enjoying a renaissance of popularity and controversy, fueled largely by the gang-style slaying of the form's supreme stylistic exponent, Alan Berg, over a year ago by a group of neo-nazi extremists. Berg's style, alternately abusive, compassionate, and ironic, set a unique standard for the Denver market, and his martyrdom and subsequent apotheosis gave the medium a new urgency and power.

Connoisseurs of the genre prefer local broadcasts to the ennui-inducing homogeneity of the national counterpart (popularized by such soporific media stars as Larry King, Dr. Ruth, Michael Jackson, and the ubiquitous Sally Jesse Raffael) and enjoy their political and social dissertation sprinkled with major segues into the absurdist sphere.

My favorite Alan Berg show of all time dealt with the topic "Why Pregnant Women Are Ugly." To paraphrase Berg's feelings on the subject: "Pregnant women are ugly. They should be chained to their beds during the entire period of pregnancy. They feign pain during childbirth to make men feel guilty. Let's hear your thoughts on this ..."

Hardly an inflammatory subject at first glance, but through subtle cajoling and manipulation Berg could choreograph his callers to new heights of anger and exasperation while exposing their underlying hypocrisies and phobias. Pure theater, part medicine show, part shamanism, part therapy, all artistry. Tasteless for some, to be sure, but for purists taste is never the issue, but rather the exposure of basic human truths as vented through the raging subconscious.

Today, voyeurs of this oral tradition can indulge themselves on an entire gambit of theme shows, making up in width what Berg provided in depth. Perennial favorites include call-in psychology ("I know where you're coming from. Talk to me"), astrology, gardening, teen talk, conservative specialties, sports talk, restaurant shows, and a show entitled "Ecumenical Forum (arguably the dullest show ever to grace the AM dial), and a Good Ol' Boys show that caters largely and inexplicably to an audience of World War II veterans. If the aforementioned doesn't provide enough esoteria, one can always try "Talk of the Town," which actually encourages listeners to call in and discuss radio talk shows, adding new levels of inperception to a form already beguiling in its complexity.

CALLER: If there's a nuclear war, what will happen to my dogs?

Good question. Talk radio is nothing without the listener/caller. Listener concerns span the entire arena of history, and inquiries range from the serious (genocide, nuclear survival) to the frivolous (Cybil Shepherd's marriages, the virtues of Las Vegas). Some topics are old radio stand-bys: the Tri-lateral commission, Jewish conspiracies, any conspiracy, the corruption of youth, the D&D Proctor Gamble connection, criminals free in the streets, abortion, and the world-going-to-hell-in-a-handbag.

The caller is usually narrow-minded, misinformed, and absolute in the certainty of his zealous message. This, of course, provides entertainment in a world without absolutes and has serious repercussions as well. A recent caller swore he had just seen a rock video in which women were portrayed gargling semen in front of a sperm bank. He couldn't recall any specifics, but this certainly proved that rock 'n' roll was a damaging force among the young.

This subjective approach to the world gives talk radio its honesty and ultimate strength. The listener carries the burden of judgment and is forced to inject himself into the decision-making process. Three days of heated radio discussion on the moralities of the Hiroshima bomb, with all its flaws, misstatements, and redundancies, is still preferable to Rather and Brokaw's slick self-congratulatory fashion plate panderings on the same topic.

So tune in. Throw away the New York Times, U.S. News, and Us Magazine. Gaze into the gaping soul of America. Talk radio is the genuine article. You may never want to leave the house again, but if you do, you won't be at a loss for words.

Author's Note: The musical crotchless panties were eventually won by a 73-year-old grandmother. The panties played, "When the Saints Come Marching In." She was very, very happy.

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