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Talk Radio: A dangerous thing?

Talk radio is a dangerous thing.

I know—a disclaimer is in order. I hosted talk radio shows for the better part of two decades at the local, state, and national levels. Loved doing it, enjoyed the platform it gave me and some small degree of influence.

But, overall, it is hugely overestimated as a change agent.

When Rush Limbaugh came on the scene in force, it was like a refreshing rain to millions of conservatives who finally had someone speaking their mind on the airwaves. And he created quite the market on the AM, then the FM, dial. No one would arise to be his equal as far as market share was concerned, but thousands of local and national shows blossomed as producers and owners saw that conservatives (Who knew?) loved to listen to AM radio as they zipped down the road.

But a problem has arisen. It is started as a flaw and only blossomed: that is, the perception that listening to talk radio is the same thing as actually doing something.

If the purveyors of radio had checked, the local preacher might have helped on this vantage point. Listening to a sermon, as everyone knows full well, is not the same as applying its precepts to daily life. Hence that delicious word, “hypocrisy.” Church folk love hearing, amen-ing, singing, even giving…but applying—well, not so much.

My little schtick as a talk radio host was that we were “in the fight.” But it eventually dawned on me that, frankly, no one was really in the fight—we all just liked to talk (the host) and listen (the audience). But actually doing something? No. We preferred to complain and pretend we were making a difference. And boy, could we ever gripe and belly-ache.

One day I started a little club (on a website related to my talk show) for folks who were really in the fight. It basically was a group of people who were answering the challenge to engage in some sort of community service and to have local, state and national representatives on speed-dial in order to harangue them into voting what we deemed the right way along Judeo-Christian guidelines. At the time I had a national show.

Few people were interested in that level of commitment. We could generate phone calls if we didn’t use that option too much. Once we pretty much shut down the phone system at the state Capitol over some piece of legislation. It worked!

But actually moving our bodies to a place of need for weeks on end? Hard to get people to say Yes to that.

Caller: “Hey Matt. I’m with you buddy, I’m in the fight, man.

Me: “Yeah, how are you in the fight.”

Caller: “You know, I listen and I’m with you man.”

Me: “But what are you doing besides just voting? What are you doing in your town, your neighborhood?”

Now former caller: “???”

That is when it started to dawn on me that talk radio was dangerous. It suffered from what one author described as “narration sickness”—the host expounds, the listeners nod and even yell “Heck yeah” into the radio. The message is shared over the coffee pot. Everyone nods. Awareness is raised. And then…no one does anything about it.

The “sickness,” so-called, has ebbed and flowed over the years. But when it has ebbed there were more people getting involved in their communities, a high voter turnout, letters and phone calls bombarding government offices, multitudinous new candidates running (at all levels), letters to the editor flourishing, neighborhoods rising up in action and, dare I say it? – et cetera.

Rush will tell you—"I always say my real purpose is to attract the largest audience I can, and hold it for as long as I can, so I can charge confiscatory advertising rates," so that he can be the millionaire he is. Mission accomplished.

But his negativity, followed dutifully and even amplified by lesser-thans across America, has harmed the nation. Awareness is up, personal involvement is down, everybody thinks they are in the fight, and Rush and his many wanna-bes (me included) are to blame.

What to do? On the whole, I have turned off the radio and tried to get involved at the points of the prison, the public school and ladies in crisis pregnancies. I try to land in three areas of my community where I can be of help. Sure, I vote. And continue to be interested in elective office and their performance (or lack there-of). But I am majoring on the things I can do something about, not the things I can’t.

Try it. Turn off the talk shows – radio and TV – for a month and get involved with something instead. Find yourself happier, and your community better.

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