Marina Del Rey, California -- Walking along the boardwalk here at Venice Beach on the eve of the Radio and Records Talk Show Seminar this week I was passed by a youngish thug wearing a "Serenity Now" T-shirt and walking a gray pit bull like he had Lassie on a leash.
So there you have it. If you are within the sound of my voice then you know a liberal talk show host from Aspen looking for syndication -- that would be me -- has no business even bothering to show up at a talk radio convention, because no one is going to talk to you.
How do I know? Downstairs in the lobby of the Marriott Marina Del Rey -- a lovely hotel hosting an unlovely crowd -- the thuggish talk show hosts that dominate the intellectual isthmus are stacked up head-high in vertical six-foot banners, their mugs bigger than Barry Bonds on a bender. Michael Savage. Phil Hendrie. Laura Ingraham. Rusty Humphries. Monica Crowley. There's even a guy on the elevator doors: his head splits apart whenever you want to go up or down. Based on the evidence in the lobby of the Marriott, to be a successful talk show host (#3! #4! #9!) you have to be either ugly or blonde.
Now I know how they feel -- by them I mean conservatives who dominate talk radio as if liberalism can't help but go away with its tail between its legs. The Big Three -- Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Glen Beck -- don't need to bother with a show like this because they are already locked and loaded in syndication in hundreds of markets. Rush has 13.5 million listeners and Hannity is right behind him so they can skip the Talk Radio Seminar and still manage to look at themselves in the mirror the next morning.
I can't. After five years on the air in Aspen and Vail with my "Con Games" show it's time to put up or shut up -- but at least to show up at a show like this. My agenda: to find out what beats beneath the Savage breast of talk radio, to find serenity among a group of station owners, managers, and syndicators who are all but certain to bark that a "liberal" talk show will never work. There are a few middling exceptions, of course--Ed Schultz, Stephanie Miller, Rachel Maddow--but for the most part I know and they know it's a non-starter. Liberal talk radio is a 97-pound weakling in comparison to the indelible hulks on the right.
My own success in the local market will not dissuade them because conservatives on talk radio are a sure thing and liberals are, well, liberals. (Yecccch!) My argument will be that conservative talk radio is long enough in the tooth to eliminate dentistry as an option, that Barack Obama's popularity and Rush Limbaugh's blubbery negatives all but prove there is a big audience ready to listen between Rush on the right and National Public Radio on the left.
I hope I'm wrong: I actually need to be wrong for any number of reasons. But that's my story and I'm sticking to it. In Marina Del Rey I'm a fish out of water who needs a bicycle. Who wouldn't want to hear about that?
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