How to be a Talk Radio Host

Have you ever listened to talk radio?  Here in Columia, we have The Eagle, which blankets most of the mid-Missouri geographic area with as much 24 hour outrage at big government and jingoistic exhortations as one can stand.  I usually can’t listen for much more than it takes to commute somewhere which, in a town this size, is no longer than 15 minutes.

While each host has a unique bent on the issues of the day there are some common attributes they all have, and best practices they engage in, which have led the current crop of talk-jocks to the top.  If you want to be successful in the business of talk radio, here are some helpful tips for how the pros do it:

  • Always support candidates from one party, but then claim to be independent because you can also be critical of candidates from the same party.  Preferably, oscillate between criticism and praise of the same politicians at different times and hope no one will notice.  This was probably most palpable for former presidential candidates John McCain and Mitt Romney who, while being deemed not conservative enough during primaries, immediately became class-A, stand-up conservatives when the general election rolled around.  Also, never NEVER admit that you’ve changed your mind about a candidate.  You’ve always thought what you currently think about said candidate, unless their change is a dramatic one, and what you said in the past was a nuance or is being mis-remembered.
  • Create outrage where no has existed or should exist.  Sure there’s lot of news to cover and put through your ideological lens, but what about slow news periods?  Talk radio is 24 hours a day just like the major news networks, so be sure you have something to sell!  Take a narrow series of isolated incidents and make it a national epidemic, like the so-called “Knockout Game”.  Latch on to a helpful provision in the health care law designed to help craft guidelines for end-of-life care and call them “death panels”.  Invent a “War on Christmas”.  Deliberately mis-interpret what an advisor to the president advocated for as “compulsory abortions”.  Outrageous!  Oh wait, none of those things exist.  They were spun to create news.
  • Never under any circumstance admit you are wrong.  That would show weakness.  You can agree to disagree with a caller, but be sure to trash them for having a crazy world view after they hang up.  If you let any differing opinions on your program go unchallenged, that is a sign of weakness, and weakness means lower ratings.
  • Always interrupt guests who disagree with you on an ideological point, and never let them finish a thought.  That threatens the sanctity of you own opinions.  Let guests and callers you agree with ramble on uninterrupted for minutes at a time, practically handing your show and its platform of many listeners over to them.
  • Tell parables. Parables. Parables. Parables.  Even if they are ridiculous it won’t matter, since it’s only a story.  It is the plot itself and the concomitant lesson that are memorable, not the logic.
  • Always references ideas and documents that are universally or near-universally loved to make your point.  There’s a parable somewhere in the Bible that supports your commentary on the inherent goodness of a free and open market. Or perhaps you can cite the Constitution, our governing document, on why we have a right to own guns as a stalwart against government tyranny - except that’s not why the second amendment was originally added.
  • Give lots of love to your sponsors.  For Glenn Beck this is those companies that sell you gold, or perhaps survivalist seed kits. (As a gardener, those crack me up.  You think buying seed kits are going to help you feed yourself?  If you don’t have years of experience in growing your own food, expect to starve when the time comes to rely on it.)  For local talk-jock Gary Nolan, it’s a steakhouse I’ve yet to try despite his savory descriptions.
  • Your personal failings are never at issue, unless they are lessons for why you are right.  Being married four times doesn’t preclude you from commenting on the sanctity of marriage.

So, now that you know, you can go ahead and start your own radio program.  Be sure to have a good stock of outrage ready to unleash at a moment’s notice.  Don’t hold back either - if you say something offensive just blame the “PC Police”. Better yet, stand out from the crowd by inventing new phrases to call your detractors that simultaneously ignores their argument and belittles their character.  

Sadly, I have no comparison for left-wing talk radio since there are no such shows in my area.  I would be willing to bet that Al Franken’s former show on Air America or TYT are guilty of similar offenses.  Perhaps I should take some time in another post to detail the attention-grabbing faux journalism of left wing news, but doing so here would be like comparing apples to oranges, or Michael Savage to Buzzfeed, as I would have to delve in to another medium entirely.  There is some left-wing talk radio, but it pales in comparison to the popularity of the right.  Frankly, I think everyone should strive to absorb news from a variety of sources, including partisan ones you know you will disagree with.  What is important and newsworthy is highly relative, so take in as much as you can before forming your own thoughts.

Zach Rubin, 2018