THE STUDIO — Hi there. You must be the intern who’s gonna fill in for me while I’m on vacation. Well, it’s not exactly a vacation, but the Betty Ford Clinic is close to it. On the “Tell Bell Show” we have a few rules. First, radio talk show hosts must be arrogant, interrupt callers and simply cut off those who have a legitimate beef, correction or know more about the subject than we do.
You won’t get many of these because hosts have minions who filter our callers to make sure they love us, hang on to our every word and quote us to others even when we tell transparent lies, misstatements and take quotes out of context. Remember the Nazi Minister of Propaganda Dr. Josef Goebbels’ observation about the Big Lie: tell any lie often enough and soon people will start believing you, like death panels and WMDs. Also, if a caller with an opposing view accidentally gets through, he doesn’t know there is a 15-second delay so you can just erase his deadly accurate point. You are the teacher to the not-too-bright student. I follow the example of a former Houston radio host, Alvin Van Black, who once shouted over the microphone, “Shut up while I explain what it is you’re trying to say!”
Be far left or far right but above all, be outraged. These days no one listens to a moderate, intelligent and educated voice. Kiddo, divisiveness, cynicism and us-against-them sell. Also, many callers will begin with, “Long time listener, first time caller.” Be wary of: “Long time caller, first time listener.” Humor is OK but only at the expense of the opposition, and make sure it’s not a hearty chuckle but a low, evil hehehe. We in the talk show biz called it schadenfreude, which is either Latin or maybe Estonian for gotcha!
As an intern you get zilch in pay, but stick in there. According to Forbes, Rush Limbaugh earned about $66 million last year. That was down from $69 million the year before, but so was his audience. His net worth is estimated to be $370 million. Glenn Beck earns $22 million. Sean Hannity gets $30 million a year from Fox plus his radio show and very lucrative speeches. Bill O’Reilly receives $17 million a year from Fox and is supposedly worth $75 million after he paid off that ex-staffer for the sexual harassment suit. On the other end of the political scale, Forbes thinks Rachel Maddow receives $7 million. Jon Stewart receives $25-to-$30 million a year and Stephen Colbert gets by with only $5 million. These are all just educated guesses, but these hosts would be the last ones to complain about being loose with the truth. .
You can speak knowledgably about pointy-headed professors although most hosts are poorly educated. OK, Maddow is a graduate of Stanford, a Rhodes Scholar and earned her PhD from Oxford. I never even got my GED, but then neither did most of my listeners. We lecture them about military matters even though almost none of us ever put on a uniform. Some are actually draft dodgers. You can lecture on marriage even if you are now with your fourth wife. Keep mentioning clean living, family values and God even though the opening theme song for Hannity’s radio show is so obscene I can’t mention it here.
There are a few words and terms to avoid. Chief among them is hypocrite. Next is hate radio. Never use words your listeners can’t understand, like those with more than two syllables. Also don’t say anything bad about your own political party or members. If there is a news story about one of your heroes getting caught in a scandal, do as I do and just ignore it. Same for mistakes. I have a motto: “Got it wrong? Move along.” You can call the opposition idiots, stupid, criminals and traitors, but become a victim and protest loudly when the other side does the same. As for guests, screen them closely. Nothing makes an opinionated, obnoxious talk show host look worse than a guest who shows you up, who points out you’re wrong, who has the facts on her side. You can hang up on such callers, but you can’t very tell toss a guest from the studio. What you do is say, “We’ll be right back after these commercials,” then you toss the guest.
We cite only the polls that back our case and ignore the rest. For example, researchers at Fairleigh Dickinson University found that MSNBC viewers and Fox News viewers both fared worse in answering international questions than people who watched no news at all. Foxers did even worse on domestic question. While people who only listened to NPR or watched Sunday morning talk shows or “The Daily Show” did the best in the survey.
A good target is always the press. Criticize it, ridicule it, but make sure you read every newspaper and magazine you can, watch TV news and cut out and put on your desk any news stories you need to refer to, called your pile or file. Bite the hand, because virtually every single word you utter on the air is based on something you learned from the Mainstream Media. Indeed, you are totally dependent on the hated American media for your job, but never admit it.
Listeners can tell a lot about how effective, responsible and erudite — is that a word? — you are by listening to your sponsors. I’m proud to say I’ve got a dog vitamin pill company, a horseshoe shop and several collection agencies. On this last one, sponsors wonder, “How can I reach the deadbeats, tax dodgers and scoundrels trying to repair their sordid reputations? Of course. Tell Bell!” So tell the listeners what they want to hear. Whatever happens, it is not their fault. Lastly, Lincoln was right. You really can fool most of the people most of the time.
Ashby is outraged at email@example.com