Saturday, January 31, 2015

The sound of our voices

This Truthout piece on Pacifica radio made me feel a tad nostalgic for the days when I listened to Pacifica radio. That was a long time ago, kids.

Frankly, those stations in California were infuriating precisely because they weren't politically engaged: As Rush Limbaugh was becoming a powerhouse, "progressive" radio would counter with the tinkling of Indonesian folk music. Such politics as one could find tended to be the politics of identity -- black, Latino, feminist, gay -- about which I didn't care. Sorry if that attitude offends you, but I wanted to hear about...well, about the kinds of things covered on this blog. I wanted politicians and spies and skullduggery, not endless harangues about whether Bo Derek had a right to wear cornrows and whether all heterosexual sex was rape and whether we should pass a law to forbid the eating of meat.

So now we learn that the audience has dwindled to the point that only 700 people are listening to KPFK at any given time, even during peak hours. And that's in one of the most liberal parts of the nation.

There's a massive faction fight over what little is left. Kissinger's famous dictum -- "University politics are so vicious precisely because the stakes are so small" -- applies here. There is talk of selling off the licenses, which are quite valuable. Maybe the time has come to pull the plug.

The most interesting question is this: Why is progressive radio such a perpetual loser?
The radio world is dominated by right-wing talk radio these days. The liberal station Air America died out years ago. Even in liberal areas such as Boston, progressive stations - such as 1510: The Revolution - have died out and been replaced by right-wing stations.
Amy Goodman is still going strong, but she is a rarity. Otherwise, people who stand to the left of center prefer books and websites to the sound of their own voices. Audio ain't our thing. Why is that?

I'll offer a few thoughts:

1. Lefties dig footnotes. That's why we prefer to get our politics out of books and blogs.

2. All progressives presume that they could do any job involving creativity. Thus, any time one prog develops media skills, other progs become envious and the backstabbing begins.

3. Progressives prove their purity by showing total disdain for D-v-R party politics. As a result, the purest among them have nothing to say about the daily stories that everyone else is talking about.

4. The purists hate liberals more than they hate conservatives. You don't build an audience by insulting potential listeners.


Anonymous said...

I blame NPR. For reasons that I do not understand, this ultra-reactionary outfit is considered to be 'the liberal radio station', perhaps it sucks in and pacifies the majority of the would-be leftist radio audiences.

Also, there is the issue of ownership. Since radio is both not that cheap, and it is also ad-dependent, the Chomsky's 5 elements of the propaganda model apply in full force.

Joseph Cannon said...

The NPR factor is real, I'll grant you that.

But there's also the answer a libertarian would give -- and in this case, it makes some sense: If it's popular, someone will figure out how to make money from it. Since Pacifica has a phobic reaction to profit, then pretty much by definition, they are going to broadcast stuff that isn't popular.

Joseph Cannon said...

By the way, I'm told that Randi Rhodes is completely off the air now. That lady has talent, but there's something about her that is just kind of...weird.

Failed at being Anon said...

WWLD? What would Lenin do? What would Trotsky or the young Stalin have done with a vehicle like Pacifica? Of course they would have gone to town with it, blasting propaganda that served their party's interests day and night. And if need be, they would have gone to filthy "progressive" capitalists on their knees to keep the ball in the air.
Apparently, the people at Pacifica are not sufficiently committed to their causes to do much more than offer some trendy, upper-middle class left wing stances as an alternative to what the US has become over the last 15 or so years. I don't think polite, limp-wristed protest and reasonable discourse is going to accomplish much, even though they were investigated by troglodytes 60 years ago.
Is this failure of resolve within the individuals involved, or is there is deeper, darker explanation? (Paranoia ensues. Are you in on it?)

Anonymous said...

Your four points at the end are secondary at best. You answered your question in the beginning with your offensive statement!

Most minorities aren't any more socially liberal than whites--often more conservative when it comes to marriage, etc. So the audience for these stations is a relatively small subsection of Americans. The listeners represent a minority of minority groups.

By contrast, Democracy Now! deals with issues other than race, gender, sexual orientation. Hence, it's wider appeal.

Another issue. I have deleted draft comments on 3 prior occasions because Google is making the captchas too difficult. Several times since I haven't bothered to try leaving a comment.

This time I spun through 8 captchas trying to find one that was readable, made 4 mistakes, then got timed out. I suggest you consider turning off captchas, and go back to deleting spam, because I doubt I am the exception. You're losing comments, probably some good ones.

Perhaps you feel commenters should register with Google first, and then avoid the hassle. But the nature of your blog's content is such that I suspect a number of your readers with ideas to contribute wouldn't want to be identifiable.

Update: this last time I went through 10 captchas. Time to hit publish before I am timed out again.

Joseph Cannon said...

God, I am sorry about the captchas. There was a time when comments just sailed right on through. But...well, maybe I should experiment again...

Joseph Cannon said...

All right, no more captchas. Let's see what happens...

Shadow9echo said...

I would argue there are a good many programs on KPFA. Against The Grain, and Guns and Butter are two of my favorite podcasts. Ralph Schoenman and Mya Shone on WBAI I sorely miss and many of their podcasts are still available.

As for Amy Goodman like Noam Chomsky, two peas in a pod, I have two words, Left Gatekeepers.

joseph said...

I really hate commenting here anymore but because you don't get out enough, I'll explain it to you. Listen to sports talk radio. All you here is a bunch of loudmouths telling listeners what to think. They say outrageous things so that people are simply stunned rather than educated, yet sports talk is extremely popular. That's sports politics these days. The difference between O'Reilly and Hartmann is that the former tells his audience what to think whereas the former asks his audience to think. Being told what to think is much easier for some folks.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for fixing the captcha issue.

I agree with what Shadow9echo said about "Guns and Butter." That's a really informative program that I don't listen to as often as I should. Reminds me to go download some now.

Stephen Morgan said...

As an Englishman, this is another one of those things that makes America a mysterious foreign land. We don't have Art Bell, or Howard Stern or Rush Limbaugh. The BBC dominate the radio and they're legally obliged to be neutral and impartial. In reality that means avoiding controversy. The vast majority of commercial stations are just music stations, especially at the local level, as in most areas there's just the one local commercial radio station, the BBC local station and the various national stations. The only ones that focus on the spoken word are BBC Radio 4, which is high brow comedy and documentaries and the like, BBC Radio Five Live which is a more low-brow, sport-focused approach to news and current affairs, and TalkSPORT, which is an obscure, not very popular station on MW which is focused almost entirely on football, leavened which tabloid gossip.

I don't think identity politics is the problem. That's the same on the other side, and there it's a winner. The identity is just a gun-toting redneck, rather than a black lesbian in a wheel chair.

Anonymous said...

Who is telling us what people are listening to? Maybe the polling is not so honest? Maybe we don't make the left so interesting in content. With right wing it is always a big conspiracy, like friggin aliens are invading for every little thing. We need to get the creative Hollywood/entertainment people involved in how to create and run these shows. The right wing radio is surely more entertainment than anything.

Monster from the Id said...

Then, there is the overriding problem of all leftism--the history of the Left and the alleged Left.

The peaceful Left tends to get co-opted and sell out. I'm looking at you, Mr. President (assuming he wasn't a CIA asset from Day One).

As for the violent Left, their approach carries obvious risks to the participants. Plus, every "successful" revolution, of any political stripe, simply replaces the old ruling class of predatory sociopaths with a new ruling class of predatory sociopaths. Why risk your life when, even if your side wins, it will merely replace the Okhrana with the KGB? If I must deal with devils, is it not shrewder to deal with the devils I know?

Dojo Rat said...

NPR used to be good back in the '80's, until they told too much about Reagan's illegal Contra war and were put on a leash.

Air America was a big ponzi scheme with some great hosts. some, like Marc Maron and Sam Sedar went on to have very successful podcasts that I still listen to. Then, progressive radio was driven into the ground. KPFK and small community stations like KBOO in Portland are still alive, but am radio has all gone sports talk.
The best stuff is in podcasts, which I listen to all day at work. You can find absolutely anything you are interested in if you root around in podcast land. The problem is, since digital tv came around and am talk is all sports or rush, it's the end of free tv and free radio information. Perhaps you should open up a discussion on good podcasts.