I was laying in bed just now next to my wife. The covers were riding up on my neck, so I kicked them down with my leg.
Boy was that a mistake. Every once in a while – every six months or so – when I do this, my calf muscles go into a deep cramp. The whole lower half of my leg locks up.
“Owww. I got a cramp,” I said as I sat up straight to grab my leg.
“Oh my god, you really do,” my wife said, waking from a deep sleep.
I thrashed about the bed for what seemed like the length of your average dream, and then the leg finally loosened. I laid there for a while thanking whoever for taking the vice grip off of my lower leg.
“Maybe I need to drink a little water these days. Or cut down on salt,” I thought as I lay there thinking about things. And one of the things running through my mind is you.
“Man. I better sit down and write a blog for those three or four people – and for the broadcasting students at a small liberal arts college in the East in 50 years. I am shirking my duty.”
That’s right. I am. The general agreement is that I will record My Radio Life as a matter of history and ridiculousness. We all know – us five – that radio is dying. For it to survive, it has to turn into something else. This blog, if nothing else, tells that story.
I have another general agreement. It’s between me, as the owner of radio station WJOB, and the people of the Calumet Region. The agreement is that I will go on the air and talk about local things. I will take calls from local people and texts and emails and Facebook comments and HeyJED messages… and I will mash them all together and call it a radio show. And, as owner, I will coddle together a bunch of radio shows and, now, a bunch of Facebook Live videos, to make a homegrown media company that we can all engage in and be proud of.
Sometimes there is clash between the two agreements. First, there is the duty to the listeners and viewers of the Calumet Region. Secondly, there is the duty to the three or four of you and to broadcasting students of the future. When these two clash, who takes preference?
Radio always wins. That’s my destiny. WJOB, in all of its flaws and missed targets, is what I have dedicated myself to. Radio comes first. I’m sorry. You lose.
And radio has come at me at a furious pace. That and Facebook Live video and courses at Purdue Northwest. And my birthday celebration and retirement parties and apprentice training sessions and sales calls. There’s a lot that goes on that you never hear about because I don’t have the time to sit and write it down. I wish I did. There’s a lot in here of historical significance as radio turns into something that it is not.
This week, we got to deal with the comments of president Donald Trump. Here’s what he allegedly said in reference to people from Haiti, El Salvador and Africa:
“Why do we need all of these people from shithole countries?.... Why can’t we get more people from Norway?”
Now this is good stuff for talk radio. As the three or four of you know, every morning between 5:30 and 6am, I walk out onto the sidewalk along Indianapolis Boulevard with a camera and microphone and broadcast from outside. It’s a lot of fun. And on Thursday morning, I had an extra amount of fun.
I cracked jokes about the shithole comment to make myself laugh. There is no audience that I can see laughing with me, remember. Unless of course you count the cars and trucks that beep as they go by. That’s a good feeling to know that they’re safe and warm in their cars listening to WJOB. Many of them are on their way to the steel mill or the refinery. That is a really Region thing to do, by the way – listen to WJOB on your way to the mill or refinery.
The difficulty was that I had to find a decent way to say “shithole” on the radio without actually saying “shithole.” I settled on “S-hole,:” but as I go back and watch the Facebook Live video of that morning, it sounds all too close to “Asshole.”
Note to self – don’t use “S-hole” on the radio in reference to the president’s comments. A caller, Bob, defended Trump’s comments, saying that there is nothing false in them. “Why do we need a bunch of people from Haiti and the poorer countries of Africa. They don’t really add anything to America.” Bob said. His comments, as all comments from callers, are important to me and to the rest of the listening and watching community. But what is also important about the conversation with Bob is that he introduced a new term –
Bob used this terms several times on the air – “The president’s right. Why do we allow these people from craphole countries to come here and mess up America?”
Now this is the beginning of a good discussion on talk radio early in the morning when it’s still dark. I had fun with this discussion. But I couldn’t help picturing, the whole time that Bob was doing his soliloquy, a craphole. Not a specific craphole. More like a big anus in the sky. For some reason, even though “shithole” is not allowed on WJOB, “shithole” doesn’t elicit nearly as clear of an image of someone defacating as “craphole” does.
When you hear “shithole,” you think of people waking up on cardboard boxes next to mud and used, but not thrown away, plastic milk bottles. When you hear “craphole,:” you think of waste material getting thrust out of someone’s butt and falling. It’s a much more visceral image, almost as if you’re underneath in the toilet bowl looking at the whole process.
And maybe even smelling it. In sum, “shithole,” which is not allowed, does not bring nearly as nasty an image as “craphole,” which I believe is allowed.
Why does this matter, these images of defacation?
Because it’s a matter of who gets the competitive advantage in reporting the comments of the president of the United States. All week long, the newspapers across America had the word “shithole” plastered across their front pages. “Shithole” appeared in online text news stories and in headlines of web pages.
You could turn on CNN, which is on cable and not subject to same rules that WJOB is, and listen to announcers say “shithole” in debating how racist and insensitive the president’s comments were. You could log onto Facebook and read or listen or watch millions of people use the word “shithole” in their posts.
“Shithole” was everywhere. Except for on WJOB and 15,000 other radio stations in America.
“Big deal,” at least a couple of the three or four might say. “Big deal – so you can’t say ‘shithole’ on the radio.”
But, ah, it is a big deal. When you can say something on media A and you can’t say it on media B, if people want to talk about that thing you can’t say, they’ll eventually drift to media A. There is a competitive advantage for media A. It’s that simple.
After a while, the people who want to injest the president’s comments freely without the awkwardness of having to refer instead of say… those people may eventually choose the place where you can talk about it instead of the place where you can’t talk about. In the battle against cable and the internet, then, radio once again loses.
If you’re one of the regular three or four, then you understand that I am starting to understand that it isn’t just that the internet and cable are formidable foes. It’s that they operate under a different set of rules. This set gives them a competitive advantage. It’s not just that the internet connects people better in a two-way form of communication – it’s that they don’t have regulators looking over their shoulders to see if they:
Think about it. What if you could get in your car and turn on WJOB and there I was standing out on Indianapolis Boulevard freezing my ass off and yelling at cars going by –
“Hey, are you from a shithole country?”
“Let me know if you run into anyone from a shithole country today?”
I, of course, was singing a little bit as I always do that early in the morning when it’s dark.
“Winter, Spring, Summer or Fall
All you have to do is call people an ‘S-hole’
And they won’t be there.
We have no friends.”
The only problem is that as I strolled up and down in the 20-degree weather – with a 20 mile an hour wind – singing an amended version of the Carole King hit… it must have sounded as if I was saying:
“All you have to do is call people an Asshole.”
So, in all irony, in my attempt to avoid the attention of federal regulators, I actually may have skipped over a relatively benign swear word – “shithole” – to jump to what some may have construed as a more powerful swear word – “asshole.”
So it goes. In the end, I lay in bed on a sunny Saturday morning thinking about the ludicrousness of all of the rules pertaining to radio. They are rules from a different time when our culture was different and the only real way you could get information was through your Motorola radio. Yes, there had to be some regulation because if you could control radio, you could control the world.
But now radio is just one piece – a fading piece – of a much larger milieu of communication. Until we realize this new reality, radio is doomed. Roger my words on this. Until we change the rules, radio is doomed.
….. A lot happened this week in My Radio Life that I want to tell you about. But can we do it later? The cramp in my leg has subsided and I have a pretty Mexican wife sleeping soundly in the bedroom next to where I’m typing to you. I think I’ll go in and play with her for a while. You and I can talk later.