Lousy Reception

The Demise Of Local Talk Radio Proceeds Apace.
By Tom Danehy 

IMAGINE YOU'RE THE host of a local daytime radio talk show. You're on a little podunk AM station down near the end of the dial, one with a signal so weak it fades out when you drive under a traffic signal. You're right of right-of-center in a left-of-center community, struggling to try to carve out an audience in a vibrant, yet somehow oddly apolitical, town. You muddle through, reduced to selling your own ads to make a decent buck.

Danehy Then you get a break. You've got a chance to move to a bigger station. A kindly adviser wants to take you under his wing and will even pay for the privilege. You're flying high, if only for a day or two.

Then the station you left hires someone to fill your vacant slot. The new guy doesn't have much radio presence. His voice doesn't sound like he has a degree from the Don Pardo School of Fake Radio Voices (Correspondence Campus). He's not even a straight-down-the-line conservative like every other phlegm-wad on the radio these days.

This new guy is conservative, but he believes in conservation. He's all for profit and progress, but hates the uncontrolled growth that's destroying his community. He's a gun nut, but a lot of his close friends are anti-gunners. He's a long-time political operative, but you can't find anybody in politics who doesn't genuinely like the guy.

So now your dream starts to crack. You've got the bigger station, the stronger signal, the more solid financial backing. But this other guy has the callers and the guests and the ratings numbers. This new guy is doing better than you did at the old station, and he's doing better than you're doing at the new station.

So, just when you're about to chuck it all and see if maybe Sally Struthers might have a new career idea for you, a miracle happens. This other guy, the nebbish with the squeaky voice who's kickin' your tail, gets the boot from your old station. He doesn't do anything wrong; the owner has simply decided to go to an all-infomercial format and the midday talk show is gone.

Now, what do you do if you're the beneficiary of all of this good fortune? Well, if you're John C. Scott, you probably try to scan your memory banks to see when exactly it was that you made that deal with the Devil.

The field is clear now for Scott, a man who would spend a week attacking a downtown restaurateur (and small businessman), but somehow not have a word to say about the land rapists who dream of paving over the Sonoran Desert. A guy who would turn the death of a Three Points man into a harangue against government agencies, big and small. A guy whose show is virtually unlistenable, both for his views as well as for his infuriating strings of eight or nine consecutive first-person testimonial commercials.

(Falsetto basso profundo:) When my butt itches, do you know where I go to get relief? Dr. Procto's office, that's where. And so should you. He's got a cure for whatever ails you, unless you're Andy Nadell, but we don't want to get into that. Go see Dr. Procto. Hemorrhoids hate him, but I love him.

In all fairness, it's not Scott's fault that he knows how to work the biz. In retrospect, it probably couldn't have worked out any other way. His competition wasn't even playing the same game.

I'm going to miss Franzi: 10 to 1, starring my most unlikely friend, Emil Franzi. I'm completely biased on this matter. He's a fellow contributor to The Weekly, a witty, knowledgeable guy, plus he let me go on the radio with him every week.

I've always been fascinated with radio. For a week or two in my 13th year, I even dreamed about being a Boss Jock. Don't ask. Unfortunately, I learned early on that I didn't have one of those silky smooth voices which could get me a career in that field, plus I tend to talk in a disjointed, tangential manner. But I still love radio and love being on the radio.

(Alas, the listeners didn't love my being on the radio, but I'll save that for another column. You wouldn't believe some of the calls I got when I sat in for Franzi a couple times. Just because my guests were all basketball coaches.)

But Emil stuck with me and we had a good time. We were supposed to talk about movies and more, but we strayed early and often. It was great fun.

Emil knows his stuff. He knows everybody and everything that's going on in town. He knows the history of it, the present situation, and where it's headed in the future. He knows all the big players, and to his eternal credit, all of them are willing to talk to him at any time. Well, most of them are.

Probably the best thing about his show was that he let people have their say. Guests, callers, co-hosts--everybody got their time to speak without being interrupted, a rare thing these days. That didn't mean he wouldn't rip into them when they were done, but they did get to speak, and they often did so most eloquently.

I don't know exactly what happened at the station. It appears to be just a matter of dollars and no sense. Emil wanted to do his job and have other people do theirs, but some people expected more of him. He went in with no expectations and walked away without a whole lot of disappointment. He did things his way and earned a solid, loyal following.

His ratings numbers weren't great, but they were better than the other guy's. And they were getting steadily better. People were catching on to his folksy, well-informed, no-nonsense approach. There was a serious group of people out there who wanted to know what was really going on in this city and state, not just the gossip and gripes that were more easily digested by the shallow masses.

Tucson is losing an important radio voice, and Emil is now in the same category as Vic Caputo.

Life's not fair, but with Emil around, it's still fun. TW

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