Icons of Talk: The Media Mouths That Changed America

Icons of Talk: The Media Mouths That Changed America

Icons of Talk: The Media Mouths That Changed America

Icons of Talk: The Media Mouths That Changed America

Synopsis

Americans love talk shows. In a typical week, more than 13 million Americans listen to Rush Limbaugh, whose syndicated radio show is carried by about 600 stations. On television, Oprah Winfrey's syndicated talk show is seen by an estimated 30 million viewers each week. Talk show hosts like Winfrey and Limbaugh have become iconic figures, frequently quoted and capable of inspiring intense opinions. What they say on the air is discussed around the water cooler at work, or commented about on blogs and fan web sites. Talk show hosts have helped to make or break political candidates, and their larger-than-life personalities have earned them millions of fans (as well as more than a few enemies). Icons of Talk highlights the most groundbreaking exemplars of the talk show genre, a genre that has had a profound influence on American life for over 70 years.

Excerpt

When I was growing up in Boston, I was a devoted fan of top-forty radio. I loved rock-and-roll, and I wanted to be a disc jockey. But I also enjoyed talk shows. My parents would watch David Susskind, whose syndicated television program was shown in Boston in the mid-1960s, and I recall how we would discuss the topics or comment on what a particular guest had said. It made me feel very much like an adult to be part of these conversations.

Boston was also an excellent talk radio market. In the early 1960s, when station WMEX was a popular top-forty station, I listened to it every night because that’s when my favorite dj, Arnie Ginsburg, did his Night Train show. At the end of his show, the station suddenly transitioned into talk, with an issues-oriented program featuring Jerry Williams. I didn’t realize at the time that Williams was a nationally known talk host, sometimes referred to as the “dean of talk radio.” I became a faithful listener to The Jerry Williams Show, and I learned a lot from it. (I can still remember the rules that Williams gave to potential callers, what he called his ABC’s: “Be accurate, brief, and concise.”) Even though I was undoubtedly not in the target audience Williams was seeking, and even though I was not twenty-one—callers had to be at least twenty-one—I tried to call on several occasions, and I even got on the air once with my comments. I never forgot it.

The Boston airwaves were the home to many great radio talk hosts over the years. Jerry Williams was probably the best known when I was growing up, but there were others, too: Bob Kennedy, Larry Glick, and Paul Benzaquin come to mind. From the 1980s until his untimely death in 2004, there was erudite and literate conversation on the David Brudnoy Show. I found many of these talk shows very informative. While the host sometimes became involved in a heated exchange with a guest, the shows themselves were seldom as onesided or partisan as many talk shows are today. The talk shows then rarely deteriorated into shout fests; the emphasis was on debate rather than character assassination.

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