Magazine article Newsweek

Something in (and on) the Air

Magazine article Newsweek

Something in (and on) the Air

Article excerpt

Byline: Howard Fineman

There's another hot story in morning radio: African-American comedian Steve Harvey. In 17 months, his show has rocketed to prominence in top-50 markets. He's based on urban stations, but exhibits strong crossover appeal. He and his studio gang talk about race, to be sure, but with non-abrasive humor and upbeat music. They dispense advice on subjects ranging from love (be faithful) to barbecuing in the front yard (don't). "He's not a shock jock," says his syndicator, Martin Melius of Premiere Radio Networks. "He wants to be inspirational and positive, not divisive."

Winning by division has long been the reigning theory of radio--not to mention politics and, in the age of George W. Bush, international relations. Democrats and Republicans compete to see who can be more convincingly apocalyptic about the other side. No sense addressing the entire country, let alone the world. You stick with your crowd. You target and narrowcast. To combat terrorism, you identify an Axis of Evil, and threaten its destruction. In the doctrine of Us vs. Them, "Them" are not just wrong. Often they are filthy, corrupt, evil or not fully human. They are the "war criminals," "evildoers"--or "nappy-headed hos."

But the weather is changing. Poll numbers show weariness with shock-jock politics. Neither the Republican president nor the Democratic Congress wins points for petulant posturing over whether to hold a meeting on Iraq spending. Voters deeply doubt the efficacy of Bush's Us-vs.-Them thinking on terrorism. Four years into the invasion of Iraq, we are despised by much of the planet; voters reject Bush's claim that the war has made us safer. The accusatory double helix of Bushes and Clintons, which has lasted for nearly 20 years, feels like a stranglehold to many voters. The rumor among network suits is that numbers are softening for the O'Reillys of the world. …

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