Magazine article The New Yorker

DUMBASSIFICATION; THE RADIO DIAL Series: 2/5

Magazine article The New Yorker

DUMBASSIFICATION; THE RADIO DIAL Series: 2/5

Article excerpt

An hour or so after Air America began broadcasting last week, Chuck D, the front man for the rap group Public Enemy, arrived at its studios, on Park Avenue South. He was wearing a black nylon tracksuit, a black T-shirt, a black headband, and black suede sneakers, and he carried a black bag. He was running late, but he pointed out that, since he generally prefers to work from 2 to 5 a.m., the hour--1 p.m.--was actually quite early. In the studios, he ran into Michael Moore, the filmmaker, who had on a red baseball cap.

"You excited?" Moore asked.

Chuck D shrugged. "As excited as I can get," he said.

Depending on how you look at it, Air America is either a loftily conceived defense of liberal discourse or a signal of its final collapse. The network--or, really, network-let--is currently leasing time on AM stations in six cities, including New York and Los Angeles, and is being marketed, quite explicitly, as a left-wing rip-off of Rush Limbaugh. ("All the caffeine and none of the Oxycontin," one of its ads declares.) Its launch, last Wednesday, was presented as a major media event, mostly owing to the participation of Al Franken, whose three-hour daily program, in homage to Fox's Bill O'Reilly, is called "The O'Franken Factor."

But if the goal of Air America is truly to match conservative radio's hostility and bluster, Chuck D's show, called "Unfiltered," may come closer to the mark. "The right-wing cats got balls," Chuck D said, shortly after arriving and settling into one of the studios' few available chairs, which was sitting in an empty hallway. "Bill O'Reilly is going to say what he believes. And often people to the left, they don't really speak on what they believe. If the wind blows left, they go left; if the wind blows right, they go right." Chuck D rejects the label "liberal," preferring that he be called "radical," but, he said, "when I come on the radio I might be looked upon as being conservative, because there's really a lot of bullshit that needs to be called out."

Public Enemy was formed in 1982, and released its first album, "Yo! Bum Rush the Show," five years later. If it is no longer the most popular rap group recording, it is almost certainly the most venerable, and Chuck D, ne Carlton Douglas Ridenhour, is widely regarded as one of the most influential figures in the history of hip-hop. …

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