Monday, April 11, 2011

Radio MIA

I've been driving around Miami the past few days and flipping through channels. It's a futile exercise but I suffer from phantom fan syndrome. I grew up in the best radio market in America. South Florida in the 1980s and early 90s was a Warholian echo chamber of personalities, scandals, and voices. 560 WQAM and 610 WIOD were kings. Hour after hour you could be driving around the city and find something on the airwaves that was smart, irreverent, ecclectic, and completely fitting of the Floridian's penchant for the absurd and bizarre. I wanted to be these radio circus freaks and carnival barkers. Little did I know that this was a short last gasp of an industry being swallowed up. Deregulation killed metropolitan talk radio and opened the doors for mega-media companies and their national auto-programming.

Now when I turn on the radio and flip around it's Spanish news channels, Cuban politics, and sports. Lots of sports. I flipped between different sports channels because it's something I can tolerate but even that is beginning to feel auto-programmed and bleached of personalities.

Yesterday I let the dial stop at 610. The famed-channel is about 20 years removed from its heyday. Ten years ago it was just 24-hr news repeated on the channel. Recently it's been gobbled up and now is home to nationally-syndicated Fox anchors and broadcasters. Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, and Sean Hannity call this former hippie-commune station its Miami link-in.  It's a surreal moment because when I see 610 on the dial I experience phantom fan syndrome. I get a warm, fuzzy feeling as my mind prepare itself for the brilliance of Randy Rhodes and Phil Hendry, the caustic rants of Neil Rodgers, or the absurd buffoonery of Rick and Sudds. Then I'm suddenly snapped out of it by ads for buying gold, erectile dysfunction, and FEAR. Buy fear, sell hope. Fear is trading at an all-time high these days.

The 610 of the past were stoners, comedians, and insane Floridians with pet obsessions, and conspiratorial theories on peyote. They were men and women, rich and poor, gay and straight all united by the feeling that the world was insane, hilarious, unpredictable, and something to be joked about to take away the pain.

Now the 610 caller are mostly from the middle of the country and older white men. And the overriding theme of their calls is FEAR. They call Beck afraid of our economy, afraid of the president, of hippies, of 'inner city problems.' No wonder people are having problems with 'erectile functions' with all this fear. There is little humor to the problems or problem-solvers, but a deep suspicion and distrustfulness of any big organization (oddly enough they don't hold this same suspicion for the media comglomerate they listen to that swallowed up a lot of the smaller 610s all over the nation).

Listening to these callers makes me realize something: they are really afraid. It's not an act or a racist rant, or a cover for their prejudices. They are really scared. Of what, I'm not entirely sure. Scared of change of 'their' country no longer being 'their's?' They aren't pretending. This fear is real to them and people like Beck, Limbaugh, and Hannity help fill a role in their lives that maybe keeps them from going crazy.

What do they get from this broadcast of fear? Comfort, community, and a feeling that there is a way. Of course, I would think the way out of fear is to embrace its opposite. Still, they appear to be finding a way. The older white men right-wing radio of hate and mistrust share a field with another genre: gangsta rap. In the 80s and 90s there was a violent, mysogynistic entertainment filled with guns, jewelry, and scandal. Black men were under attack and the response to gangs, crack, and death was gangsta rap. Critics said the music was destructive, but failed to realize it was describing a destruction while not necessarily taking part in it. Yes, there was glorification, exaggeration, and rampant homophobia. But there was also some community formed from this media.

Right-wing radio has come together to offer a community balm of coercive violence, fear, erectile dysfunction cures, and hidden gold solutions to the spiritually and financially insolvent.  These are men who are losing hope in themselves and lashing out. But at least they're also reaching out. It is in joining forces that they can begin to find their real problems aren't anchor babies and secret Kenya Muslims. Their real problems are much like mine. And there really is no difference. Sadly 610 WIOD has been gobbled up and all the stars are gone. Fortunately, maybe it's for a good cause to give aid to the increasingly delusional fringe few who need the station more than myself or my friends.

No comments: