They Can’t All Be Walter Williams

by L. Neil Smith

Special to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise

Reader Challenge: Who are your news sources today? Why? Whom do you trust? Letters or articles are welcome. — Editor.

Iwas born the same year as commercial TV, although it wasn’t until I was in First Grade that my family actually bought one of the infernal devices. Before that, we amused ourselves with the infernal device of an earlier age, radio.

What I recall about radio from the late 40s and early 50s begins with the music of that era. (I’m not “waxing” nostalgic: Bill Haley and Elvis did the world a favor by putting Patti Page and Hugo Winterhalter out of our misery.) It includes morning musical variety — Arthur Godfrey and Don MacNeil — that anticipated late-night TV talk shows, and “prime time” offerings of Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Donald O’Connor, Paul Whiteman, and others. I’m not forgetting drama: The Lone Ranger, The Green Hornet, The Shadow, Inner Sanctum, and The FBI in Peace and War. Gunsmoke began on radio, starring William Conrad.

There were soap operas, too, but I’m repressing them.

Radio and I go back a long way in another respect. For a year, starting at age 13, in connection with a Boy Scout project, I panel-engineered the weekly remote broadcast of Protestant church services at an overseas air force base.

Old time radio and the first 40 years of TV had a lot in common. After a nationally-broadcast show, folks would come to school or work the next day and talk over what they’d heard or seen with everybody else, who’d heard or seen the same thing. It’s said that during commercials for I Love Lucy, water pressure plummeted across the nation as millions of Americans all got up and went to the bathroom at the same time. Some even profess to miss that kind of hydraulic togetherness (which came to a well-deserved end at the start of the cable era). I’m not one of them; I remember all too well a time when, in most of the country, there was only one channel, and you had to watch I Love Lucy.

And I never did love Lucy.

In these post-Mass Man days, TV and radio are individuated. We have cable and satellites to thank for that, along with the demise of Top 40. Anyone who knows me knows I listen to talk radio. That wasn’t always the case: when the inappropriately sainted Alan Berg was holding forth, I avoided it. He wasn’t just a socialist, incapable of thinking his way out of a wet paper bag, he believed that being ugly to callers constituted entertainment. He was killed by a neofascist even stupider than he was, but it was bound to happen sooner or later, if only at the hands of some litle old lady he’d gratuitously pissed off.

My opinion of talk radio received no immediate correction at the other end of Denver’s political spectrum. KOA’s Mike Rosen was — and remains today — an intellectually dishonest hysteric (and admitted “baseball socialist”) whose habitual reaction to being trapped in an inconsistency is to retort, “That was then, this is now.” Devoid of any observable creativity or imagination, when presented with new possiblities or conditions, he is flounderingly incapable of adapting. Like Alan Berg, he beats up on his callers and the guests that he assumes his listeners will disapprove of. Unlike Berg he doesn’t have the excuse all “liberals” have, that, at some fundamental level, they’re mentally ill.

Looking back, I’m only grateful that I never had a chance to hear Don Imus until I’d had a chance to experience fully-evolved Homo sapiens on the radio first.

I altered my view on talk radio when I heard Rush Limbaugh dealing with listeners’ opinions he disagreed with. He didn’t yell or insult his callers. I’ve written a lot about the Man from Cape Girardeau, much of it negative, and doubtless will again. I disagree with him half the time (as any Libertarian will) but it’s a different half than I’m used to. I almost invariably like other Limbaugh listeners I meet; most of them are more radical and principled than he is. As an occasional songwriter who began with political parodies in high school, I love what he does with music, and it should never be forgotten how he rallied opposition to Bozo and Evita when we might otherwise have been overwhelmed.

Another great voice is that of Ken Hamblin, Harley-riding “Black Avenger”, former civil rights worker, news photographer and — ironically — admirer of Alan Berg. Son of a West Indian immigrant, who grew up in New York, Detroit, and the 87nd Airborne, Ken lives near Denver, whence emanate his daily radio broadcast and syndicated newspaper column. What he avenges is the plantation mentality of those who call themselves liberals and the debilitating effect on his race of programs like affirmative action. His foes are politicians who, in his view, use the inner cities to breed Democratic voters. You’d better believe the parasites he calls “quota blacks” hate him back in, er … spades. Ever a progressive fellow, he can be heard in real time on internet radio at [defunct, alas — ed.].

Lately I’ve been listening to G. Gordon Liddy. His education is similar to mine; his concerns for logic and the niceties of language are fresh air after Limbaugh’s malapropisms and dogmatic attitudes. The “Darth Vader of the Nixon Administration” is a kindly “gentleman of the old school” who reminds me of Bob LeFevre. At the same time, he manifests a well-informed appreciation for weapons, and for every aspect of the fair sex, that produces, among other things, his “Stacked & Packed Calendar” (a dozen quality photographs of his more attractive female fans, scantily-clad, and wielding a variety of lethal hardware) enabling him to “offend Pattie Schroeder and Sarah Brady at the same time”.

I used to be a regular guest, specializing in Second Amendment issues, of Dr. Norm Resnick, unrivaled star of right-wing shortwave radio. Norm and two other local gents of our mutual acquaintance are held by Morris Dees (of the Southern Mental Poverty Center) to be among the 100 most dangerous individuals in America, with an implication that a major component of their dangerousness is anti-semitism. Trouble is, two of them are Jewish (which gives us an idea how credible Dees is) and furthermore, anyone who knows us knows that I’m more dangerous than all three of the others put together. I’m thinking about suing.

Norm is an educator who may change the course of history. Working at the opposite end from JPFO’s Aaron Zelman, he’s shamed much of the dumb-ass right out of its hatred for things Jewish. My problem with him — more accurately, with his listeners — is that they’re suicidally depressing and uninterested in solutions. My publisher and Laissez Faire Books ran ads on Norm’s station while I was on; over six weeks, we didn’t sell book one. Maybe I’m taking it personally, but unlike Norm himself, his audience of political paralytics would apparently rather whimper like P.J. O’Rourke’s “bedwetting liberals” about how bad things are, than actually take charge and do something about it.

I’ve recently been steered to Mike Reagan, but his show airs here in the evening, and, as horrible as television gets (primarily because even those like FOX and UPN, who produce the best of it, still want to be — perversely — just like ABC, NBC, and CBS) anyone with a wife and daughter has better things to do with his evenings than listen to radio. Lately we’ve been going ice skating, and anyone who knows me will appreciate how comical that must look.

Eat your heart out, Lucy.

Parenthetically, all network radio news is awful. The oddest phenomenon in communications today is the ideological broadcaster who runs, say, Gordon Liddy and Ken Hamblin, but whose news feed comes from Associated Press and, given AP’s NEA-jerk leftist interpretation of events, might as well be an extrusion of NPR. What’s more — with the highly notable exception of the family who own Norm Resnick’s home station — all the local operators of my acquaintance are unspeakably cheap, molishly shortsighted, and ineffably … grimy.

I used to listen to Chuck Adler. My wife Cathy and I have filled in for Mike McNulty on his Saturday morning show on Norm’s station. A problem with all these guys is that they suffer to varying degrees from the triple malaise Ayn Rand warned us of, mysticism, altruism, and collectivism. (Phoenix’s Sam Steiger may be a legitimate exception — my friend Maryann Watkins surely is — but with due respect to legions who believe otherwise, I’ve never heard anything to convince me that Howard Stern or Gene Burns are genuine Libertarians.)

Mostly they’re promiscuously religious, which I can’t help but see as a pathetic confession to intellectual enfeeblement. (There — I said it, and I’m glad!) They’re anti-individualists (no matter what they say), right-wing collectivists who wouldn’t hesitate a second longer than Comrade Hillary to sacrifice your life, your property, or your rights to whatever they consider a worthy cause. Despite their religious-based assertions of moral certainty, they drift, ideologically, because they haven’t any real principles to anchor them. They’re not the free-market freedom-fighters they claim, but second- and third-hand New Dealers, upholding policies they’d have opposed 60 years ago.

Michael Medved is, perhaps, the worst, an obnoxiously godly prude whom I’m always deeply disappointed to hear replacing Rush Limbaugh. He’s the reason (along with Henry Waxman) that I coined the expression “dogwhistle” in the first place. It’s too damned bad he became a conservative; he’d fit perfectly into his dear friend Hillary’s administration as a sort of miniature Robert Reich.

Tony Snow, another Limbaugh stand-in is a political weakling so thoroughly typical of the Republican Party in general that I’m surprised he wasn’t Bob Dole’s running mate. With Tony around to temporize and water principles down, Jack Kemp better look to his laurels as “coward of the country” in the year 2000.

I get mad at all of these guys from time to time, and I swear I’ll never listen to them again. But in the end, I never can hold a grudge. Most of them unquestionably brighten my day and — as occasional fellow travelers — they help to make what Rudyard Kipling called “The Great Game” a trifle less burdensome.

The great tragedy is that — with the exception of the precious few hours every year that Dr. Walter Williams takes the air behind the “Golden EIB Microphone” — there doesn’t seem to be any genuine libertarian talk radio yet. I’d love to do it myself, and perhaps I will, someday, given a suitable offer.

But perhaps there never will be any libertarian talk radio. The left wing socialists own television, where they communicate in pretty pictographs and can emote to their bleeding hearts’ content — instead of offering ideas and logical argument. The right wing socialists own radio, the “Theater of the Mind”.

It’s the internet, in many ways, the city of the future, that belongs to us.

It could be worse.

Reader Challenge: Who are your news sources today? Why? Whom do you trust? Letters or articles are welcome. — Editor.


Reprinted from The Libertarian Enterprise for Number 50, July 4, 1999

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