From the February 2002 Idaho Observer:

Free Radio America

By Jan Blum and Dr. Gary Trexler

Each month over the last year we've brought you a collection of radio hosts and shows for you to expand your listening repertoire. And there are more. Lots more. But before we return to our normal format of presenting a list of shows along with their descriptions, we are taking a pause to share with you the criteria we use when searching for outstanding shows.

How do they measure up?

What makes you listen to the radio shows that are your favorites? Here are some of the traits and skills for which we listen. As you read through our list, you may realize that you don't hear talk show hosts who personify very many of these qualities... and you will have discovered why we write this column.

Does the show host rant or does s/he dialogue?

Do they think they have all the answers? Are they arrogant in their assumptions? Or do they invite people to join their show who actually represent points of view with which they disagree. If they do this, do they show respect for their guest or do they ruthlessly pound them with their own point of view? Do they seek understanding? Do they move toward common ground or do they polarize? Do they genuinely listen to callers that present various points of view or do they cut them off and make fun of them?

Does the show host seek win/win solutions?

We hear many talk show hosts who only complain and blame; they seldom seek any solutions. It's a focus on problems, awful problems. Some present solutions, but generally those solutions are win/lose solutions, like bombing the enemy into submission -- or oblivion. Often, the problem is only seen from the show host's personal perspective or belief system and so, naturally, the solution only solves that part of the problem. We look for hosts who seek to understand the needs of all the players in a particular drama and then encourage solutions that meet the majority of needs.

Does the show host resort to bipartisan blaming?

This is another example of narrow eyesight. It reveals a lack of sophistication about political realities -- or about human nature. If one political party had the answer, then why are things constantly progressing along the same path, no matter which party is in power? And, notice also, that each party constantly betrays the party platforms?

Does the show host understand individual responsibility, including his/her own?

If the problem is always “over there,” then we can always blame someone else. The down side to this is that we're always the victim and we're helpless to change things. That's a pretty powerless position. We prefer to understand what part we play in things being the way they are, and to seek to understand what we can do by changing our own thinking or our actions. This doesn't mean we blame ourselves, either. But we can always seek ways to participate in solutions.

Does the show host seem to understand political structure, such as the difference between a republic and a democracy?

Nearly everyone refers to America as a democracy. Are they correct (America began as a republic but has become a fascist dictatorship)? We need to start with a clear understanding of where we are. Talk show hosts who don't know this, may still present some great shows. But political discussions may be landmines of misinformation.

Does the show present some new solutions or the ones heard everywhere else?

When most radio shows present only slight variations on a theme, you have to wonder how independent the speakers really are? Are their opinions being censored by the broadcasting station policies?

Does the show host seem to understand the economic structure of this country?

One of the greatest tools of political control is the economy. If the talk show host doesn't understand who the Federal Reserve really is, or how banking institutions work, then once again, discussions about the economy will likely be riddled with common myths that fail to truly enlighten the listeners.

Does the show only have guests who sell products?

Radio stations used to pay their broadcasters. Today, many stations actually CHARGE broadcasters to come on the air. This means that, increasingly, we are hearing either from great salespeople or the independently wealthy with a beef they want to air. Sometimes a host will have a guest on who sells a product that truly helps people. That happens. More often, hosts must promote products to help support their time on the air.

Does the show host draw from history and bring context to current events?

It is our ignorance of the broad sweep of history that often prevents us from understanding what we are seeing all around us. In order to truly understand current events, we need to be familiar with ancient history and the causes of the rise and fall of nations throughout the ages. What patterns are we repeating? Where are we in the cycle?

Does the show host seem well versed in other versions of American history?

We all know the stories about the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln. We know the stories we were taught in school and everywhere else in America. We know the official American version. But there are other American versions. And there are international views, as well. The purpose here is not to dilute truth or to cause confusion. Rather, it is to avoid being an ostrich. We feel sorry for the Russians with their official “news.” Could it be that we are in a cosmetically more attractive situation that is actually very similar?

Think about this one seriously:

How comfortable are you with someone explaining a very different explanation of the Civil War -- that it wasn't really about slavery? If this raises your anxiety, perhaps it is because we have actually not had as much “free speech” as we have presumed. Perhaps social constraint and the desire to be “politically correct” has curtailed our exploration. Perhaps there are other forces.. If these ideas are shocking to you, we would encourage you to listen to more TRUE FREE SPEECH radio!


Jan and Gary can be contacted via email at:

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