How I Learned to Love Hate Radio

KSFO Radio's anti-fans

Impeachment, gay marriage, affirmative action, guns. Hate crimes, religious persecution, education reform, guns. Executive orders, campaign finance, banking regulation, guns. Kosovo, NATO, the U.N., China, Iraq, Russia, Israel ... major conflicts, minor skirmishes, peacekeeping missions. And a never-ending succession of bills in the state Assembly. There were few items on the syllabus about which I didn't have an opinion. There were also few items about which I'd been exposed to complete information. Slowly, over months, I arrived at the demoralizing truth: My view of the world rested on a partial picture, one developed with minimum critical effort, and by culling easily available sources. Confronted with my own staggering ignorance, I was first embarrassed, then angry and overwhelmed.

No longer deluded with an image of myself as politically hip, I worried about people with other kinds of jobs, where they don't get paid to keep up with world events. The seed of my worry may have been during the impeachment, where it was obvious that despite the sheer volume of coverage, press reports of Monicagate were abbreviated and biased. Maybe it was the question that every KSFO host would pose to the audience: "Did you see this in the Chronicle? Was this covered on CNN? Where's the coverage?" The answer was always no. No I didn't, no it wasn't, and I don't know.

What about the real people, I obsessed, what about the citizens? They couldn't possibly be aware of everything they need to know. There aren't enough hours in the day to hold a full-time job and still keep up! How can the people make good decisions? How can they vote wisely? I whipped myself into a froth, needling my friends and family about the important decisions they were making without enough information.

Furthermore, I ranted, that's the way the leaders want it. The last thing legislators want is well-informed voters. Watching Sacramento is overpowering evidence! None of the important stuff makes the newspapers. It's obvious the press is complicit, whether through laziness, indifference, or bias.

The initial stages of creeping KSFO paranoia? Most people responded with the slow, silent nod usually reserved for Alzheimer patients. As if the beloved person who inhabited this familiar body had gone, and a babbling stranger had taken her place. Even my most indulgent friend finally lost patience.

"When did you start being this way?" she demanded. She is a soulmate, and a previous a companion on many flights of fancy. She's an X-Files fan, for crying out loud. She hadn't batted an eye the time I suggested that perhaps we could will ourselves into other people's dreams. But the idea that elected officials might depend on the help of the press to operate without voter scrutiny was outlandish. By the time we finished our second beer, Ifelt outlandish, and I let it rest.

Voices From

the Closet

"I guess she thinks all the niggers should get shipped back to Africa, right?"

The anti-fans are always on standby, ready to condemn, in rabid terms, whatever commentary falls under the large and leaky rhetorical umbrella called "hate speech." Virtually any sentiment uttered by a conservative voice qualifies. I am always stunned into momentary silence, no matter how many of these calls I pick up.

"Am I right?" the caller demanded. "Because that's the road she's started down, and that's where this diatribe is going!" Barbara was reading a Los Angeles Timesarticle that questioned whether some black and Latino students were academically prepared to function in universities once they had been recruited into the system through affirmative action. The caller declined my invitation to challenge the idea on the air, though his outrage was palpable.

A significant number of off-air callers identify themselves as gay or black. Some are anti-fans clearly trying to bait me into a homophobic or racist response. Others might be characterized as closet fans, offering timid or reluctant agreement with the host through the producer. Contact with me is enough to bring them out of the closet, but that's as close to broad daylight as they care to get.

"Would you like to get on the air with that comment?" I ask.

"Oh, no! My voice is too recognizable," they quickly hang up.

Occasionally I persuade them to talk on the air.

"I don't like you," a black man named Earl says to Michael Savage, who is arguably KSFO's most controversial host. "But I learn from you, so I listen every day."

Michael uses Earl's call to validate himself and promote the radio station. He deftly executes this bit of show business, and dismisses Earl in order to expound on the enlightenment KSFO might offer to people of all colors and persuasions, if only they were receptive. I sense that Earl's comment was not quite so literal. What Earl is learning, I think, is much larger than Michael Savage, or KSFO, and more complex than Earl himself could have articulated, no matter how long he'd been kept on the air. I've been trying to articulate it from the inside for months.

Confession of a Political Pornographer

I am a political pornographer, a facilitator of something profane. I am the barker at the door of the red-light district in Utopia. An anonymous guy in an overcoat sneaks in for the show. When he pulls back the red velvet curtain, he lets go, briefly, of the behavioral requirements of life in Utopia. It feels good, but it feels bad, too. And God forbid his next-door neighbor should see him leave the booth.

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