Thursday, February 7, 2008

Ingraham Ingratiates...NOT

The Laura Ingraham Show
KKOL 1300 kHz
Morning drive 6-9 am

Shortly before Mitt Romney this morning announced the suspension of his occasionally surreal campaign, the onetime GOP frontrunner acknowledged Laura Ingraham's introduction of him moments prior, thanking her as "gorgeous and brilliant".

Few would dispute that the District of Columbia-based syndicated newstalker is each of those, but she'd be forgiven for being uncomfortable with Romney's description. The sassy rock-rib conservative has for several years now been increasingly successful in a genre where beauty's advantage is negated; one of the many aspects newstalk radio has over lesser media platforms is that "appearances" thereon are absolutely irrelevant. Romney's so sequencing his adjectives implies she'd be a less effective newstalker were she plain.

So Ingraham gets no points from me for her looks. And quite a few are deducted for an ideological smugness that is often off the chart. Her national program is heard by Seattle-Tacoma listeners during morning-drive over KKOL, directly opposite Glenn Beck's syndicated show carried by KTTH, and it usually annoys more than it enthralls. And not merely because the show's much-used tagline ("Radio's healthy addiction") is a blatent and cynical rip-off of one of Limbaugh's best slogans ("An airborne addiction spread by casual contact").

As she's a devout Catholic convert, it's not a total surprise that Ingraham is an absolutist on abortion. But she's also too rigid on most other conservative issues to avoid alienating would-be listeners of most centrist or liberal stripes. During early 2005, she may have been talk radio's most shrill voice debating Terry Schiavo's sad, final months. So determined Ingraham was to carry on that supposed crusade for "life" that, after the comatose patient's protracted death in Florida, she pledged, "On this show, we're never going to drop this!" And then, within less than a fortnight, she proceeded to do just that. (One of several reasons I've never engaged in activist broadcasting is that it's embarrassing after the status quo ends up remaining unbudged.)

Ingraham speaks quite rapidly on-air, which is fine, and is very inconsiderate of callers, which is not. Calls are solicited throughout her show, but almost never featured prominently or even early in an hour, instead typically serving merely as garnish for Ingraham and her guests' own pontifications. The handful which make air are often clumsily crammed into a minute or less up against a commercial, routinely prompting Ingraham to chide, "Real quick now--we gotta go to break!" And no open-line segments--ever, as far as I can determine, another indication of her general disregard for her callers' ideas.

She repeatedly rails against various "elites", when in fact the former Reagan speechwriter and current Washington pundit is an epitome of a Beltway insider. And given that she was one of the founders of the redoubtable Dartmouth Review, it's almost shocking how poorly written her 2007 call-to-action book, Power to the People, was. (The lyrics to John & Yoko's 1971 single under an identical title were also rather amateurishly composed, but at least that Top 10 hit offered a catchy tune and a terrific, plaintive Lennon vocal.)

Oh, and speaking of popular music: Years before radio--well, commercial radio, at least--I was an established Dylanologist, as many of my KIRO listeners were aware. So one might expect that I'd appreciate Ingraham's occasional on-air recognition of the rock icon's career as the unequalled artistic accomplishment it is, and indeed I do; some of his less-familiar songs are even in her bumper-music rotation. But the couple times I've heard her not merely citing him in near awe but actually discussing his work, she did so in terms surprisingly shallow for an intellectual of her background. Of course, ever since the early 60s, ideologues have misjudged (though not often from the right) the creative import of this recording artist, whose output has been almost purely apolitical since early 1964.

A onetime clerk for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Ingraham features her two production-guy sidekicks on the air far too often, a practice not uncommon in a commentator-first-broadcaster-second host. And by the time the recent breast-cancer survivor's bridal engagement had abruptly ended (with no on-air explanation) a couple years back, much such crosstalk had been devoted to her wedding-plan updates, self-indulgently squandering valuable national airtime. (Quality newstalk radio can assume a myriad of forms, but audio Oprah ain't one of the them.)

But the former Republican campaign strategist only came to this most interesting media genre of all after bouncing around law, politics and television. Her commentaries on The CBS Evening News, followed by Watch It! on MSNBC and then frequent talking-head guest duty all over the cable nets during the late 90s, paved the way to her national newstalk show, which launched in 2001.

I'm suspicious of anyone who seems to notice the tremendously versatile vehicle which call-in radio obviously is only after passions for other public endeavors may have faded. I mean, some of us figured out that talk radio is the ideal news-biz gig while we were still mere listeners, instead of ultimately settling on broadcast in general and radio in particular only as something of an afterthought to another career or two.

Few people in the audience realize how significantly a radio program can be bolstered, in various subtle ways, when stewarded with the skills a bona fide broadcaster brings to newstalk. For decades now, I've been what industry types call a "radio guy". So maybe I'm just always going to favor a radio gal whose listeners are respected as playgoers in the theatre of the mind (like, say, late-night syndicated talk doyenne Rollye James, whom Radioactive Seattle shall critique soon) over any Laura-come-lately who clearly regards her audience mainly as potentially-swayed votes.


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