Monday, September 21, 2009

Throwing the Book at Obama

Unlike most of my erstwhile colleagues in commercial newstalk radio, I don't pretend to understand much if any of the nuts and bolts of the current healthcare debate.

But I do understand the English language. And that's why I was so gratified to see President Obama's appearance on This Week with George Stephanopoulis yesterday. Mind you, not because that element of the President's weekend media blitz necessarily made any of the complex issue's details more clear, but rather because of Stephanopolis's prop-assisted manner of interviewing him. When challenging him on whether a "mandate" qualifies as a "tax"—which it clearly does—the host trotted out Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary to cite the definition of the word tax.

Regular listeners to my KIRO broadcasts know that book is the closest thing to a Bible this agnostic ever cites. Because of all the various other Webster's dictionaries out there—there's an abundance because the Merriam-Webster company decades ago lost exclusive rights to its founder Noah Webster's name—Merriam-Webster's is the gold-standard of the lexicographer's art.

Many nights on KIRO I explained the half-dozen or so reasons why their dictionary is so superior to all others, but the most compelling is that their dictionaries feature the finest definitional writing in the entire cluttered field. Merriam-Webster's consistently offers more tightly-written definitions than any of their estimable competitors.

Thus when Stephanopoulis cited "a charge usually of money imposed by authority on persons or property for public purposes", the President was left with absolutely no wiggle room to deny that any governmentally-mandated fee indeed constitutes a tax. But he did anyway.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Get Back to Work, Rush!

Rush Limbaugh, architect and executor of the finest and most influential broadcast in commercial newstalk radio history, has become dangerously fat and lazy.

RadioactiveSeattle readers and Michael Medved Show regular listeners know that "Bryan in Seattle" doesn't do fat jokes, so I'm not referring to his girth, which he's slimmed down again anyway of late. Rather, while Limbaugh continues routinely taking days or weeks off in a fashion that might have even embarrassed Johnny Carson, a threat has emerged to Limbaugh's supremacy of my favorite media genre, by someone who's working harder if not smarter, and is closing in on his rear as the newstalk radio kingpin and king-maker.

Glenn Beck is every bit the "demagoon" that Maureen Dowd has so astutely dubbed him, but the sad fact is that his presence and popularity are each growing at a frightening rate to those of us who value quality newstalk radio and are not impressed by half-informed diatribes of the sort Beck has raised to an art form. And Beck's on a winning streak now that Van Jones is out at the White House. Limbaugh's unprecedented success with his factual approach to refuting the Clinton agenda during the 90s gave some hope to those of us who fear the masses are indeed herd-like, easily manipulated and unable to digest the type of complex political analysis that Limbaugh is so adept at streamlining. In sharp contrast, Beck's recent success with reckless populist activism is sadly confirming that emotionalism trumps intellectuality every time.

For all of the left's dismissiveness that Limbaugh is "just an entertainer" and a prevaricating one at that, the fact is, as RadioactiveSeattle has documented, that he deals in the factual, if ideologically selective. Limbaugh's only real distortions are when he exaggerates for comedic effect. But increasingly his lampooning of the Obama administration as a bunch of Marxists is increasingly less funny than it is an excuse for his critics to dismiss him as a fringe agitator.

Meanwhile, Beck, who should be so dismissed, is using his breathtaking ratings surge on Fox New Channel and the resignation of Obama advisor Jones--in the wake of Beck's high-profile television campaign against the so-called "Green Czar" with collectivist sensibilities--as a sledgehammer to try to shatter the coalition that the President has assembled for his liberal agenda.

Limbaugh, who has no regular television presence, still benefits from a vastly larger and stronger affiliate base for his radio empire, but that may be threatened as Beck continues his energetic rise on lesser stations, fortified by his tireless, if dubious, public campaigns and numerous public appearances--including an upcoming one here in Seattle in a baseball stadium, for G-d's sake. Add to that the fact that Beck has never seen a marginally-legitimate advertiser he wouldn't enthusiastically endorse, and local listeners around the nation are hearing Beck's plaintive voice these days a lot more than they hear Limbaugh's.

To someone who doesn't listen closely--and my hunch is that that's at least 80% of both Limbaugh's and Beck's audiences--the two seem almost indistinguishable, both being newstalk radio blowhards constantly carping at the leftist in the White House and his team of believers. But Limbaugh, when you filter out the jokes, is a serious conservative critic of a team he truly believes is injurious to the American capitalistic future. Whereas Beck is a shallow-thinking agitator who is using his newfound populist popularity to leverage what he freely admits is an effort to "take back the country".

Never mind that no one has "stolen" our nation; Obama was freely elected, and I'm still glad I voted for him. But while I agree with a lot of the statist critiques of this Administration levelled by both Limbaugh and Beck, the latter frames everything in his cloying, recovering-drunk sanctimony. Who else regularly implores his listeners to "pray for me"? Sadly, that's a whole lot funnier than any of the forced "bits" Beck and his new on-air partner Pat Gray foist upon their long-suffering listeners.

In media, exposure is like Woody Allen's famous dictum about life: 50% of it is just showing up. With Beck's voice ascendant, if Limbaugh doesn't get back to the work ethic that put him on the top, he risks beginning replaced as the heart and soul of the conservative movement by a pretender--in both senses of the word--who has neither his intellectual heft nor his satirical gifts. Beck's true agenda seems to be to set himself up as the de facto leader of a government in exile. During the 90s, Limbaugh himself attained that through broadcast excellence, as the name of his network suggests, but Beck is just muscling his way to the top. If Rush doesn't get back to working hard, he may soon find himself playing second fiddle to a guy with none of his smarts or his principles.


Wednesday, September 2, 2009


Much of conservative newstalk radio this week has been savaging the President's upcoming address to the nation's students. These hosts include my hero (if not necessarily this dedicated agnostic's ideological soul-mate) Michael Medved and the delightfully acerbic Mark Steyn (filling in for Limbaugh on the Excellence in Broadcasting Network).

The charge generally is that Obama is using this as an excuse to indoctrinate our schoolchildren with his putative statism.

Notwithstanding those silly "How I Can Help the President" letters-to-themselves that second-graders are being instructed to write, I think this has the makings of a terrific Presidential tradition. And it would perfectly tie in with a radical Department of Education revamping I've advocated.

I've long argued over KIRO/Seattle and earlier stations which have aired my commercial newstalk radio broadcasts for continuation of the grand and sensible American tradition of local control of education. Locally-elected school boards and their appointed administrators, not Federal policy, should dictate curricula. But I do see a vital federal role.

Like many, I've advocated a dismantlement of the Education Department, but my idea has a twist. Medved and others want to see a total dissolution of the Federal Department.

My proposal is cleverly less sweeping. Unlike the standard conservative position, that the entire cabinet level position be eliminated first by Executive Order and later confirmed by Congressional act, I favor instead a drastic downsizing of the Ed Department, which incidentally was one of the many mistaken advents of the Carter Administration. That is, I think every position but the Secretary of Education should be abolished.

So leave the Secretary and a tiny support staff for the office, tiny for pretty much all they would have to do is schedule the Secretary's numerous appearances in each of the 50 states. For in my Administration, the Secretary's sole job would be, on short notice, to visit local school boards, administrators and even classrooms, lending the Administration's prestige and influence to further whatever general educational aims my Administration rhetorically espouses.

The threat of an occasional visit by the Secretary of Education would have a noticeable effect on local school boards maintaining their standards, naturally fearful of the national spotlight being shed on their substandard management of the locals' educational future.

This idea need not be restricted to the Secretary. If you like, also retain with the Secretary the office's various Undersecretaries and Assistant Secretaries to widen the reach of this approach.

In this context, an annual Presidential Address to the Students each September could set the tone for that entire scholastic year, not to mention giving at least those students paying attention to their video screens a stake in the national improvement of our much-documented failing classrooms.

One vital idea that seems lost on many marginal students is why so many years of one's youth must be devoted to education in the first place. Presidents might be uniquely positioned to explain to those disillusioned by the entire process why it's not only in their personal interest but also, appealing to the natural patriotism even lackluster students often possess, how it's in the national interest for each of them to laboriously learn how to not improperly use apostrophes and why it's—not its—important to know who our nation's 4th President* was.

Meanwhile, Obama's initiative is being lampooned as a stunt, but many Presidential addresses circumstantially have that air anyway. This one, well-executed and inspirational—two Presidential details Obama's usually got down, in sharp contrast to his earnest and principled but inarticulate predecessor—would go a long way toward sheparding our nation's students, primary, secondary and collegiate alike, toward avoidance of squandering the twin gifts of youth and education.


* That would be James Madison, so-called Father of the Constitution, for those who didn't pay sufficient attention in grade school.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

George Gilder Should Join the Winning Team

Legendary conservative thinker George Gilder made a rare guest appearance in the second hour of today's Michael Medved show promoting his new book The Israel Test. This afternoon, as it happens, I couldn't get past the busy signals, much less the tough-to-impress Medved screener, so in case you're interested in what I would have said to the noted philosopher, I'll fill you in via, as the kids say, texting:

Always an honor to make air on the Medved broadcast again, Michael! I thought I'd not only endorse but further Mr. Gilder's thesis and also make a rather bold suggestion to him, which I'm confident he'll reject out of hand. By the way Michael, I'm looking forward to your Seattle Mariners Medhead night out at the ballpark, which as you know commences in about three hours down at Safeco.

As to Mr. Gilder's arguing that the Jewish people have consistently had a disproportionately large impact on our civilization's progression through the ages, I not only agree with it, but years ago I coined a term for it. While we have too many anti-Semites even two generations after Hitler, we don't have enough pro-Semites, as I happily plead guilty to being.

And that of course is also why I converted to Judiasm, although through a movement that represents a non-believing strain of the religion.

But I tell you, Mr. Gilder, this comes into play with my occasional charge voiced on this very program that Michael is soft on terrorism in general and on the Palestinians in particular.
The Israel-Palestine dispute is one of those cases where both sides have powerfully correct positions. But what Michael fails to take into account, in always promoting supposed "moderates" among the Palestinians, is that this is in fact not a mere "problem" needing an elusive "solution", but rather a long-running asymmetrical war in which I happen to find my favorite Middle-Eastern state besieged by an ethnic group I also greatly admire. So if I was advising Hamas, I'd tell them to up the ruthlessness against the Israelis in this asymmetrical conflict. But I'd advise Israel to do whatever it had to do to contain the violence.

This war hasn't been settled because each side is absolutely correct, not to mention determined. So I suspect it won't be solved in my lifetime or in the lifetimes of Michael's future grandchildren. That said, Mr. Gilder, I now want to challenge you to do the intellectually right thing and abandon your Christianity, which Michael in your introduction this afternoon described you as being committed to. If the Jewish people collectively truly are the successful strivers your book portray them as, you should be willing to do what I've done, and that is, join the winning team.

As always, thanks Michael for letting me be part of your terrific broadcast, and we'll look for you down at Safeco Field tonight!

Now all that, all six verbal paragraphs of it, times out at 1:54 at my speaking pace. So it's a good thing I didn't make air with these comments, since at about :35 of that 1:54 I'd likely have been admonished by the host, "Hey, Bryan in Puyallup, focus like a laser!"


Monday, August 24, 2009

Maybe Merrily and Manifestly Magnanimously Meet Megalomaniacal Me Amid Michael Medved's Mariners Meet-Up

So it turns out after all, I will be going to the Medved baseball outing as the Mariners take on the visiting Oakland Athletics at Safeco on Wednesday night (see "The Weight of Medved's Words", two entries below).

So if you're there in the Medved group's portion of the stands—in $40 seats, we oughta to be in a favored section, no?—go ahead and spy a guy who looks like the fellow behind that microphone to the right and introduce yourself, please.


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Screaming Back at Mark Levin



Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Weight of Medved's Words

Perspicacious neoconservative newstalker (and Ned Flanders doppelganger) Michael Medved is scheduled for yet another local public appearance next week. He'll be accompanying some avid Medheads and Seattle Mariners fans to the Oakland Athletics game at Safeco Field on August 26th, and I'd encourage you to attend. If f0r no other reason, it'll afford you a chance to see Medved up close and interact with his remarkable mind, and in a less stuffy environment than that of his terrific nationally-syndicated show, of which I'm proud to report he has allowed Styble into his stable of regular callers.

His well-earned celebrity aside, Medved is a fascinating person to get to know, though I'm hardly one of his pals. But he was always friendly to me as my colleague for three years at Entercom Broadcasting even when professional courtesy didn't dictate him so being, and I now cherish my continuing occasional in-person exchanges with him, which typically display his intellect and wit every bit as much as his broadcast does weekdays (KTTH 770 kHz, 12-3pm Pacific).

Of late Medved has been doing public appearances promoting his latest nonfiction book, the brief but incisive volume The 10 Big Lies About America. And in the process exposing how disrepectful his putatively loyal audience is. I say this because of what transpired at the last two such Medved appearances I've been fortunate enough to take in.

It so happens that after a University of Washington morning address, and then again a month later following a Discovery Institute lecture at the group's downtown Seattle headquarters—Medved was reduced to carrying his own box of unpurchased books back to his car after each signing was wrapped.

I'm not lamenting about poor sales here; I'm sure Amazon, Borders, et al. move more than enough Medved inventory to keep him living the good life, as you'd expect of any man of his professional station. Rather, I deplore the sight of a man of his professional station lacking adequate support staff.

Medved should have had a flunky carrying the box for him. So I became his ad hoc flunky in both instances. (Which, incidentally, is about as close as I'll ever come to working for Medved; while I can't imagine a more exciting off-air gig than the production staff of his daily national program, Medved cheerfully admits on his show that he discriminates in all hiring in favor of religious types, and RadioactiveSeattle readers—not to mention Medved show listeners—know I'm a decidedly agnostic fellow.)

I doubt I'll make the baseball game, so may I suggest that someone else volunteer at Safeco to go back to the concession stand to fetch Mr. Medved his yummy Ivar's chowder?


Friday, August 7, 2009

NEVER Be Surprised By Death

The news about suburban teen flick auteur John Hughes yesterday no doubt came as a shock to his legions of fans. After all, the famously-reclusive director and onetime wunderkind behind Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Sixteen Candles was only 59 when he succumbed to an apparent heart attack during a morning stroll in Manhattan while on a family visit to New York.

But Hughes's demise shouldn't really have been a surprise. Not because of his age, or that he hadn't experienced reported health difficulties, but rather because in a vital existential—if not also emotional—sense, we should never be surprised by death.

Let me explain.

It so happens that Hughes died on Hiroshima Day, the 64th anniversary of history's first nuclear attack, and that of course reminds everyone of Japan. And Japan, it turns out, follows a capital punishment policy which for over a decade has positively haunted me.

I first heard of this from that so-often-unreliable media realm, commercial newstalk radio. I wish I could aver that my favorite variety of media and longtime meal ticket is a dependable source of factual data, but the sad truth is that newstalk hosts often don't display absolute respect for fact. Clowns on the right like Glenn Beck and Michael Savage, on the left like Mike Malloy and Randi Rhodes, and like George Noory in the pseudoscientific mudd, er, middle—dispense all sorts of musings littered with half-truths or total misinformation. I'm not talking here about commercial radio talkers' intentional misrepresentations, which each of those reckless, if also sometimes talented, jerks are also known to promiscuously deal in. Rather, I refer to those incorrect statements they make which they honestly think to be true.

Intended to buttress their ideological arguments, these pieces of misinformation are believed or assumed to be accurate by hosts even though they've never taken the trouble to nail them down for accuracy before incorporating them into their ideological acts. Whatever my shortcomings as a commercial newstalker, I can go to my grave with the consolation that every moment of my 19 years of on-air hosting I considered my principal role to be that of a broadcast journalist, and thus subject to every constraint legitimate newsmen must work within in order to ensure factual integrity. It's true several management types in newstalk radio, and many more of my fellow hosts, counseled me that "you take this all too seriously, Bryan—this is just entertainment," but I'm proud I handled myself like a newsman, not a court agitator, or jester.

No it wasn't "just entertainment". Rather, my beloved—and, alas, former—profession was always about reliably providing information and perspective on the news and the society (and for scientifically-literate shows like my own, the universe). The fact is that probably fewer than a third of my colleagues recognized this journalistic responsibility to maintain the highest possible standards of factual accuracy.

Knowing how rare my shouldered burden was amongst my colleagues made me leery of something I heard a guy say on WXYT, a scrappy Detroit newstalk outlet competing with my onetime home, WJR. In 1994, I heard him claim that Japan employs a novel approach to the death penalty: upon receiving a death sentence for some capital crime, the condemned is not assigned an execution date, either immediately or even on a deferred basis after appeals and other bureaucratic considerations had been fulfilled. Instead, the predicament that at least some Japanese death row residents face is, oddly enough, both a certain and uncertain future.

The host claimed in passing to his caller that the policy in Japan was to let death row prisoners contemplate their fate while awaiting the inevitable, never knowing until the day of the event when their sentence would be completed. Thus each day, when the guards came around to deliver the breakfast meal, they could actually be there to accompany the prisoner on his last long walk.

Now this also came into play on my own Detroit show—as well as all my subsequent broadcasts in Chicago, Albuquerque and up here in Seattle—whenever the capital-punishment issue came up. And as every newstalk listener knows, it's a frequent topic of speed-of-light conversation on just about every station. I'd invoke this supposed Japanese policy typically in response to a caller's familiar argument that the death penalty is too easy on the worst of the worst. Isn't life without parole possibility a more fitting fate for mass murderers, they'd often posit, since obviously you can't equate the condemned's sole corpse with the multiple bodies he left in his wake at the crime scene? Well, I argued, if true, that unusual Japanese approach would have offered something of a solution to that problem, for in effect, it made every day on death row an execution date.

If that Japanese policy was indeed the case. Something which I never could confirm, despite considerable research on the question. I never got the chance to meet my competing colleague, else I would have questioned him as to his source for this elusive supposed fact. So for the ensuing decade, I kept periodically delving through Japanese crime stories or just asking acquaintances whom I thought might know about this, without success.

Still, whenever I used it on the air, I was always scrupulous about qualifying this in "Well, I've heard that..." terms, never once leading my audience to believe it definitely was true. Besides, even if the story regarding the policy in Japan was spurious, my point still was valid, and thus at least arguably possible for some U.S. state to institute. (When advancing that, of course I also observed it would be immediately assailed as unconstitutional on cruel-and-unusual grounds, and probably wouldn't pass Supreme Court muster unless the high court was then impanelled by Antonin Scalia and at least four of his clones.)

Now it so happens that late last year an article ran on the AP International wire which established that, for at least four current male residents of Japanese death row, the Detroit newstalker was correct! The way the AP covered the story, it was unclear whether the policy was also still applied to every male death row inmate, much less for condemned women as well. But of course the important part was that nearly a decade and a half after hearing of this, I finally had it confirmed. The AP copy concerned a review of their cases to see if the policy would be lifted and specific execution days set.

When I read this I was naturally relieved at having never dealt in misinformation on the question, and also looked at my former WXYT competitor with newfound retrospective respect. But mostly I was enjoying the pride I felt in having endeavored to invariably qualify my passing on hearsay as something yet unconfirmed. My hunch is that's a consideration very few of my colleagues honor beyond an initial basis. After that, the wording tends to morph into "it is said" or some other such consensus phraseology, and soon enough it's simply misremembered as fact.

At this point, and at the risk of sounding colossally impertinent, it should be mentioned that the ever-determined Wile E. Coyote, in his perennial pursuit of the vanishing-point Roadrunner, usually enjoyed an advantage I didn't have working for me that day last year when I read the AP dispatch. And that's my own fault, a simply egregious lapse of forethought. For remember, I'd been wondering about all this for well over a decade, and thus had had ample opportunity to contemplate its consequences. (And you also have had as long as it's taken to read the previous six paragraphs for this sober realization to dawn on you.) For whenever his latest plan involving a special-ordered Acme anvil somehow backfired and Wile E. found himself about to crushed instead, he still typically had three or four seconds staring aloft to brace himself for the impact. Sure, that never did much good for the hapless but crafty cartoon critter once the plummeting iron made impact, but at least he usually saw it coming.

Unlike me. For while wallowing in professional pride about tirelessly upholding journalistic standards, a profoundly disturbing truth pulverized me. For the reason this whole business had been haunting merather than merely piquing my curiosityall these years is that it was focussed on conjuring the worst possible fate any human might endure.

So this condemned guy awakens every morning knowing it could be the day of his painful death. And given the extraordinary variety of ways today, Friday, August 7, 2009 may calamitously prove to be the final day of my life, I also constantly face this reality, even while not thinking about it. And so do you.

So we're all on Japanese death row. Anvil flattens.


Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Styble Has NOT Suffered a Coronary !

Though I bet I very nearly did a few minutes ago.

But not because of my vigorous exercise regimen of a daily two- or three-mile jog pretty much seven days per week. (No, my cardio condition seems pretty decent for a 54-year-old heartbroken-by-career-evaporation guy. Or so my physicians report, I hope reliably.)

Rather, I nearly ended up on a Harborview Hospital cardiac gurney today after I was shocked by a new posting on the BlatherWatch newstalk radio blog. RadioactiveSeattle readers know that that particular competing site is not merely hugely left-leaning, but downright despised The Bryan Styble Program on KIRO 2005-2008 pretty much as much as Holocaust survivors hate Himmler.

Which is fine, by the way, since the blog serves a critical function, after all. (For the record, even though the proprietor of BlatherWatch may very well wish me a fate similar to another of his targets—my murdered KIRO colleague, Mike Webb—I always volunteer that Mr. BlatherWatch is a witty and trenchant if repeatedly vulgar newstalk critic.)

Sure, I wish BlatherWatch , an often angry blog where ideology is everything and the sort of broadcast standards I labored to uphold are disdained and even scorned, had at least occasionally credited me with what other Styble-never-shuts-up-but-at-least-he's-an old-school-broadcaster critics have always granted: That my work featured an all-but-extinct newstalk style radio nowadays—not merely all-open-lines-all-the-time (on the audience-respecting premise that callers need not be spoon-fed host-selected subjects, which often aren't what most energizes them anyway), whenever I wasn't conducting an occasional Radioactive interview with a nationally-prominent figure. But also taking those open-line calls unscreened for content, a risky show format which few of my former colleagues ever attempt at all, much less routinely. But everyone wants to be loved, or at least appreciated, right? But those nasty BlatherWatch writers and posters never liked me, nor were ever polite in their critiques, something I always endeavor to be.* Again, fine.

But inexcusably, BlatherWatch also engaged in relentless character-assassination against me, and once even tried to stage a campaign lobbying KIRO management to fire me and thus destroy my newstalk hosting career which had spanned four timezones, eight radio markets and 19 years, likening me to fecal canine product soiling Seattle newstalk listeners' footwear. (Never mind that neither that one, nor my other alleged crimes against Puget Sound listeners, was an accurate charge. All of which is, uh, not fine.)

Ironically enough, just as RadioactiveSeattle is largely apolitical, so my KIRO work was, though the BlatherWatch proprietor never seemed to realize that self-evident fact, which in turn suggests he never listened to my show closely anyway. And I guess there's no reason he should have, since he for literally years displayed professional and personal vitriol toward me; for my part, I'm a polite guy, so I won't return his sentiments. And besides, I wish good health even to people whom I don't like, or even are trying to ruin my career. (The preposterous charge that I had defended chattel slavery was an accusation management laughed off, and the credible ensuing death threat I received through the mails—that Federal authorities insist remains an open and active investigation—obviously came from someone who doesn't return my good-health wishes.)

Anyway, in answer to a question BlatherWatch posed ("Which talk shows would you pay to have on the air?"), someone using the screen name "Bill" wrote, "Bring back Radioactive and Bryan Styble[;] I'll kick in the initial $10..." And he—or she?—even spelled my name correctly, something BlatherWatch posters often got wrong in their frequent complaints about how pathological or stupid or just unlistenable my KIRO efforts were.

I swear on my beloved Father's grave that I didn't post that startling statement of "Bill"; I don't anyway have nearly the cyber-skills to do so without anyone determining it came from this screen, the Batcomputer here in the Styble Batcave. Besides, I never post anonymously anywhere, least of all on BlatherWatch, where previous posts of mine attempting to correct falsities alleged against my broadcast or me have been deleted or corrupted by the site's owner. Neither will any of my friends I've telephonically queried over the last few minutes own up to posting that. (Few of them tell me they read the often well-written but vulgarity-dense BlatherWatch critiques anyway, much less the respondent reader postings thereto.)

Again, I've absolutely no idea who wrote that, and it doesn't seem to be sarcastic in tone either, much as the BlatherWatch vitriol against Styble almost always has been. But I do expect that "Bill" will be accused of being either a pal of mine, or me. (Again, I can barely turn on my computer; how on earth does one hide one's Internet identity from tech-sophisticated bloggers like the BlatherWatch operator?)

So all I can say is, "Thanks", Sir Bill, whoever and wherever you are. Actually, make that THANKS!


*No Seattleite has ever heard me utter a word less polite than "heck" or "darned"...on or off the air.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Why? 'Cause I Swore Off* Football Postings !

Okay, it seems a couple people—or household pets, conceivably; forget at your own peril that widely-reprinted New Yorker cartoon with the keyboarding canine explaining to its peer, "On the Internet, no one knows you're a dog"—are mystified as to why RadioactiveSeattle has remained so deafeningly silent about the fascinating tableau represented by Rush Limbaugh's recent insinuation of his hefty political and cultural presence into the national political process.

Oh sure, Limbaugh's always been ideological, not to mention hugely influential. But until quite recently, Rush has mocked only from the sidelines. Among so many other things, the Obama Era may be remembered as what prompted the hands-down greatest talent in the history of the newstalk radio genre to get finally into the game.

A request: if RadioactiveSeattle e-mailers would kindly cease confusing prose like that "greatest talent" phrase in the previous sentence—variations of which have appeared in probably a half-dozen Limbaugh-loving essays archived herein—with this next declaration, which of course I would never seriously write because, seriously, it's never been generally true: I agree with Rush Limbaugh.

Heck, Rush isn't even usually correct on the issues, as far as I'm concerned.

I so admire Limbaugh's broadcast work because I love brilliantly-executed radio, not because I happen to vote similarly to him, which I certainly don't.

I mean, could I be the only guy in the country who never immediately thinks "political" whenever I hear the words "newstalk radio"? Am I the only American radio fan who faithfully listens to various quality shows whose respective political philosophies I happen to nonetheless dismiss or even detest?

And therefore, might I be sole individual in this society who understands how employing such simple-minded evaluative criteria inevitably leads to reflexive adoration of those hosts you happen to agree with, while only fostering contempt or worse for those, however talented, on the other side of whichever fence it is which defines your worldview?

Nah. There's at least one other guy who surely understands this: my fellow Show-Me State native, Rush Hudson Limbaugh III. After all, he's often pointed out over the years that his unprecedented success is no function of his conservatism, but rather of how immaculately he upholds sterling broadcast standards.

I realize the vast bulk of his audience surely doesn't buy that for a second, but hey, they're not broadcasters. And besides, they're anyway understandably way more interested in being dazzled by Rush's radio illusions than in dwelling—or rhapsodizing, as RadioactiveSeattle does—on how seamlessly he pulls off those verbal tricks.

For my part, I'd still be just as big a fan of the sole program on the Excellence in Broadcasting Network were my politics to the left of Trotsky, instead of being a secularlist whose various stances tend to fall roughly where Rudy Giuliani's and David Brooks's do.

Even during those portions of my newstalk hosting career when I was fairly described as solidly neoconservative—that would be 1989-1998, in Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area and Detroit—I still then didn't agree with Limbaugh's rock-rib conservative positions more than about 65% of the time. (Since I've been in Seattle, and thus throughout the 2005-2008 run of KIRO's Bryan Styble Program, it's been more like 25 percent, centrist libertarian I've been ever since my Radioactive Albuquerque with Bryan Styble days in New Mexico, 2000-2004.)

But whatever Limbaugh's underlying rationale here may be—and I've been pondering a couple theories—what a kick it is for this disappointed Cardinals fan in the wake of the thrilling Super Bowl XLIII to witness that pro football geek Rush finally donning his helmet and running with the ball. It's a political pigskin earlier in his historic two decades of national radio syndication he's always been content to let other, far less-mighty ideological fullbacks carry.


* A pledge made in the headline of the January 18, 2009 posting

Monday, March 23, 2009

Obviously Styble suffers from a Medved Complex !

[ initial five paragraphs drafted and posted at 12:41 pm PDT ]
Okay, let's see if we can get this available online before The Michael Medved Show returns from commercial break:

The erudite radio newstalker and Ned Flanders doppelganger, explicating how the Obama political honeymoon has so suddenly ended, just seconds ago promoted his program's next segment—an "audience tease", as they so callously call it in the broadcast biz—and concluded with a patently false statement. Medved claimed, "...The Hundred Days—people don't know where that [term] comes from; I'll tell you about it, comin' up!"

Make that some people, Michael.

That is, I anticipate that when Medved returns, he'll explain that while most folks presume it originated with FDR's first term, the phrase actually dates to Napoleon on his way to Waterloo.

Now I shall post immediately, and then soon enough learn if I've nailed this prediction...

12:46:44 pm PDT
As Flandersian* neighbor Homer Simpson might fist-thrustingly put it, Woo-hoo!

Sure enough, resuming after break, Medved indeed pointed out that this hundred-days thing didn't start with Roosevelt but rather with Napoleon.

It's said that the serially surly, short-statured sovereign has the distinction of being history's most-written-about figure, so let RadioactiveSeattle pile a bit higher the copious corpus of prose probing the provocative potentate. (Lincoln also, by the way, has his partisans on that always-fun most-covered question, as does Christ—but really, why might anyone ever want to read about a President who never even once guested on The Tonight Show, or some eccentric-if-charismatic rabbi of antiquity whose historicity remains unconfirmed anyway?)

For his part, Medved inexcusably provided almost zero detail as to how the guy afflicted with the original Napoleon Complex came to so spectacularly, as the familiar Tin Pan Alley lyric put it, "meet his Waterloo". Yeah, I know, I know: Medved was just "focusing like a laser beam". That's the cloying admonition with which Medved chides those callers who disdain corrupting or diluting their sole shot at a contribution merely to conserve seven or eight seconds of the host's airtime that afternoon.

Fine, so Medved wanted to talk Obama, not Bonaparte. But what Medved surely well knows—and might well have thoughtfully sequestered a couple or three broadcast-seconds to highlight for the benefit of his history-appreciating or misnomer-collecting listeners—is that this now-legendary Hundred Days actually lasted 111 days.

That's counting, as historians invariably do, starting with his Monday, March 20, 1815 triumphant return to Paris three weeks after escaping Elba with his cadre, through to and including Saturday, July 8th, the restoration of Louis XVIII. Waterloo itself occurred on Sunday, June 18th, day 91 of the sequence, incidentally. A doff of the RadioactiveSeattle cap—not to mention posterity's!—is of course due here to the Duke of Wellington's battlefield leadership that long, momentous afternoon.

But don't let history obscure current events here: my point is that Medved—like every good newstalk radio host—needs to strive for habitual scrupulousness about uttered absolutes. You know, NeverSayNever and all that.

In this instance, Medved was just lacking the word "most". Had he instead said, "Most people don't know about the Hundred Days...", he'd have not merely skated exclusively on thick declarative ice, but also avoided annoying we persnickety types who desire neither our intelligence nor our knowledge insulted.

I mean, some of us lowly listener/caller nerds actually paid attention sometimes in class, Michael! And fewer yet still many of us also have been regularly burnishing our historical perspective—American and World, modern and ancient and Middle Ages, Western and Oriental—ever since graduation. In my case, I'd gauge that over 95% of everything I know about Napoleon I—perhaps a magazine piece's worth, should I ever get around to expansively writing about him—was picked up on my own after college, rather than prompted by any coursework imperative.

Mind you, that certified intellectual hero Medved is hardly the most egregious offender in this seldom-considered aspect of the radio newstalker's craft. For instance, The Michael Savage Show, a shameful—and shameless—production, is exponentially worse about cynically underestimating what the informed listener already knows.

That reckless jerk thunders in monologue assertions as arrogant—and ignorant—as, "You don't know who Khalil Gabran was—that's why you have to listen to the Savage Nation!", thus condescendingly treating his ever-suffering listeners like under-educated half-wits.

Something which Savage's ardent fans, whenever they make air, often sound as if they indeed are, granted.


* I realize grammar and parallelism dictate it be "Flemish", rather than Flandersian. But would anyone then still get the joke?

Friday, March 20, 2009

It's Called Terraforming, Michael !

It's unfortunate, not to mention ironic, that The Michael Medved Show, consistently one of the two most intellectually-satisfying programs in all of commercial newstalk radio syndication, also so often attracts some of the genre's more knuckleheaded callers.

(I won't deny that occasional contributor "Bryan in Seattle" is arguably one of those numbskulls; I'm just grateful Medved allows me on at all, perhaps evidence he enjoyed the experience when he graciously—and perspicaciously—guested on KIRO's Bryan Styble Program in August 2007.)

RadioactiveSeattle has rhapsodized several times previously about how Medved's program is always informative and frequently trenchant. But today his "Open Mind Friday" hour had a doozy of a call.

I shan't rant on how unwise it was for Medved a few years ago to whittle down by two-thirds his weekly open-line feature, but I sure will spill that he sometimes humors wrongheaded but well-meaning contributors. But this exchange flattered neither caller nor host.

An excited conservative global-warming skeptic named Tony made air from suburban Seattle, though one of his more left-leaning fellow Seattleites might term him a "denier". Port Orchard Tony was exasperated, exercised about how downright mad and "literally insane" some scientists are nowadays. Why? Because last night he was watching a National Geographic Channel documentary, with footage of some expert theorizing about adjusting the atmosphere of Mars to make it more hospitable to human life.

Never mind that the term "insane" should be, literally, restricted to that unfortunate handful of individuals lacking the reasoning faculties the rest of us are lucky enough to possess. But it's chutzpah for a sarcastic fellow who sounds like he'd be stymied by a simple quadratic equation to render a judgment of irrationality upon a scientific professional.

Now, I missed that NatGeo doc last night--the Batvision monitor here in the Batcave is on the fritz (and Alfred the butler, who doubles as my TV-repairman, is on his annual vernal vacation). But the types who generally end up being interviewed as scientific experts on that often first-rate network tend to be people who've navigated a rigorous technical curriculum while earning their Ph.D.s. in whatever. I'm not saying no cable documentary has ever aired an interview with a crackpot, but Tony came off as one of those guys who never made it much beyond 8th grade general science class.

The host sounded bemused by his caller's earnest but simpleminded lament. But more important, Medved seemed to have never heard of what set the guy off while watching NatGeo. In fact, it's an idea that's been discussed by astrophysicists for decades, and I'd even wager was first
broached by sci-fi writers sometime early in the 20th Century.

It's called terraforming, and it's a complex atmospheric process which, perhaps, man can someday successfully trigger on another body in our solar system. Or eventually, on some world in some other star system's planetary collection, if you prefer to peer far enough down the space-faring road. The goal is obvious: to effect eventual permanent atmospheric change to human advantage.

Whether we could ever end up having anything but a minuscule effect on a planetary scale is, of course, the central terraforming question...just as it remains the biggest global warming question. But many people who've looked at the chemistry and engineering challenges involved think it's feasible. While it may not ultimately turn out to be practical even should it ever be attempted on Mars or some larger planet's moon, it is an intriguing idea which might even work sometime in the distant future. Yet Medved treated the notion as if it were something which scientifically-literate people dismiss as flatly impossible, like perpetual motion or time travel into the historical past.

Tony didn't seem to understand is that this is a process that is figured to require at least a couple centuries for a planet the size of Mars. And, interestingly, that's about the same time-frame—macro by human standards but merely momentarily in the history of our atmosphere—on which global warming, which so concerns so many scientists, is theorized to work. Point is, terraforming ain't just Coast-to-Coast AM with George Noory-style malarky—it's serious, if hugely speculative, science. And it's a subject callers actually raised a couple or three times on my overnight KIRO open-line broadcasts.

Of course, I really ought to go critically easy on Medved for a while. As his listeners know, he just lost his father, Dr. David Medved, an accomplished nuclear scientist whom I gather was a remarkable man in several regards; he certainly raised at least one remarkable son.

I met the senior Medved on what turned out to be his final American book tour. And I was even privileged to talk physics with him for a good while alone in a side room prior to his cosmology lecture at the Discovery Institute a couple years ago. And as it happens, what claimed him at age 83 on March 11th in Jerusalem—lymphoma—is also the disease which killed Lewis Stibal ["Rush and McNabb, Tied Intelligently" archived 11/19/2008] at 64 on February 19, 1986 in St. Louis.

Oh, and while I've got astronomy on your mind: Happy Vernal Equinox. As you may know, it happened this morning, instantaneously sometime during the minute of 4:44 am Pacific Time.


Sunday, January 18, 2009

Our only Super Bowl XLIII Fun Fact. (Promise!)

Regular RadioactiveSeattle readers will understand why I'm celebrating today's improbable Super Bowl berth earned by the Arizona Cardinals--nee' the St. Louis Cardinals, hence the unnatural interest in the much-maligned team by this Gateway City native. After all, it's a franchise that, as one astute AP sportswriter phrased it today, "for decades has been widely considered the most dysfunctional of NFL franchises."

The Cardinals clinched their 2009 Super Bowl appearance with a gritty come-from-behind victory over the Philadelphia Eagles at home in suburban Phoenix. RadioactiveSeattle already rhapsodized, with typically intense verbosity, in anticipation of this face-off in the posting immediately below ["Say, Rochcester, Can Ya Fetch My Helmet and Pads?", 1/11/2009]. So gloating about this glorious result of the NFC Championship is certainly not the redundant point of this entry.

Rather, I thought I'd try to be the first blog--or among the first, at least--to highlight an oddity we'll be reading about repeatedly over the next couple weeks, I'd wager:

It so happens that Super Bowl XLIII adversaries the Cardinals and the Steelers were once much closer. I mean, apart from during the 60s when both served as Century Division teams in the Eastern Conference of the old NFL. Indeed, believe it or not, they were once literally the same team.

Now this wasn't the Arizona Cardinals, or even the St. Louis Cardinals I watched so many Sundays under the Arch at Busch Stadium in the 60s. No, it was the Chicago Cardinals, based in the Southside facility they shared with the White Sox, Comiskey Park. One of the NFL's charter franchises two decades earlier, the Cardinals found themselves in a strange situation for one season.

The acute shortage of young, athletic men stateside during World War II had forced the NFL into a novel and, to my knowledge, unique solution in the annals of American major league sport: for a couple years starting in 1943, the League simply combined two of its teams into an ad-hoc squad for the season. The first such cannibalization was between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Philadelphia Eagles, so Phil-Pitt Combine was naturally called by its fans the "Steagles".

But the wartime Steelers would play with a different team the following fall. So, in December 1944, as the Allies were on the eve of the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium, the NFL's Chicago and Pittsburgh franchises were allied across America, concluding an oddball season resulting in the sort of record you'd expect from a bunch of guys who'd never played together before. Finding victory elusive, they played their sole awkward season together under the even-more-clumsy hybrid name "Card-Pitt". They divided their five home games between Comiskey and Forbes Field, the Steelers' (and Pirates') home. The hyphenated combination in the end posted a perfect 0-10 record, something the 2008 Detroit Lions, at 0-16, can only envy. (That's an obvious joke, granted, but one affectionately rendered; I did overnights in Michigan for four years over onetime Lions flagship WJR.)

Anyway, I wonder if anyone on the air at KJR, Seattle's longtime all-sports formatted station--and a RadioactiveSeattle punching bag--has enough of a sense of history of the NFL to know of any of this Card-Pitt and Steagles business.

No need to wonder, actually; of course John Clayton would be aware of it! Indeed, Clayton's such a pro football maven that he'd probably even be able to tell his KJR listeners which Cardinals and Steelers emerged as standouts that weird autumn of '44, though the winless season may not have produced many stars. (But it produced a nickname for Card-Pitt more clever than Phil-Pitt's: The Carpets.)

KJR brass should better utilize the Seattle-based Clayton, of course, the expert analyst who is a bona fide sportscasting treasure on loan from ESPN. If KJR management expanded Clayton's limited role at the station--rather than keeping his often incisive football show almost inaccessible in its obscure Saturday-morning timeslot--those suits wouldn't be quite the sorry excuses for sportstalk radio programmers they have proven themselves to be in recent years.

Now how did I lapse into bellyaching about the talk-radio biz here? See, I've been happily stuck on the NFL ["Rush & McNabb, Tied Intelligently", archived 11/19/2008] and Obama for several weeks now, and I don't see that changing over the next fortnight. I intend to post again shortly after the inauguration hoopla is done, but I won't be surprised if it isn't until after Super Sunday.

A scrappy team upset an overwhelming favorite twelve months ago in the Super Bowl. Now if the scrappy Cardinals somehow in the end manage to plunge longtime Steelers loyalist--and RadioactiveSeattle nominee for Broadcaster of the Millennium--Rush Limbaugh into as deep a funk as I'll surely be sunk, should the Steelers instead prevail in Tampa...well, wouldn't that be somethin'?

BRYAN STYBLE/somewhere

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Say, ROCHester, Can Ya Fetch My Helmet and Pads?

When listening to Westwood One's coverage of the second round of the NFL playoffs aired locally over KJR/Seattle tonight, I could have sworn it was Rochester up in the booth doing color as the Steelers overpowered the San Diego Chargers at home in Pittsburgh.

But maybe my radio bias is showing here; Jack Benny remains an all-time favorite, and whenever recalling him, I never think first of his stage, film or television work.

So it turns out Dennis Green sounds just like Eddie Anderson, the late comic actor who first on radio and then television so memorably played Rochester, Benny's wisecracking valet. Airing locally over all-sports outlet KJR, coach-turned-sportscaster Green was doing his final game as analyst partnered with authorative play-by-play man Ian Eagle for Westwood One's NFL Thursday Night Football games this season. So distinctive was the diction of Anderson's earnest and hilarious Rochester character--and so indistinguishable from Green's excited broadcasting style--that it's highly unlikely I was the only listener struck by the similarity...though maybe the only one ineligible for Social Security.

Being only 54, I of course never got to hear Anderson and Benny during their radio heyday. But I did watch Green at his zenith as an NFL head coach a few years ago, when he led the Minnesota Vikings into the playoffs a couple times. The affable Green also happens to have been one of several guys who have haplessly head-coached the Arizona Cardinals, a franchise that until this weekend had for decades been laughably disdained and dismissed by virtually every NFL fan outside the Grand Canyon State.

That widespread and longstanding contempt is due to several reasons actually, but mainly because the Cardinals have the distinction of being the only old NFC team never to even play for a conference championship, much less win one, since 1966. That's when the AFL merged with the NFL, of which the Cardinals were one of the charter franchises in 1920.
It's also the only NFL team I've been following since childhood.

The Chicago Cardinals deserted their longtime Comiskey Park digs for my hometown of St. Louis prior to the 1960 season. Of course, first they had to legally sort out the duplicative-name problem; the baseball Cardinals had been a fixture in town for generations, not to mention a storied National League club. Then, from the start these
footballers also clad in crimson-and-white uniforms settled into what would prove to be decades of mediocrity. They initially shared with those other Cardinals historic Sportman's Park on the city's north side, and eventually the new downtown Busch Stadium under the Arch as well, but precious little of the fabled Gashouse Gang success ever rubbed off on their new gridiron counterparts. The Big Red, as their Gateway City fans often called them, were never really a lousy NFL team, but never a great one either.

Sure, the Chicago Cardinals had won the NFL Championship in 1947 and then even managed to play for it again in '48--both title games featuring the same Eagles-Cards match-up we'll see under the dome in the Glendale, Arizona next week, incidentally--but that was in a primitive, ten-team NFL which played only a 12-game schedule. Whereas the Cardinals team the Styble clan would watch each home game--from four season-ticketed seats eight rows up from the southern goal line at Busch--never even made the playoffs until I was away at Boston University in the 70s. Neither future Hall of Famer Larry Wilson nor later, more-mortal Cardinals would post even a single post-season victory until 1998, more than a decade after their longtime ownership had uprooted the vagabond franchise again, this time to Phoenix. And never a second playoff win until yesterday.

Now, if you're wondering why I'm talking football in a blog about newstalk radio--and curious as to why I've been so unreliable about regular RadioactiveSeattle posting recently--both questions are answered by a single, if lengthy,
posting below ["Rush and McNabb, Tied Intelligently", archived 11/19/2008]. By the time it was finally ready for publishing herein, it had morphed into something of a treatise on both my favorite sport and my favorite subject.

That is, I first conceived it merely as an opportunity to gleefully excoriate in text a certain Philadelphia-based athlete whose off-field behavior I'd long felt had been besmirching a wonderful game and America's best-run professional sport. And with an interesting newstalk radio tie-in--the Limbaugh connection--"Rush and McNabb, Tied Intelligently" would thus be appropriate for RadioactiveSeattle publication. But then Arthur Godfrey, of all people, somehow insinuated himself into the piece, and that changed everything. You see, that single addition immediately mushroomed it into a mega-essay, since of course it was vital to explain how arguably the biggest radio personality ever ended up a forgotten name today. This and other required augmentations touching on everything from simulcasting to advanced mathematics necessitated massive textual reworking that in turn effectively exhausted my writing energies for awhile. Add some other distractions, and the result was my just slacking on RadioactiveSeattle maintenance and instead reverting to NFL and Obama watching and all the rest, but not much writing, or at least publishing.

But then yesterday, the Cardinals so unexpectedly steamrolled the Carolina Panthers. And thus this much-relocated and much-maligned football franchise is now but one defeat of the Eagles away from an improbable Super Bowl appearance--and with Donovan McNabb, of all people, blocking their way toward that figurative and literal goal!

So fateful circumstance itself has jolted me with the energy required to finally craft it into presentable prose, albeit something vastly different than the essay I'd originally envisioned. Two paragraphs back, I intimated the resultant textual montrosity is about radio, which of course it is, and also about football, which is also true. Yet it's also about the medium's Golden Age and tie-games and race relations and architecture and intelligence and old-school broadcast values and Godfrey and Reagan and Orson Welles and Shakespeare and biases and scrupulous word-choice and oh yes, smiling. Plus it details not just one but two of the most legendary incidents in live-broadcasting history.

But maybe most fundamentally, the seemingly-endless piece ended up as a sort of meditation on a certain unpleasantry. One which most of us have experienced here or there if not repeatedly over the years, and which oddly enough, also happens for me to be a certain sensitive subject which several RadioactiveSeattle readers have been requesting I address herein. Now I shan't tip my hand further; you'll have to slog through at least a third of it to figure out what's being referenced here. (Okay, one hint: it's an indisputably hot topic these days.)

Ergo, the re-posting below [archived at Wednesday, November 19, 2008] of "Rush and McNabb, Tied Intelligently".

BRYAN STYBLE/somewhere