Last Friday 10/14 I tuned into C-SPAN 2 for the Hillsdale College/TALKERS Magazine Presidential Election Talk Radio Debate and it was truly embarrassing. I am not talking about the content. It was the presentation that sucked. When radio fails at the basics (particularly on national television) it reflects poorly on all of us in the biz.
You can see it for yourself here: [link].
Hillsdale College, a small college located in rural Michigan near Battle Creek and TALKERS Magazine, the self-described Bible of Talk Radio, sponsored a panel in Washington, DC featuring several well-known commercial radio talk hosts. The stated purpose of the panel was to explore talk radio’s coverage of the 2016 Presidential election.
The panel was moderated by Michael Harrison, considered a knowledgeable, nonpartisan pro. Harrison is the publisher of TALKERS. Panelists were Thom Hartmann, Hugh Hewitt, Joyce Kaufman (WFTL, Ft. Lauderdale), Joe Madison (SiriusXM Urban View), Larry O’ Connor (WMAL) and Chris Stigall (WPHT). Other than Hartmann, a progressive/liberal who also has a growing presence on noncom stations, the panel consisted of personalities best known for their conservative and alt-right opinions.
My complaints have nothing to do with the points-of-view of the panelists. It was the poor staging, inconsistent audio levels and rambling, often pointless discussion. At one point early in the session, one person on the panel – Joe Madison from SiriusXM – hijacked the proceedings to give a lengthy screed unrelated to the purpose of the session.
Harrison tried valiantly to get things back on track but within minutes it slid back into chatter. Part of the problem was that Harrison’s podium was behind the panelists and out of their line-of-sight. Also, Harrison’s podium was so short he had to awkwardly bend over to talk on his microphone.
Bottom line is that the session did not deliver what it promised. There was no actual “debate” or takeaways for the viewer or listener. I learned nothing.
The live event took place at Hillsdale’s Allan P. Kirby, Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship in Washington, DC, a fancy name for a space that reminded me of my grandma’s dining room. Hillsdale should realize that the poor acoustics, dreadful lighting and lack of a stage showed they are not ready for prime time.
Again, here is my point: Hyped events that fail to deliver hurt the image of radio at a time when excellence is needed.
INTRODUCING “RADIO FREE HILLSDALE”
I guess I did learn one thing: Hillsdale College now has a LPFM station: WRFH – Radio Free Hillsdale. The station is at 101.7 FM.
WRFH signed on July 10, 2016, and according to Hillsdale’s press office, students are “eagerly waiting” to be on the air along with …an automation system [that] selects songs from a “Patriotic Music” catalog...going all the way back to even the colonial era.
WRFH is part of Hillsdale’s journalism program that “…is devoted to the restoration of ethical, high-minded journalism standards. Hillsdale proudly boasts that even Fox News has employed some of their graduates.
The station has a one-page website [link], has no social media, does not publish a schedule and provides no streaming audio. But it does …give students an opportunity to learn and practice broadcast journalism…[and] deliver weather forecasts and sportscasts through the day.
According to the website, Hillsdale students at WRFH also will gain the ability to:
• Operate ENCO DAD broadcasting automation software.
• Access news stories and sound bites from The Associated Press.
• Broadcast play-by-play coverage of selected Hillsdale athletic teams or a sports talk show.
• Use Adobe Audition, the industry standard in audio-editing software.
• Produce promos for station programming and public service announcements.
• Promote the station within the community and online.
• Connect with great internships and jobs around the country.
In other words, WRFH is a perfect place to get started on a career in conservative talk radio.
WRFH recently hired a station manager from commercial talk radio, Scot Bertram, morning co-host at WROK-AM, the local Rush Limbaugh repeater in Rockford, Illinois. Bertram said on his Facebook page [link]:
“It took an amazing opportunity for me to even consider leaving Rockford. As many know, Hillsdale College is a special place with a mission of ‘Pursuing Truth and Defending Liberty Since 1844’.”
There may be trouble on the horizon for Bertram if he nixes one of Hillsdale’s sacred cows, patriotic music. He told local media in Rockford:
“I’ve spoken with people, and the first thing to do is get rid of the patriotic music. I know people are getting sick of it.”