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Fickle Firing Squad 

Talk radio wants loudmouths -- except when it doesn't

Some people are just born loudmouths. Honestly, I don't think they can help it. One of my friends is one of those people just born loud, and her family is always telling stories about her noisiness as a child, the trouble she got into as a teenager, and how even today she sticks her foot in her mouth with consistency.

I figure that for this kind of person, some career paths will simply beckon. Teachers are bigmouths, so that's one job possibility. Law is perfect; as long as your brain is big enough to hold all of those wherefores and hithertos, you're fine. Of course, the entertainment industry overflows with loudmouths, explaining why you can't escape TV and movie celebrities who insist on giving their political opinions on CNN and Fox News all of the time.

To be a talk radio personality, you really have to have a big mouth. Otherwise, how could you stay on the radio hour after hour, blathering away as people drive their cars to and from work to the comforting sound of your squeaking larynx?

Since I enjoy both talk radio and getting mad about politics, I usually opt to listen to WBT, at least after Rush Limbaugh has finally gotten off the airwaves (however angry I like to get, I can't tolerate much of that man's voice). Over the past few years, Spires and Krantz, WBT's afternoon drive home program, has won my heart. It was rather a formulaic program, but, you know, there's a reason formulas exist: because they work.

Spires and Krantz pitted a moralistic libertarian (Spires) against a mercurial liberal (Krantz). Despite the very conservative listenership, Spires and Krantz were very successful for many reasons. They dealt with local issues; they were both funny and witty; and Krantz, "the hated liberal," is the kind of good-hearted liberal it's hard to hate, even if you're vehemently conservative.

Now, if you were hiring people for a program such as the one described above, you probably wouldn't be interested in candidates with quiet, polite and easygoing personalities. Clearly, what you need is a loudmouth -- someone not afraid to speak his opinion, popular or not, and someone not afraid to argue with and confront local callers.

And two loudmouths they got. Not surprisingly, neither Spires nor Krantz has shied away from touchy political topics or controversy. They both spoke out when they disagreed with callers, and they were equally likely to disparage a caller who made a dumb point.

Since the week before last, the Spires and Krantz Show has been whittled down to the Bob Krantz Show. The Spires half of the show somehow managed to get himself fired. I don't know anything other than what's been reported in local news sources. Various reasons have been cited. One source noted that the firing may been related to Spires' recent prickly attitude toward callers, a trend that may correlate with the divorce he's currently undergoing. It was also mentioned that Spires' recent insistence that the war in Iraq is unjust may have scared advertisers away.

Whatever. WBT has a track record of hiring and firing the cutting edge people. Only a few years ago Michael Graham hosted an evening radio show on WBT and was kicked off the air for making a smartass remark about the Columbine High School shooting. Certainly it was a dumb comment for Graham to make, and I'm not defending it. But why does WBT hire commentators like Graham and Spires to begin with? Because they're witty people with strong opinions, and they inspire people to listen to and call in to the show. Because they are, in fact, loudmouths.

Now just look at the national heavy- hitters in talk radio. Rush Limbaugh and, at least formerly, Dr. Laura, and Howard Stern. All of the reigning (and formerly reigning) radio talkers are rude, wise- cracking, tell-it-like-it-is loudmouths. They're successful because of those qualities. After all, why else would one want to listen to talk radio?

It seems that the problem at WBT must be that they know what they want (listeners) and they know how to get them (by giving shows to loudmouths), but they're not willing to accept the downsides that will come from feeding and succoring a known loudmouth (some advertisers will balk).

So we can probably look forward to this pattern repeating and repeating itself over the next few years. More loudmouths will be hired and subsequently fired for being unable to keep their thoughts to themselves. Which is precisely the reason said loudmouths were hired in the first place.

It's really the same reason that you just can't have good, wholesome family programming with lots of tits and explosions and swear words swirling about. Sure, adult/family programming would have quite a few takers if it were possible, but the point is that it's not possible. You either have family programming or adult programming, not both. You either have non-offensive babble or you have biting commentary. But you can't have it all.

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