Thirty-three years ago I was in the forefront of a cultural revolution that would change the face of politics in America. And I didn’t even know it.
Here’s what happened. I was living in California at the time, when a friend of mine in Atlanta told me he knew of a job that would be perfect for me. He was the manager of the local CBS radio station and they were experimenting with a new format—talk radio.
“We’re looking for a conservative with a sense of humor,” he said. “Why don’t you come to Atlanta and give it a try?” As it happened, I had an excellent reason to visit Atlanta. At the time, a small book-publishing company I had founded had released a book called We Hold These Truths. It was a study of the United States Constitution by Congressman Larry McDonald.
The book was a big hit for our small company and I wanted to talk with Larry about doing a second one. Instead of staying in town a day for that meeting, I changed my schedule to be there a week. One of the on-air hosts was going to be on vacation that week and the plan was for me to sit in for him. If I did a good enough job… well, we’d cross that bridge when we came to it.
Early Monday morning I got a crash course in the mechanics of talk radio: How to put a caller on the air and how to turn down his volume if I wanted to get rid of him; how to go into commercial breaks; what to say at the top of the hour, when we went live to CBS News. And most important of all, how to use the five-second delay in case a caller said something inappropriate. An hour later, the “on air” light went on and Chip Wood became a talk host.
The star at WRNG Radio was an outspoken libertarian you may have heard about: Neal Boortz is now a nationally syndicated talk host who reaches millions of people every week. A young Englishman who went to work on a competitor station around that time has become even better known: Sean Hannity has his own TV show, a syndicated radio show and several best-selling books to his credit.
For the past decade or two talk radio has been credited (or accused; it depends where you are on the political spectrum) with becoming one of the most influential forces on the political scene in the United States. Thank you Rush Limbaugh, Neal and Sean and the many other pioneers. And thank you to the tens of millions of listeners and callers who made talk radio so successful.
But I’ve got to admit, back in the late 1970s none of us involved in talk radio had any idea this would happen. Our ratings at WRNG Radio weren’t exactly in the basement but we weren’t anywhere near the top, either. In 1981, the station’s owners decided to turn off the mics and switch to a more popular format. I went back to my first love, publishing. Sean went to New York to seek his fame and fortune. And Neal stayed in Atlanta and started yakking for WSB Radio, the most powerful and most popular station in the South.
I believe that talk radio succeeded because, for the very first time, conservatives and libertarians knew they weren’t alone. There was an entire country full of people who felt the same way they did about the issues and personalities of the day. And we could finally say so!
For the previous 30 years the liberal media in this country had a virtual monopoly. Their views were all that you were allowed to hear on radio and TV or read in the most popular newspapers and magazines. Conservatives were made to feel isolated and alone. We were told our opinions didn’t matter and that our efforts were ineffectual. “Why bother opposing us?” was the unspoken message; “It’s hopeless.”
But thanks to talk radio, we could prove them wrong. And boy did we.
Today, talk radio still reaches and influences millions of people every day. But there’s another phenomena that has passed it in reach, influence and importance. That is the Internet, which has enabled millions of people to read what they want, write want they want and campaign for what they want.
The column you’re reading now is a perfect example of what I mean. More than 500,000 people have signed up to receive Personal Liberty Alerts where this column, Straight Talk, appears every Friday morning. PLA is just one of hundreds, no, thousands, of outlets on the Internet where conservatives and libertarians can communicate with each other—and often, have at it with liberals.
Ain’t it fun to be heard?
Thanks to us, Fox Television has become the most-watched TV network in the country. (And don’t you know this fact drives the brass at all of the “original” networks absolutely crazy?)
A small conservative book publisher in Washington, D.C., called Regnery, has more best-selling books to its credit than any of the major New York houses: Which proves that we conservatives not only can read, we want to read!
Thanks to us there are Tea Parties being held in communities big and small across the country. More than 10,000 conservative activists gathered in Washington, D.C., last month, where they enjoyed baiting liberals and boasting that the right would take back Congress this November. (We’ll see.)
Talk about heating things up: Later this summer, some 2,000 conservative and libertarian activists will gather in Las Vegas for “a really big shew” called FreedomFest. C-Span will be there to record several hours of the proceedings. The subsequent rebroadcasts will reach hundreds of thousands more people.
I’ll be the Master of Ceremonies at FreedomFest and will have the honor of introducing people like Steve Forbes, Charles Gasparino, Rick Santelli, John Mackey, Doug Casey, Mark Skousen and dozens of others to an enthusiastic crowd. If you’d like to be part of the fun, go to www.freedomfest.com and sign up. (Note that the early-bird special expires April 15.)
But enough of a shameless plug. The larger point I wanted to make is that the people who share our values and our views make up the majority of people in this country. But we could never prove it before this. Now, thanks to talk radio, the Internet and all the alternative forms of communication that we’ve created, there can be no doubt.
To paraphrase a wonderful line from one of my favorite movies, we’re mad as hell. And we don’t have to take it anymore.
Until next Friday, keep some powder dry.