Sunday, December 21, 2008

Adventures in Radioland IV

Last week I was on a show on a progressive radio network. The host promotes alternative health diets and supplements and calls himself “Dr.” despite a somewhat shaky academic background. He is something of a guru, and his radio style is to do long, pensive monologues rife with doom and gloom. In his view, the world is burning slowly as powerful forces align themselves against us.

I agreed to be on the show because—why not?—perhaps I could do some good and promote a book at the same time. In addition, I figured his audience would be politically liberal. Undoubtedly from the paranoid, conspiracy theory wing of the progressive camp (for example, the host is an HIV denier who suggests that HIV is harmless and is not the cause of AIDS), but liberal and, as a result, receptive to some of my ideas about commercialism and the economy. I felt a little better about my decision when I later heard the host say that Joe Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize winning economist, had recently been on the show.

As is often the case, I was approached via email by a producer who told me to be available in my office at 12:30, but on the appointed day, he called me about 15 minutes early and put me on hold, where I was able to listen to the show while waiting. What became obvious was that the producer did not communicate well with the host. The show had started at noon, and the host had been rambling on about doom and gloom with little sign of letup. Once on the line I listened and waited. And waited. Finally, at about 12:40—by now I had been listening to the monologue, uninterrupted by commercials, for 25 minutes—the host’s lecture turned to economic doom and gloom and he threw the ball to me.

The host asked no specific question. In effect, he was saying, “With that introduction, please take it away, Stuart....” Caught a little off guard, I began to ramble myself, but the question was, how long should I ramble? For most radio interviews, there is an expectation of a back-and-forth conversation. If there is time, the guest is allowed to go on for a minute or two if so moved, but monologues are discouraged. Not so in this case. When I paused to see if the host wanted back in, there was dead air for a few seconds. Finally, he came back with another languid, amorphous question, and it became clear that he wanted me to drift on for as long as possible. He had a two-hour block to fill and hoped I would do my share. Unfortunately, neither he nor the producer had given me any guidance about this. For all I knew, this was a six-minute interview, for which sound bites would be most appropriate, but in the end we went on at least 20 minutes, arriving safely at the top of his first hour.

Eventually the host thanked me for being on the show, repeated my name, title, and the name of my book and went on to talk about other things. So, after making certain I was not going to be called upon again, I hung up. In a couple of minutes the producer called back to ask whether I was supposed to return in the second hour. I said I didn’t know but it sounded to me like the host had sent me on my way. Uncertain, the producer—who should have been the one telling me just how long I would be on, instead of the reverse—asked to put me on hold again just in case. After listening to 15 more minutes of doom and gloom monologue (it must take a particular type of person to be a fan of such a downer program), the producer came back on and said I could hang up. He was obviously clueless about his host’s master plan.

A final note. In a previous Adventures in Radioland post, I wrote about banging steam pipes in my office and my other unwanted noises that have interrupted my radio interviews. On this progressive radio occasion I escaped the banging pipes for the full time I was on the radio, despite very cold temperatures, but halfway through my interview, the college grounds people decided to use an enormous sucking machine to pick up piles of leaves directly under my office window. For much of the 20 minutes I was on, my rambling comments were accompanied by high-pitched vacuum cleaner noises. Yet another audio problem to be added to the list.

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