Good political reporting is like oxygen. Connecticut, though, is slowly suffocating from the lack of diverse political debate on its radio airwaves.
This week’s column, then, stands as a challenge to all Connecticut radio stations to return to the roots of our public airwaves and the Fairness Doctrine and begin airing regular political programming during prime time hours.
Ronald Reagan did away with the Fairness Doctrine in 1987, because it forced broadcasters to spend air time on controversial matters of public interest, and to debate contrasting views regarding those matters.
But in times like today, when Americans need the best information possible, it is important to revive this tradition. The FCC won’t likely revive the regulation.
The public service component of broadcasting still exists, although you only hear it at 7 a.m. on Sundays, when no radio station can sell advertising because everyone is asleep or at church.
Of the dozens of commercial radio stations and hundreds of shows in the Nutmeg State, only a handful of shows report on the political landscape. Most of those have a conservative bent.
WDRC 1360AM features right-winger Brad Davis in the mornings, and a whole slew of conservative programming throughout the day.
WPLR 99.1FM has Chaz and AJ in the mornings, largely conservative but they give airtime to diverse points of view (even if their programming treads misogynistic ground).
WTIC 1080AM is working to discredit itself, not just by having Jim Vicevich and other conservative voices, but by continuing to air John Rowland’s afternoon air time exercise in Republican propaganda.
WNPR may be the only radio station to be at least balanced. I don’t even know if WNPR belongs in this category, because it is not commercial. (Or is it?) It is more liberal than Rowland and Vicevich, only by dint of airing two or more points of view.
While Rowland seems a wounded duck who may be on his way out, no one else in the state does afternoon politics. WNPR has a national show during that slot, and its main local political shows (John Dankosky in the morning and Colin McEnroe in the afternoon) do not do what I propose.
Recently, I had a chance to pitch Kaiser, the night-time DJ at WMRQ Radio 104.1 an idea for an afternoon drive time political show – limited to 90 days before the 2012 presidential election.
He told me that Radio 104 has made a conscious choice to avoid political reporting and does not want to take political advertising.
While I respect this, and I know I was persistent when I was talking with Kaiser – even my wife was telling me I wasn’t getting the message – I remain convinced that Radio 104 and other stations have an opportunity this autumn to perform a public service by documenting the presidential election.
Kaiser said Radio 104 knows its audience is 95 percent either Democratic or independent, thus, the station does not feel as if it can expand its market to any more of Connecticut’s liberal base.
I was impressed by Kaiser’s explanation that Radio 104 does Rock the Vote kinds of events to register voters. But this only raises more questions:
How many of those they registered voted? How many of those people have a knowledge base about our republican form of government? How many can name their senators and congressmen? How can name the vice president of the United States? How many can name the Governor and the Lt. Governor of Connecticut?
I would be willing to bet the number of listeners who can name all of these elected officials is below 50 percent. Public knowledge of current affairs is pathetically low. I understand that Radio 104 and others like it (WCCC 106.9 FM, WHCN 105.9FM, etc.) would be within the bounds of FCC law to say that it does its weekly public affairs programming on Sunday morning, and it has no other duties to fulfill.
Sure, but 40 years ago, the Fairness Doctrine demanded more of our broadcasters, and, as part of their license requirements, had to maintain news desks and do public affairs programming at the top of every hour.
I see those laws are aspirational, and we should return to this state of public discourse in order to increase public knowledge of current events. We need radio stations to take a leadership role. If it is not our duty, then whose?
So I repeat my challenge to Kaiser, Radio 104.1 and all other radio stations now: Create some level of objective political programming to cover the entire spectrum of the election – left, right and center – for a limited time prior to the election.
Figure a 67-day feature show covering the 2012 election from an independent point of view, starting on September 1 and running through November 8, a few days after the election for recap and impressions. The show would feature interviews with candidates for all levels of office, from state representative to president of the United States.
The fact that Radio 104 does not take political advertising makes it more credible a purveyor of news. For Radio 104.1, it has a unique opportunity to mix politics with music: imagine a segment like “B-Sides with a Candidate” where a candidate could connect listeners to issues through their favorite songs for 30 minutes.
A candidate taken out of a safe environment like a campaign stop will do and say interesting things, and shows like this have the potential to alter the course of Connecticut politics.
Or imagine Radio 104.1 co-hosting a U.S. Senate debate with the Waterbury Republican, live streamed on both websites, featuring Democrat Chris Murphy and McMahon. This kind of effort would make, and a must stop for interviews for the 2012 cycle.
Take it a step further and imagine that Murhpy/McMahon will be one of the most watched races in the country, and near Election Day, it is a sure thing that mega-political stars will be coming round to endorse these candidates.
Wouldn’t it be interesting for more radio stations to give these voices air time to discuss and debate important issues of the day?
I understand the mechanisms of mass media and am comfortable enough with rejection to understand that Kaiser and the other radio programmers will probably reject this suggestion. Until we win the presidency, it is unlikely the FCC will change the rules.
At the same time, we must continue to push for these policies, and for everyone to act in the civic interest to improve the quality of our cities, states, country and planet.