Talent on loan from Purdue Pharma.Talk radio is one of the most terrible implements of torture ever devised by the incalculable cruelty of mankind. Those of you who have been exposed to it only briefly may laugh a statement like this off, assuming it is wild exaggeration or comical overstatement. The only advice I can offer those of you who feel this way and want to empathize with my position is to drive from Chicago to Ohio through Indiana. This route, which involves traversing the better part of Northern Indiana, will expose you to the most horrifying tide of talk radio imaginable. I say with utter solemnity that hearing Rush Limbaugh's voice while driving along Highway 30 will become a welcome reprieve from the much more vitriolic and less professional ideologues of talk radio.

Growing up in small-town Ohio I was on the ground in enemy territory. While I was too young to fully understand the differences between conservatives and liberals, I knew that my home town was overrun with surly uptight shits who adored the American flag and high school football and hated just about everything else. By the time I was a sophomore in high school and writing a horrible subversive comedy newspaper I had matured a little and knew that I hated conservatives. I mean I really fucking hated them. I didn't care about the federal budget, taxes, the deficit, or the military, but I knew that conservatives were the bad guys who disliked having fun, were quietly racist, and who wanted to censor books every year at the library. From my youthful perspective they were the cranky old man who caught me skateboarding on his front steps and chased me off cursing with his broom because he just couldn't handle my freehearted and in-your-face attitude.

Having grown up a little more since that time I realize that good and bad people occupy both sides of the political spectrum. I think John McCain is a damn good guy, but I just can't reconcile myself with his anti-abortion stance. I mean, he thinks fetuses should be protected by law, but has the guy seen any fetuses lately? Those things are monsters! Those black unseeing eyes and the red skinless bodies, I think we need laws to protect us. At any moment McCain is going to open the fucking gate for an unstoppable tide of fetuses that will overwhelm us all. When fifty wet and skittering fetuses are banging on my barricaded door trying to break inside and chew through my skull I will be cursing John McCain's name.

Throughout the course of my physical and intellectual growth AM talk radio has been a relatively constant buzz in the background. I used to be a fairly regular listener of Rush Limbaugh before drug addiction destroyed his hearing and helped him lose about 300 pounds. There was not much to hear on the radio in Ohio and Limbaugh's soothingly ridiculous parodies of various black people and liberals made me laugh ironically. I hated what he was saying but I could tolerate the way he said it more than I could tolerate the five-thousandth repetition of "Cheeseburger in Paradise" on the oldies station.

A little over a decade later the tone of Limbaugh began to harden more and more. Maybe it was the prescription heroin talking or maybe it was just my own changes in opinion, but he seemed to be increasingly humorless and increasingly mean. Not to mention crazy. Limbaugh spent entire weeks discussing massive lists of people that Bill Clinton had murdered. Then, like a hideous screeching hydra, Limbaugh began to sprout heads. People like Bill O'Reilly, Michael Savage, Sean Hannity, G. Gordon Liddy, and many others emerged from the conservative woodwork to spread their venom across the airwaves. Almost overnight talk radio went from being a fringe joke to one of the focal points of conservative power in the United States. When people you think are fools go from screaming impotently and madly about everything to helping shape federal policy with their opinions things start to get scary. It would be like the crazy homeless man who sleeps under trees in my neighborhood getting promoted to commander of a nuclear submarine.

This new force in the conservative media, spearheaded in the mainstream by Fox News, claimed to be forming a counterbalance to the immense liberal bias of the rest of the mainstream media. The problem with this is that there really wasn't a liberal bias in the media. I should know, I'm a liberal, and outlets like CNN and the six o'clock news were as close to objective as humanly possible. Some of their anchors might have had a liberal bias but Fox News and the screaming jerks on AM radio embodied the word "bias". Not to mention that the years of name-calling by conservatives had reduced most of the supposedly liberal media to a simpering wreck all too ready to verbally photocopy anything the Whitehouse handed to it. The conservative dominance of basically all three branches of government, and now the media, was complete.

Talent on loan from Harvard.Enter stage left the new radio network Air America Radio, a self-proclaimed attempt by liberal commentators to counteract the conservative over-saturation of the media. With the days of objectivity and level-headedness behind us the liberals adopted the vitriolic tactics of the right in an effort to fight fire with fire. Air America Radio is an all talk station built around liberal funny-guy and commentator Al Franken. I will openly admit to liking Al Franken. He reminds me a lot of Limbaugh back before drugs, power, and weight loss turned him into a bitter and unfunny shell, and of course Franken's politics more closely resemble my own. They certainly could have picked a worse person to use as their star talent.

With Franken as the lynchpin, whatever sinister liberal think tank is behind Air America Radio began assembling a full 12 hours of talk lineup. The channel is 24-hours a day but most of the content repeats. Since Air America Radio debuted on March 30th (in only about ten outlets, although most of them are major) I have been listening to it a good part of each day to get a feel for how good or bad the channel is. Let's take a look at the all-star lineup.

6:00 AM to 9:00 AM - Marc Maron, Sue Ellicot, and Mark Riley host the morning show, which is one of the more casual and comfortable programs on Air America Radio. It's sort of a cross between a wacky morning zoo program and a political talk program. Marc Maron is the main star talent here, which is sort of a sad commentary on how bad the show is. He's about as enthralling as a hypnotist made out of wasps, and Sue Ellicot and Mark Riley barely register on me. To be fair I am usually not awake at 6:00 AM unless I'm headed to the couch drunk, so I never really gave this time block my fullest attention. Despite my apathy the show still seemed pointless and I have no intention of listening to it unless the alternative involves either Sean Hannity or being beaten in the throat with a tonfa.

9:00 AM to Noon - This is the show I most want to hear but still have not. The lineup really scores big with me as it consists of former Daily Show head writer Lizz Winstead, Chuck D, and whoever Rachel Maddow is. I won't comment on it since I haven't listened to it.

Noon to 3:00 PM - Al Franken's amusingly named "The O'Franken Factor" comes on at noon, and it is definitely the brightest spot of the Air America Radio lineup. Franken is affable, collected, and intelligent and his dull radio veteran co-host Katherine Lanpher does a good job of keeping the show moving. The first day Franken had friendly conversations with G. Gordon Liddy and Ben Stein, I guess to demonstrate that people with intense ideological differences can be pals. In my opinion this was the best possible thing to do to distance the tone of his show from the tone of his conservative competitors. Franken also has been drawing a steady supply of top-tier guests ranging from Hillary Clinton to Richard Clarke, although I find it difficult to believe he'll be able to maintain his quality level in this respect.

Probably the biggest problem for Franken's show is that he can be heard repeating a number of catchphrases from his books. Limbaugh does this too, repeating his nicknames and jabs at liberals ad nauseum, and it isn't any more endearing when it comes from Franken. The other problem Franken seems to have is one that many of the hosts on the channel without radio experience seem to have; he stutters and fumbles more than most radio professionals. Admittedly, Franken doesn't seem to be overly self-conscious about this and if the channel lasts I expect him to gradually stop doing it entirely.

Randi Rhodes is the BEST!!!!3:00 PM to 7:00 PM - The Randi Rhodes Show is one of the worst things I have ever heard on the radio. Randi Rhodes is an obnoxious, loud-mouthed, ill-informed, and dumb cunt that doesn't listen to anything anyone says. She is EXACTLY like Bill O'Reilly. She will talk over callers and people she is interviewing and then proceed to make points completely irrelevant to anything that is being discussed. This is at its most irritating when she is at odds with the person she is conversing with. She will refuse to hear a single word they are saying and then repeatedly hit some inane sound-effect button on her control panel while ranting at length about whatever ignorant point she is pushing.

Since I've been listening to her the most pathetic example of this was when a caller tried to talk about instant runoff voting and Randi Rhodes aggressively refused to even understand what instant runoff voting was. The only big name interview I have heard her conduct - with independent presidential hopeful Ralph Nader - was absolutely humiliating to listen to. I wish Nader wasn't running as much as the next Democrat, but the aggressive stupidity she displayed while talking over Nader and hitting her retarded sound effect button was embarrassing. Her show should be avoided as if listening to it is as dangerous as immersing your face in a pool of mercury, because it is.

7:00 PM to 8:00 PM - An hour of news and interviews with Marty Kaplan. The news is roughly as one sided as what you would hear on any conservative outlet, which is to say that the facts are there but will lean definitely left. I don't know yet whether or not Air America Radio will do the infamous selective quoting that Fox does. The interviews conducted during this segment are rushed and meant to back up the headlines and always take on a hardcore bias. That's fine, because they tell you you're getting a bias, but I sort of dislike anything being used to back up news items being so blatantly one-sided. It is acceptable as filler I suppose, but if you want real news listen to NPR or, better yet, take the time to read multiple sources on the Internet and triangulate facts.

Janeane is blond now, and also she apparently had her face changed through sorcery.8:00 PM to 11:00 PM - Modestly funny comedienne turned liberal activist Janeane Garofalo hosts "The Majority Report" along with some other comedian whose name I don't remember. The strength of this program is what I assume to be Garofalo's ability to draw great guests to the show. On the first episode both Bill Maher - whose "Real Time" program is one of the most underrated political comedy shows and is definitely superior to his antagonistic "Politically Incorrect" - and the intensely funny Dave Chapelle showed up to make things enjoyable. Garofalo is a train wreck to listen to on the radio. I find her fairly likeable, but her hyper-awareness of her radio inexperience causes her to have zero confidence. She stutters through everything she says, pauses to comment on how much she is stuttering, then goes for a self-effacing joke. This wears thin after about half an hour.

Garofalo's other fault is her habit of interrupting an interview to grandstand almost incoherently about some fringe liberal hot topic. The fact that she called the Bush administration the "43rd Reich" during one segment loses a lot of points in my book. While the conservatives have been getting away with calling both Clintons, Janet Reno, and Saddam Hussein Hitler for years I had held out hope that the liberals would not stoop to this level. Garofalo and her barely-there host inject absolutely nothing into the debate or the discourse of politics and serve only as a faintly pleasant gateway for extremely talented and likeable comedians to appear on the radio.

Worth noting is the hideously annoying segment of "The Majority Report" given to a weekly phone interview with Blog scenester Atrios. I had never heard of Atrios before they introduced him as a Blog superstar, but as soon as he started talking I wanted to level him with a haymaker. He bragged about raising tons of money for the Kerry campaign, made some entirely one-dimensional political comments, and then talked about a week old article from the Guardian as if it were going to blow the lid off Bush's corruption. I look forward to his hard-hitting report next week about this awesome penguin Flash animation he saw and how he scored on the "What Star Wars Character Are You?" test.

Air America Radio has several other annoying problems in addition to those I have pointed out with the individual talents. Probably the most major of these is the fact that none of the shows have yet to demonstrate their relevance to any real degree. The lion's share of the time on every single show I have listened to was devoted to rehashing old issues and old topics that the liberals have not been able to voice until now. I can forgive this for the first few days, but if hosts like Franken and Garofalo (Rhodes is beyond salvation) don't begin getting more topical then they will become useless as daily listens. One of Limbaugh's strengths is that he spends most of every show covering what has happened in the world in the last 24 hours.

Another weak spot at Air America is in a relatively unexpected area; the engineers. The whole station feels chaotic. The broadcast frequently drops, sections of the show are replayed at the top of the hour for no apparent reason, phones rarely work, and worst of all shows get delayed anywhere from ten minutes to an hour. Most college radio stations are better maintained than Air America Radio. This situation is totally unacceptable for a professional media outlet and needs to be resolved immediately. The first 24 hours are the only time kinks that major should be appearing, yet if anything the second day was even more disorganized than the first.

Finally, the most annoying things being played on Air America Radio are the advertisements. The station IDs are clever and amusing ("We're what Rush Limbaugh would be listening to if he hadn't lost most of his hearing to drug addiction") but the advertisements themselves are awful and replayed almost every single commercial break. In my 15 hours or so of listening to Air America Radio I have heard a terrible ad for Tim Robbins' play "Embedded" at least 150 times. I am not exaggerating; they play it, along with all of their other ads, 10 times per hour. This is primarily due to how new the station is, but most of their real advertisers have given them a half dozen or more ads to rotate, so it's not as noticeable when the OnStar or a PSA plays. Unfortunately, Tim Robbins and some really pathetic woman making a movie only gave the station one ad to replay once every seven or eight minutes.

Ultimately, Air America Radio is a noble effort but a qualified failure. The conservative media and the government have spent the last three years trying to overpower all other voices in the United States. It's important that we hear a diverse range of opinions in the media and I applaud Air America Radio for attempting to represent one segment of the population that has been underrepresented in the recent past. I dislike the fact that the media has been transformed into a tug of war between conservatives and liberals and I fear that there may be no return to the days when any journalist could be trusted as totally impartial.

With a lot of technical effort, some revisions in their lineup (I'm fucking looking at you Randi Rhodes), more attention to current events, and more practice, Air America Radio could pose a threat to conservative radio juggernauts. The best suggestion I can make is to get rid of that fucking dumb bitch Randi and hire Al Sharpton to replace her. He was one witty bastard at every debate he attended, and although I have some issues with his past, he would make an extremely charismatic radio host. As it is now, Air America does not have a catfish's chance at a VFW cookout of eclipsing O'Reilly or Hannity, let alone Lord Limbaugh.

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