23 August 2003

State of Talk Radio in the Valley 2003

With KXAM bowing out of the local talk radio racket, only the two big honchos remain - KTAR and KFYI. Meanwhile, KFNX starts to fill its schedule with notable personalities including Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Betsy Bayless, Dr. Mike Newcomb, and KXAM emigre Ernest Hancock. Quirky KXAM is transforming into an all-G-Gordon-Liddy station with ample helpings of brokered programming to ensure listener dyspepsia. The KTAR lineup remained intact, with the only change the adding of a permanent slot for Ted Simons in the afternoon. KFYI shuffled its lineup - Heidi and Haywood were dumped and Goyette was relegated to night duty. Tom Liddy and Austin Hill snag the coveted afternoon drive time slot.

I've sampled all the local radio fare, and once again will share my gradebook with the online world. I realize there are a few other talk radio stations in the Phoenix area - KKNT (960 AM), KXEM (1010 AM), and KMYL (1190 AM), but I believe their programming schedules consist solely of national/network programming and/or infomercials. If I am incorrect, please tell me. A schedule of all the Valley radio programs may be found at Bradley's excellent Jabbertalky listing.

Now, let's dive into the rankings...

  1. David Leibowitz - Pitted against this field of hosts, a number one ranking isn't exactly indicative of top notch quality. However, the Real Life with David Leibowitz show continues to improve, year by year. Leibowitz has veered away from the scripted format that has kept the show's potential chained up. Not totally, but I detect a deviation from the plotted programs that treated the callers a diversionary filler. Other regular features like the Leibo Letter and the Sign of the Apocalypse freshen up what is a decaying radio genre. And I'm not alone in my valuation - Phoenix Magazine named David the "Best Radio Talk Show Host".

  2. Jay Lawrence/Michael Hagerty - I paired KTAR weekend/substitute talk hosts together for this assessment. I wish these guys could nab a regular weekday gig - it would be a refreshing change to the existing vapid lineups on Valley radio. "Lovable" Jay seems to always have influential and informative guests that cover important local and national issues. Hagerty's shows are always topical, and his courteous demeanor seems to spark welcome discourse from influential program guests.

  3. Mike Newcomb - The liberals are dead, long live the liberals. Mike Newcomb's KFNX On Second Thought has captured an audience of hidden liberals, progressives, and Democrats that have been hiding in wait for a talk radio program suited to their take on current events. Sometimes, Newcomb can sound just as cacophonous as the hosts on that other "fair and balanced" station, but he's nearly always respectful of caller opinions and allows even the most strident of the oppostion to register their differences. Being allotted only hour harms the show - it would be wonderful if Dr. Mike could snag at least another hour for his much needed show, given the preponderance of extremist conservatism that barks at me from all over the radio dial.

  4. Ernest Hancock - Libertarian free radio has moved down the dial and up the clock. I was disappointed that the show moved off of KXAM and out of the morning drive time slot - the Ernest Hancock show truly was a treat. Maybe there's a strong thread of Libertarianism running through me, because I found myself nodding in agreement when Brother Ernest launched himself into a evangelical rant. While I'm in complete disagreement with Libertarian philosophy on policies regarding service sectors that dispense necessities to the public, I find much of the other doctrine to be on the mark or at least challenging. The guests appearing on the show were all most interesting, even the ones that I judged to be completely fraudulent.

  5. Charles Goyette - Although KFYI has been giving Charles Goyette Show the "John Dayl" treatment, Goyette is the station's best regular talk host, in my view. I suppose the Clear Channel suits disapproved of all the anti-war fervor he displayed. If it weren't for over sensationalism and rude treatment to callers, Goyette could rank higher.

  6. Ted Simons - I'm uncertain if the doofus sidekick spiel is a KTAR program director pet initiative or if the Ted Simons Show is merely emulating the strawman role Ned Foster performs on the Leibowitz show. Whatever the reason for the overextended participation of Gaydos, it significantly detracts from the quality of the show. It's just not that witty. Actually, Simon's show isn't too bad, but it strikes me that Simons is trying too hard to impress himself.

  7. Austin Hill & Tom Liddy - Memo to Austin Hill: Tom Liddy just isn't that funny. On the Liddy & Hill Show, Austin has carved out quite a niche, playing Ed McMahon and giggling like a spoiled school girl at even the most inane utterance by Mr. Liddy. Liddy, son of a convicted felon, is quite savvy behind the microphone, adroit with the lawyerly manner in dealing with recalcitrant nay-sayers. Naturally, it helps when good chunks of program time are earmarked for silly contests or filled with trivial chatter. And for the few opposition call in trickle throughs, the hosts and screeners filter the callers with uncanny precision, so that only the most absurd contrasting viewpoints are aired. Still, by preaching to the previously proselytized, Liddy & Hill have etched out a devoted following.

  8. Preston Westmoreland - Every year I've written this talk radio appraisal, Preston has finished dead last. He's not improved any, but the presence of the barely famous one and whine-fella permit the Drive Home with Preston Westmoreland Show to elude the basement. How Talkers Magazine named him one of the "100 Most Important Radio Talk Shows in America" is a mystery to me. He's pathetically ill informed when interviewing guests, stammers and stutters, and never seems to grasp the gist of caller remarks. I really wish KTAR would replace him in the critical drive time slot with somebody half way interesting.

  9. Barry Young - I don't get the Howard Stern show. I mean just about the entire program time slot is devoted to self aggrandizing yacking with an occasional freak show guest to amuse prepubescent minds littering the 3D space and wasting oxygen that other intelligent life requires. Similarly, I don't understand the appeal of the Barry Young Show. Close to half of the entire program is devoted to a solo monologue where Mr. Young propagates lies and disinformation, much of it (especially the regurgitated blurbs on Clinton) rooted in the work of white supremacist organizations. It's individuals like the "nearly famous" one that have turned me virulently away from conservatism. I embrace all content intellectually challenging, regardless of the political slant, but I wholeheartedly reject buffoons who twist data, omit facts and spread dogma solely to suit their preordained prejudices.

  10. Bruce Jacobs - The existence of Bruce Jacobs Show and the brigade of neconservative dupes that delight in Bruce's antics offers definitive proof of the sordid state of public education in Arizona. Jacobs possesses no knowledge of the issues, is ignorant of meaningful history, offers no perspective that isn't already offered by Archie Bunker reruns, and completely disregards more enlightened sources, which in his case, amounts to just about anybody with a pulse. While I enjoyed the sports talk stints Jacobs held, he's an embarrassment working in the realm of serious political discussion. KFYI, in seeking a local Hannity-lite rendition, has settled for a shrill wannabee that vividly demonstrates the dumbing down of the radio business. "Whine-fella", as Alfredo Gutierrez dubbed him, no doubt, is responsible for compelling listeners to tune out KFYI.

I know I keep repeating it, year to year, but sometime I am going to post a national talk host roundup. I do listen to the national hosts, even though I greatly prefer to listen to local talkers. Stale shows on tape delay interest me not. Nor do xenophobes and hate mongers. I am told by friends that Hugh Hewitt on 960 AM does a decent job, but I've not had a chance to hear him yet.

I heard Willy Bills was spotted in the Tucson vicinity by a pygmy owl...


As a radiophile also, I enjoy your comments. Of course I don't always agree ... etc. ... but really, you ought to give Dennis Prager a listen (KKNT 9-noon). I've listened to him, on and off, since 1983 (when he was live and local on KABC, in L.A.) There is no other program that digs as deeply into the issues -- and I guarantee that if you disagree with him, you'll get on first (it always has worked for me).

For the life of me I don't know why radio commentators tend to think that "local" radio either is, or should be, any good. I switch off the radio when people start talking about local Phoenix personalities and developers and artists -- I will listen to restaurant talk, but that's about it. I don't care to hear about what happens to bond issues or downtown redevelopment. I don't care if the host is "local" or not, so long as he or she is getting into depth about an issue or idea that has lasting significance, I'll listen.

And then there is the hilarious satire of Phil Hendry -- which is "local" only in L.A. but we can hear it on KFI on weeknights -- and it doesn't matter if it isn't "local" because the lampooning is national. (His monologue diatribes are another matter, but his "bits" are phenomenal.)
Anyway, thanks for your thoughts about one of my favorite subjects .... RADIO!