Monday, July 21

Harry Shearer Gets It

Some time ago, I wrote an essay about the half-hearted attempts to launch liberal talk shows on TV and radio. You can read it here in a new window. In a nutshell, the feeble trials used underwhelming talent with little or no charisma and therefore, liberal radio was considered a flop.

The New York Times carries on this fairy tale today in an article titled "Why Liberals Are No Fun" - again using the examples of Jim Hightower, Mario Cuomo, et al as classic left-wing failures. But there's a bright spot in the story.

Harry Shearer, give 'em the cold simple truth...

If showmen as shrewd as Mr. Ailes are rare, so are performers with the particular star quality suited to broadcast talk, says Harry Shearer, the liberal radio satirist ("Le Show"), "Simpsons" voice and Christopher Guest collaborator (most recently on "A Mighty Wind"). He argues that "based on sheer radio professionalism," even "a tribe of chimpanzees locked in a room would choose Rush Limbaugh over Jim Hightower," the Texas populist whose radio show has been an also-ran on the national charts.

"Hightower has a fine record as a left politician in Texas, which is not easy to do," Mr. Shearer says. "But he has a voice like a cat being wrung through a dryer at slow speed, and he has no show business chops. Rush Limbaugh didn't start in politics. He was Rusty Limbaugh, playing the top-40 hits. He learned the craft of broadcasting first."

Amen. Quite frankly, very few hosts on both sides don't pass my "have a beer with" test.


I can actually speak firsthand that yes, I've broken bread with Limbaugh one-on-one back in the 90s, and he was a blast to hang out with. I'd like to think that Al Franken and Shearer fall into that category. Randi Rhodes probably would be a hoot with a couple of Red Stripes in 'er. But I can't fathom knocking back a few with Jim Hightower, Laura Ingraham, Mario Cuomo, Michael Savage or Jerry Brown without calling for a check after the first half of the bottle was gone.

I've always been a proponent of radio programmers using the beer test as part of their hiring process. Maybe radio would be a little more interesting if they did.