THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 50, July 4, 1999
They Can't All Be Walter Williams
by L. Neil Smith
Special to The Libertarian Enterprise
I was born the same year as commercial TV, although it wasn't until I
was in First Grade that my family actually bought one of the infernal
devices. Before that, we amused ourselves with the infernal device of
an earlier age, radio.
What I recall about radio from the late 40s and early 50s begins with
the music of that era. (I'm not "waxing" nostalgic: Bill Haley and
Elvis did the world a favor by putting Patti Page and Hugo
Winterhalter out of our misery.) It includes morning musical variety
-- Arthur Godfrey and Don MacNeil -- that anticipated late-night TV
talk shows, and "prime time" offerings of Bob Hope, Bing Crosby,
Donald O'Connor, Paul Whiteman, and others. I'm not forgetting drama:
The Lone Ranger, The Green Hornet, The Shadow, Inner Sanctum, and The
FBI in Peace and War. Gunsmoke began on radio, starring William
There were soap operas, too, but I'm repressing them.
Radio and I go back a long way in another respect. For a year,
starting at age 13, in connection with a Boy Scout project, I
panel-engineered the weekly remote broadcast of Protestant church
services at an overseas air force base.
Old time radio and the first 40 years of TV had a lot in common.
After a nationally-broadcast show, folks would come to school or work
the next day and talk over what they'd heard or seen with everybody
else, who'd heard or seen the same thing. It's said that during
commercials for I Love Lucy, water pressure plummeted across the
nation as millions of Americans all got up and went to the bathroom
at the same time. Some even profess to miss that kind of hydraulic
togetherness (which came to a well-deserved end at the start of the
cable era). I'm not one of them; I remember all too well a time when,
in most of the country, there was only one channel, and you had to
watch I Love Lucy.
And I never did love Lucy.
In these post-Mass Man days, TV and radio are individuated. We have
cable and satellites to thank for that, along with the demise of Top
40. Anyone who knows me knows I listen to talk radio. That wasn't
always the case: when the inappropriately sainted Alan Berg was
holding forth, I avoided it. He wasn't just a socialist, incapable of
thinking his way out of a wet paper bag, he believed that being ugly
to callers constituted entertainment. He was killed by a neofascist
even stupider than he was, but it was bound to happen sooner or
later, if only at the hands of some litle old lady he'd gratuitously
My opinion of talk radio received no immediate correction at the
other end of Denver's political spectrum. KOA's Mike Rosen was -- and
remains today -- an intellectually dishonest hysteric (and admitted
"baseball socialist") whose habitual reaction to being trapped in an
inconsistency is to retort, "That was then, this is now." Devoid of
any observable creativity or imagination, when presented with new
possiblities or conditions, he is flounderingly incapable of
adapting. Like Alan Berg, he beats up on his callers and the guests
that he assumes his listeners will disapprove of. Unlike Berg he
doesn't have the excuse all "liberals" have, that, at some
fundamental level, they're mentally ill.
Looking back, I'm only grateful that I never had a chance to hear Don
Imus until I'd had a chance to experience fully-evolved Homo sapiens
on the radio first.
I altered my view on talk radio when I heard Rush Limbaugh dealing
with listeners' opinions he disagreed with. He didn't yell or insult
his callers. I've written a lot about the Man from Cape Girardeau,
much of it negative, and doubtless will again. I disagree with him
half the time (as any Libertarian will) but it's a different half
than I'm used to. I almost invariably like other Limbaugh listeners I
meet; most of them are more radical and principled than he is. As an
occasional songwriter who began with political parodies in high
school, I love what he does with music, and it should never be
forgotten how he rallied opposition to Bozo and Evita when we might
otherwise have been overwhelmed.
Another great voice is that of Ken Hamblin, Harley-riding "Black
Avenger", former civil rights worker, news photographer and --
ironically -- admirer of Alan Berg. Son of a West Indian immigrant,
who grew up in New York, Detroit, and the 87nd Airborne, Ken lives
near Denver, whence emanate his daily radio broadcast and syndicated
newspaper column. What he avenges is the plantation mentality of
those who call themselves liberals and the debilitating effect on his
race of programs like affirmative action. His foes are politicians
who, in his view, use the inner cities to breed Democratic voters.
You'd better believe the parasites he calls "quota blacks" hate him
back in, er ... spades. Ever a progressive fellow, he can be heard in
real time on internet radio at http://www.hamblin.com/.
Lately I've been listening to G. Gordon Liddy. His education is
similar to mine; his concerns for logic and the niceties of language
are fresh air after Limbaugh's malapropisms and dogmatic attitudes.
The "Darth Vader of the Nixon Administration" is a kindly "gentleman
of the old school" who reminds me of Bob LeFevre. At the same time,
he manifests a well-informed appreciation for weapons, and for every
aspect of the fair sex, that produces, among other things, his
"Stacked & Packed Calendar" (a dozen quality photographs of his more
attractive female fans, scantily-clad, and wielding a variety of
lethal hardware) enabling him to "offend Pattie Schroeder and Sarah
Brady at the same time".
I used to be a regular guest, specializing in Second Amendment
issues, of Dr. Norm Resnick, unrivaled star of right-wing shortwave
radio. Norm and two other local gents of our mutual acquaintance are
held by Morris Dees (of the Southern Mental Poverty Center) to be
among the 100 most dangerous individuals in America, with an
implication that a major component of their dangerousness is
anti-semitism. Trouble is, two of them are Jewish (which gives us an
idea how credible Dees is) and furthermore, anyone who knows us knows
that I'm more dangerous than all three of the others put together.
I'm thinking about suing.
Norm is an educator who may change the course of history. Working at
the opposite end from JPFO's Aaron Zelman, he's shamed much of the
dumb-ass right out of its hatred for things Jewish. My problem with
him -- more accurately, with his listeners -- is that they're
suicidally depressing and uninterested in solutions. My publisher and
Laissez Faire Books ran ads on Norm's station while I was on; over
six weeks, we didn't sell book one. Maybe I'm taking it personally,
but unlike Norm himself, his audience of political paralytics would
apparently rather whimper like P.J. O'Rourke's "bedwetting liberals"
about how bad things are, than actually take charge and do something
I've recently been steered to Mike Reagan, but his show airs here in
the evening, and, as horrible as television gets (primarily because
even those like FOX and UPN, who produce the best of it, still want
to be -- perversely -- just like ABC, NBC, and CBS) anyone with a
wife and daughter has better things to do with his evenings than
listen to radio. Lately we've been going ice skating, and anyone who
knows me will appreciate how comical that must look.
Eat your heart out, Lucy.
Parenthetically, all network radio news is awful. The oddest
phenomenon in communications today is the ideological broadcaster who
runs, say, Gordon Liddy and Ken Hamblin, but whose news feed comes
from Associated Press and, given AP's NEA-jerk leftist interpretation
of events, might as well be an extrusion of NPR. What's more -- with
the highly notable exception of the family who own Norm Resnick's
home station -- all the local operators of my acquaintance are
unspeakably cheap, molishly shortsighted, and ineffably ... grimy.
I used to listen to Chuck Adler. My wife Cathy and I have filled in
for Mike McNulty on his Saturday morning show on Norm's station. A
problem with all these guys is that they suffer to varying degrees
from the triple malaise Ayn Rand warned us of, mysticism, altruism,
and collectivism. (Phoenix's Sam Steiger may be a legitimate
exception -- my friend Maryann Watkins surely is -- but with due
respect to legions who believe otherwise, I've never heard anything
to convince me that Howard Stern or Gene Burns are genuine
Mostly they're promiscuously religious, which I can't help but see as
a pathetic confession to intellectual enfeeblement. (There -- I said
it, and I'm glad!) They're anti-individualists (no matter what they
say), right-wing collectivists who wouldn't hesitate a second longer
than Comrade Hillary to sacrifice your life, your property, or your
rights to whatever they consider a worthy cause. Despite their
religious-based assertions of moral certainty, they drift,
ideologically, because they haven't any real principles to anchor
them. They're not the free-market freedom-fighters they claim, but
second- and third-hand New Dealers, upholding policies they'd have
opposed 60 years ago.
Michael Medved is, perhaps, the worst, an obnoxiously godly prude
whom I'm always deeply disappointed to hear replacing Rush Limbaugh.
He's the reason (along with Henry Waxman) that I coined the
expression "dogwhistle" in the first place. It's too damned bad he
became a conservative; he'd fit perfectly into his dear friend
Hillary's administration as a sort of miniature Robert Reich.
Tony Snow, another Limbaugh stand-in is a political weakling so
thoroughly typical of the Republican Party in general that I'm
surprised he wasn't Bob Dole's running mate. With Tony around to
temporize and water principles down, Jack Kemp better look to his
laurels as "coward of the country" in the year 2000.
I get mad at all of these guys from time to time, and I swear I'll
never listen to them again. But in the end, I never can hold a
grudge. Most of them unquestionably brighten my day and -- as
occasional fellow travelers -- they help to make what Rudyard Kipling
called "The Great Game" a trifle less burdensome.
The great tragedy is that -- with the exception of the precious few
hours every year that Dr. Walter Williams takes the air behind the
"Golden EIB Microphone" -- there doesn't seem to be any genuine
libertarian talk radio yet. I'd love to do it myself, and perhaps I
will, someday, given a suitable offer.
But perhaps there never will be any libertarian talk radio. The left
wing socialists own television, where they communicate in pretty
pictographs and can emote to their bleeding hearts' content --
instead of offering ideas and logical argument. The right wing
socialists own radio, the "Theater of the Mind".
It's the internet, in many ways, the city of the future, that belongs
It could be worse.
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