Wednesday, June 14, 2006

John Batchelor: To Love, Hate, or Both?

Maybe I should turn my blog into a NY Radio Message Board fanpage. I'm greatly enjoying the current discussions about The Dumbing Down Of Radio and Broadway Bill Lee's Challenge and various thoughts about the non-viability of HD Radio. (Although "enjoying" might not be the right word - sometimes - OK, often - the topics can be depressing. But this is the kind of stuff that intrigues me... am I weird?)

Meanwhile, the Board inspired me to write about one of my favorite radio shows - The John Batchelor Show, which airs on 770 WABC every weeknight from 10 PM to 1 AM. (The next few paragraphs of this post were originally written for the Board.) I am a regular listener partially because there's nothing else interesting on the radio at that time of night - sometimes I'm in the mood for Lionel, often I'm not - and because I'm almost always in the car at that time, driving home to Harrington Park on my never-ending commute. And the weirdness of John's show is appropriate for my usual frame of mind at that time of night ("Well? How Did I Get Here?")

I have a love/hate relationship with this show, but - I do listen to it quite a bit, and will sorely miss it if it disappears. I find John's broadcast odd, yet compelling. There's no other place on the radio - hell, in the media in general - that maintains that we're-still-in-the-middle-of-9/11 vibe that John's show has. (I mean, the show still signs off with Kate Smith singing "God Bless America"!) While I do not share John's relentless trust in and love of the wisdom of his regulars (Malcolm Hoenlein? John Loftus? Who are these mooks?), there's something both frightening yet endearingly cheesy about the show - very old-fashioned, as if Walter Winchell had come back to life, dropped the gossip, and went full-hog on international paranoia.

John's doomy music beds (cribbed from movie soundtracks) go on faaaaar too long; John is cluelessly in love with his own voice and with his fave big words, foreign capitols and pet phrases ("news cycle"... "why don't you give us a timeline"... etc.) - he parrots stuff designed to make him sound like he has insider information, but he comes off more like an excited, naive, and right-wing amateur, if not an Inspector Clouseau.

Yet I find his flamboyant voice and paranoid tone fun and reassuring to listen to as I'm dropping off to sleep. It's an Art Bell-like pleasure; voices like that are a reminder of the weird old America we live in.

And I also think he may be doing a service by keeping 9/11 alive, and by relentlessly bringing up the dangers of the big scary ol' world, because it IS scary and big, and much of it is up to no good, in terms of the eternal vigilance this society needs to (possibly) survive into this century...

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