Amazing Leftist AM Radio

Just after dropping off the kids this morning, I hit the wrong button on the car radio this morning — wait! there's a point to this story! it's not just pointless self-indulgent diaristic blogging! — and the radio flips from NPR, where it usually lives, to AM, where I never go. And I find something strange.

Local AM radio around here usually is below awful. But instead of shock jocks, or wall-to-wall ads, or mindless sports talk, or crime-and-wrecks, what I hear is a calm, measured voice, speaking in long sentences, expressing complex ideas. And the voice….the voice is saying things I thought you didn't get to say on the radio. Especially not in Florida.

The Voice is in the process of saying that US Cuba policy is irrational — we used to say we were trying to keep the Soviets out of our hemisphere, but when they left we didn't declare victory and drop the embargo, we tightened it in the name of democracy. (The Voice also makes the curious suggestion that intellectuals as a class immediately engaged in a mass forggetting about the earler policy and swung into line behind the new 'pro-democracy' ideology…what is this guy, a Trotskyist?).

Later the Voice starts talking about workers. It says that although workers have more rights than they did in the 1920s, their condition remains precarious. Then there's a question from what appears to be the audience along the lines of, “Isn't the answer to our problems to have a revolution?” Now I'm thinking — wait a minute; this is way to the left of NPR! And this is AM radio! What's going on? A meeting of the local Party cell somewhere? The Voice, however, disappoints the questioner. He doesn't think a revolution is possible, or even that good an idea as a strategy. Better to continue to fight for incremental improvements for labor.

When I get home, I put the radio on again to 790 AM. The program lasts for 45 minutes, plus whatever I missed before I stumbled on it. At the half hour, there's a station break of a few seconds to ID the station, but they don't tell me who's speaking.

The Voice has a definite affinity for semi-conspiratorial theories that doesn't really appeal to me. He's very concerned about the means by which, as he sees it, (things get a bit unclear) our society either brainwashes itself, or engages in some sort of voluntary groupthink and self-censorship, particularly among the intellectual class, and basic facts become impossible to mention. This seems a little simplistic to me, although I suppose that readers of the Daily Howler would say it describes the behavior of the media during the 2000 campaign pretty well. He describes advertising as a tax we pay others to brainwash us, which is cute but not that illuminating.

The Voice also has a naively romantic view of labor. He thinks workers should (“at least as an ideal” he says, suggesting he may know in his heart that this is simplistic) own the means of production with which they labor. A host of complexities about investments, national strategies, the long-term problems of even the more successful Yugoslavian workers' cooperatives, all dance through my head as he waxes about the workers of Lowell, Mass, who some unspecified time in the past ditched their bosses and took over an unspecified factory (referring to something discussed before I tuned in perhaps?).

Towards the end of the program, I gather it's an old tape — the Voice is criticizing Clinton, clearly the sitting President, as basically a Republican (ha! thinks I — just wait).

But the point of this tale isn't that I heard someone come up with brilliant, prescient, or even convincing radical ideas. Because I didn't. The point of this tale is that radical ideas got an extended airing on AM radio in South Florida. That violates just about everything I thought I knew about how the world works.

At 9AM they do another station ID, announce it's WAXY 790. And they finally mention the name of the speaker.

It's Noam Chomsky.

Which really surprises me, because he sounded substantially less crazed in this 45 minute segment than in the essays of his I've waded through, or started and then stopped wading through. (I'm basically with Brad DeLong on the Chomsky question.)

Then the announcer says that the next program is a paid broadcast on health, and segues straight to what sounds — for the first twenty seconds before I click off — as an extended (one hour?) infomercial. So of course I fire up my browser to figure out what on earth is going on at 790 AM. Here's what I found:

WAXY 790 is now a full time brokered station with the widest variety of programming imaginable. WAXY programs include topical talk, health, lifestyle, religion, music, and information on a variety of subjects. With over forty different shows, there is a program on WAXY for nearly every interest.

WAXY's powerful transmitter (25,000 Watts) in the East Everglades, using Kahn Power-Side technology, gives this programming solid coverage from the Palm Beaches to the Florida Keys, as well as the Bahamas and Florida's Southwest Coast.

And they do have a bewildering variety of stuff — the organizing theme being, I suppose, whoever will pay them. Is this the Republican future of radio? Let the market decide what programs should be? Broker all the airwaves? And, is that better or worse than the AM radio we usually get?

Incidentally, a little digging shows that the program I heard was Babel's Guide, which got this content from Radio Progress, which itself got the content from Alternative Radio. But which one of their extensive list of Chomsky programs I heard, I don't know.

WAXYing on about the irony that the way Noam Chomsky gets an AM airing is via paid media is left as an exercise for the reader…

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