Editor’s note: As we were getting ready for this dispatch to go out, the New York Times ran a short blog on how conservative radio hosts are covering the contested-election story. The Times piece largely relies on the number of times certain terms like “fraud” appear in a show’s transcripts. They contrast Limbaugh and Hannity with NPR. This is interesting, but we find it helps if you actually listen to this stuff, get the rhythm down. It’s a shame that most newspapers cut their radio columns years ago. A paper as influential as the Times doesn’t even have a reporter covering the format millions of Americans rely on as their main source of information. The elite newsrooms could save a lot of money on sending reporters to cover the mysterious Trump voters in coal country by just tuning in to AM radio.
Contested election? Or contested reality?
Nothing illustrated the stark divisions between radio at its best and worst more sharply than Joe Biden’s defeat of Donald Trump.
No sooner than it was clear Donald Trump had no real path to an electoral college victory, the conservative talk radio hosts began spinning any false narrative they could find. Conspiracy theories were floated and quickly discarded for the next made-up claim. Some hosts put forward multiple contradictory claims at the same time. States that had finished counting votes needed to continue the count. Other states that were still counting ballots needed to stop immediately. It was the voting machines! Dead voters! Whoever coordinates the daily messaging failed to get out a coherent narrative. As bizarre as the entire spectacle was, it was fascinating to hear the narrative forged in real time.
None of this should be surprising for anyone who listens to AM radio. The tone for most AM hosts is set early in the morning when members of the Trump administration appear to suss out talking points. Rush Limbaugh (WOR 710) helped get things rolling on Monday when he said: “if presented in the right way,” the various conspiracy theories could have a real impact. Buck Sexton attacked Fox News. Ben Shapiro and Brian Kilmeade asked leading questions to Trump campaign officials. Predictably, this continued undeterred, even as officials from Trump’s own Department of Homeland Security declared the election to be “the most secure in American history.” We have been listening to Rudy Giuliani’s radio show regularly for long enough that we have heard and evaluated all of the Trump campaign’s arguments. We have found the former mayor’s claims to be yet another meritless attempt to stay relevant. The whole spectacle was more excruciating than several months of MSNBC Russiagate coverage condensed into a single week.
No station had as much at stake in the election outcome as WABC 770 AM. Station owner, billionaire-landlord and NYC GOP boss John Catsimitidis pushed the voter fraud line on his Sunday morning “Roundtable,” a show whose opening theme consists of multiple people talking about how great the bossman is. Catsimitidis continued this during a special Veterans’ Day co-broadcast with “The Answer” AM. Months ago, we predicted Answer host Kevin McCullough was auditioning for a spot on WABC by having Catsimitidis as a frequent guest. On the Veterans Day segment, the two spun election-fraud theories while Catsimitidis railed against an “algorithm” responsible for Trump’s defeat, announcing that ”People who don’t believe fraud exists are dumber than dog doo doo.” There is something odd about a guy who owns a station that appears to exist solely as a campaign arm of the Republican Party being too tepid to use a term like “dog shit.” Bill O’Reilly, in his own I’m not saying the election was stolen, but it was probably stolen bit on WABC noted that the 70 million Trump voters said a collective “Blank You!” to the political establishment. The FCC and FEC are so unregulated, these guys should give up the phony G-rated shtick. For what it’s worth, Catsimitidis, who may be running for Mayor of NYC again in 2021, was introduced as “the man who is New York.” The billionaire brought out his new weekend host Tony Orlando to talk about their friend “Donald.” As excited as we were for Orlando’s arrival on WABC as a music jock, his debut was lackluster. There is really no excuse to play the same handful of songs you can hear on any of the other “oldies” outlets. Oh great, “Life in the Fast Lane” by the Eagles. At least Orlando has a pretty good delivery. Catsimitidis, on the other hand, has the distinction of being only slightly better than Heshy Tischler.
One of the more bizarre shows on WABC is the new “Lidia Reports,” with Lidia Curanaj, who is billed as the station’s “investigative journalist and Editorial Content Manager.” Curanaj started her Sunday evening show by playing Queen’s “We are the Champions,” and then saying Trump couldn’t have possibly lost because his rallies were so enthusiastic. She would carry on about the stolen election, and then revert back to the whole “I’m not saying it was stolen” line. Curanaj has been appearing on the Curtis and Juliet Show as a news commentator. Curanaj’s spots contain about as much “news” content as a can of tuna fish, which is to say not much at all.
Juliet Huddy actually countered false election narratives on the Curtis and Juliet Show. That didn’t stop Curtis Sliwa from repeatedly insisting countless dead people helped throw the election to Biden.
WABC morning hosts Sid and Bernie claimed that once the election was called for Biden people were “dancing in the streets” in Beijing. Sid Rosenberg went on to complain that he would probably have to start paying more to fill the tank in his SUV.
Rudy Giuliani, now in charge of Trump’s entire election legal strategy, has been approaching the contested election line the same way he approached the Hunter Biden laptop story: nonstop, and with vague, conflicting information. Giuliani pushed examples of fraud from people who have since recanted their stories. He rails against poll workers delivering “ash cans” full of ballots. Giuliani also claims that the voting machine company beams vote results overseas, where they are then tabulated on foreign soil. Iran, China, Spain and other countries have been hinted at as possible locations. Like the Biden laptop story, Giuliani gives snippets of information, dashing from point to unrelated point—claiming the election was stolen by Dominion (a voting machine manufacturer), the Chinese government, Nancy Pelosi, the Deep State—usually ending his rants with a plea to tune in at a later date for the real juicy evidence. Giuliani’s treatment of the Hunter Biden laptop largely revolved around an email the Biden son had sent to a sibling complaining that he paid more than his share in the family. I don’t think any high-level politicians should be trading in their connections for lucrative jobs. But Giuliani failed to deliver the evidence, and instead wound up having callers weigh in on pictures on Hunter Biden’s genitals. Giuliani has never uttered a peep about Donald Trump’s family using the office of president for self-enrichment. The airwaves at WABC will never broadcast foul words like “Hatch Act,”and “Emoluments Clause.” Since Giuliani is working for Trump and his campaign, his show is essentially an infomercial for the president, yet another in-kind campaign contribution by John Catsimitidis. Tune in and hear callers tell Giuliani he was sent by god to save Trump (yes, this happens).
Rudy Giuliani audio. Caller blasts Rudy: “You lied about the air quality at the World Trade Center. You cross-dressing perverted drunk”
Let’s take a brief respite from the unfunny clown show for some comedic relief. Here’s Rudy Giuliani, shortly before the election getting blasted by a caller identifying as a retired NYPD detective. The caller demands Giuliani present actual evidence of the Hunter Biden laptop allegations before saying: “Our unions got you elected and reelected, you rewarded us with zeroes. You lied about the air at the World Trade Center. You cross-dressing perverted drunk.” Giuliani dismisses the caller as “probably sort of a Biden fan of some kind of another.” (For the record, we don’t oppose Giuliani for his alleged “perversions,” we oppose him for his bottomless venality, his hypocrisy and his disastrous tenure as mayor of NYC, when he effectively banned dancing, yet traipsed around in drag performances).
More Giuliani audio: Rudy “both sides” Trump’s attacks on John McCain
And here’s Giuliani dismissively responding to a veteran who suggested Trump may have turned off voters. Rudy “both sides” Trump’s attacks on John McCain, who he claims was a good friend of his.
Brian Lehrer and WNYC bring clarity in a time of crisis (yet again)
To see the opposite approach of how radio can be done, we can turn once again to Brian Lehrer at WNYC. Lehrer has featured multiple top election-law experts to make sense of the Trump campaign’s various lawsuits. On Monday, Lehrer interviewed Richard Hasen, of the University of California, Irvine. In response to Lehrer’s questions about the merits of the election-fraud cases, Hasen responded: “Let me just say the fact that Rudy Giuliani rather than one of the A-list Republican election lawyers is in charge of this that tells you all you need to know. If there were a credible legal case that could be brought the people who’d be out front would look very different.”
WNYC’s On the Media—excellent as always—takes on the alternate-facts hype machine yet again. The latest episode, “Another World Entirely,” distills the Trump administrations attacks on data and democracy. The episode is worth listening to in its entirety. Brooke Gladstone’s conversation with former conservative journalist and Newsbusters founder Matt Sheffield is at once a look at the rot at the heart of contemporary conservatism and a scathing critique of out-of-touch elitist coastal media outlets whose condescension towards regular people alienates much of the population.
Reveal, heard on WNYC talks with a Black election worker in Detroit, who breaks down the hostility she faced from poll watchers attempting to disrupt the vote-counting process. When asked if she felt there was a racial element to the poll watchers’ work, she asks, “Why didn’t they go to Ann Arbor?… Why Detroit?” This same episode has a segment produced in conjunction with 100 Days in Appalachia which follows a Black legislator in West Virginia who faces so many death threats, she is forced to wear body armor. The audio footage of heavily armed counterprotesters shouting the n-word and other epithets at that state’s Black Lives Matter protest is chilling. Reveal carries some of the better reporting found on the radio.
For your consideration
WNYC has a new daily 20-minute podcast, “Consider This,” featuring selected NYC-based and national stories, sourced its own pool of reporters and NPR. (We have not yet heard this show, look for a possible future review).
WBGO steps it up
WBGO has been running some great segments on its website (it’s unclear if these also air on the radio). This piece (with audio) by Greg Bryant and Nate Chinen on Herbie Hancock’s visionary Mwandishi unit is great read/listen.
Play it again and again and again
WFMU’s Put the Needle on the Record has been top-notch, every Friday night. If you haven’t caught the show, check out Billy Jam’s recent revolutionary rap special. DJ Fine Wine’s Downtown Soulville, followed by NY Underground with Ray Boogie keep the good beats flowing up till midnight. On the commercial end of the FM dial, WBLS has been playing some great stuff. This past Saturday night, DJ Bent Rock did a tribute commemorating Notorious B.I.G’s induction into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. It was nice to hear special guest Lil’ Cease of the Junior Mafia back on the NYC airwaves again.
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