World, Shut Your Mouth: The Horror of Public Radio Call-In Shows

| Fri Aug. 15, 2008 4:12 PM EDT

mojo-photo-calleryells.jpgMuch of the time, public radio is a calm, thoughtful oasis in the fart-joke maelstrom of commercial FM broadcasts. But at a certain point in the daily schedule, most public radio stations suddenly turn from interesting to irritating, filling time with that most lazy and obnoxious of programs: the call-in show. It's a high-minded ideal, letting the actual public on to "our" radio stations, but unfortunately, in every case, the public that presents itself is yammering and paranoid, either astonishingly bigoted or pathetically whiny, and the shows are unlistenable embarrassments. Why do public stations waste 1/6 of their day on them?

The other day, NPR's long-running Talk of the Nation attempted to address the issue of gays in the military. One caller drawled that "those people" knew the rules when they joined, so they deserve what they get, while another sobbed through an endless, baffling story about breaking up with her girlfriend or something, and I never figured out if she was actually in the military or not. All these shows are like this: hosts seem frazzled and nervous, dreading each call, stammering interruptions when the monologues get too crazy. And why hasn't anyone figured out how to signal a caller that they're now on the air without 60 seconds of am-I-on-yes-you're-on-do-you-mean-me-yes-go-ahead back-and-forth?

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