Category Archives: talk radio

Art Bell, Again

Yes. Again. Seriously. I don’t believe it, but then again, yeah, I do. Because he’s done it before.

This past week legendary radio host Art Bell quit his radio show. Again. The current incarnation, “Dark Matter,” broadcast on satellite radio by Sirius XM, is over. Bell cited technical concerns, as well as a small audience. In other words, it was hard.

And it’s not like he hasn’t done it before either. He’s quit before, or left under mysterious, sometimes highly suspect, circumstances, with little advance warning, or concern for his audience – no matter how big or small. As a matter of fact, he may well be more remembered for his vanishing acts than his radio act when history is done with him. He quits so often, it’s almost an industry joke.

The way he has left, and the reasons he’s given, all indicate one thing. Art Bell was doing this show for himself – not his audience, his fans, his loyal listeners. This was about him, not us. We would have listened without guests, without callers, and without a clear signal. Surely I’m not the only one who listened years ago with crappy reception from an AM station two cities ago, am I? It was hard for him. Again. So he quit.

Yeah, I’m angry, but that doesn’t dispel the man’s talent as a broadcaster, talk radio host, and interviewer. I would rather listen to bad Art Bell reruns than the best George Noory interview on Coast to Coast AM. At least Art would study up on his guest, ask intelligent questions, and not nap during the interview.

But now, not only is Art gone, but Coast to Coast AM has left Sirius XM as well. I am forced to rethink my satellite radio subscription once again. I love Opie & Anthony and Radio Classics, EW Radio, and I’m digging the sadly temporary David Bowie station, but really the only time I have dependably to listen is late at night, the former realm of Art and Coast.

Art has left me high and dry once again. I should have seen it coming. I hope Sirius XM saw it coming, and wrote that contract appropriately. I hope the quitter pays. Thanks, Art, for six weeks at least.

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Let Coast Be Coast

We’ve talked about my radio habits and obsession here before. Up until I got satellite radio, I still enjoyed exploring the AM dial in the middle of the night. Some time in the late nineties I discovered Art Bell and Coast to Coast AM.

This was more than a year before Art finally came to Philadelphia, syndicated on 1210 AM. I remember an intriguing and heated discussion about UFOs and alien abductions. I also remember that night getting out of my warm bed to log on the computer at around three in the morning to see the artist’s rendering of the aliens, you know, a visual to go with the audio. Yeah, I was hooked, and have been for close to fifteen years.

Mostly I was delighted to find talk radio that was not about politics. I could hear that nonsense anywhere and any time. I like different in my talk radio. It’s probably why I have been attracted to things like Howard Stern, Opie and Anthony, Dr. Ruth, Dr. Drew, radio dramas, audiobooks, and Joe Frank. Coast to Coast AM was definitely different.

I was overjoyed when the program found its Philly home and was a faithful listener almost every night. My insomnia proved helpful in that endeavor. Night after night I listened to a myriad of guests and topics, always in the realm of the paranormal. That was Coast’s forte. If you wanted intelligent (and sometimes not so) discussion about ufology, cryptozoology, mythology, pseudoscience, conspiracy theories or anything involving the odd or surreal, Coast to Coast AM was for you.

There’s a lot that can said about the host Art Bell. Surrounded by rumor and conspiracy himself, he was and is a consummate radio professional. No matter the insanity or unlikeliness of the guest or caller, he was always fair, entertaining, and at the top of his game. There are few talk radio hosts as sharp and composed as Art Bell.

Due to personal issues, Art has had to retire from radio and the show several times – the final time was in the late 2000s. He has been replaced the last time by George Noory. George is quite talented himself, but every time I hear an old Art show, it becomes quite obvious how inferior the replacement is to the original host. He never challenges guests or listeners, is often uninformed, and frequently seems inattentive or not even listening to guests and callers.

Noory also seems to have a problem with open lines. He doesn’t do it that often. Anyone who knows talk radio knows that it’s not about the host, it’s about the callers. Art knew this, and his regular technique was to not screen callers as is usually done – he just put them on the air. Often open lines was the best part of the old Coast to Coast AM. Since George has come in board, there also seems a shift in topic, more toward politics, and current events. I’m not happy with that at all.

The two biggest nights of the year on Coast to Coast AM are New Year’s Eve and Halloween. On New Year’s Eve they take psychic predictions for the upcoming year, and on Halloween, the show becomes ‘Ghost to Ghost’ as callers tell ghost stories. I love Ghost to Ghost. However, it too has gone downhill in recent years. Noury screens the calls, taking away the spontaneity, as well as the need to think on his feet, I suppose.

This year, last night, Noory even cut short the program by taking up the first hour with news, and an interview with a security expert. Seriously? Real Coast to Coast topics are rare enough recently, and now you’re truncating the best show of the year??

It’s no wonder that other radio programs similar to the original Coast to Coast AM, like Ground Zero with Clyde Lewis and A View from Space, are growing in popularity and Coast is falling. Politics and current events can be heard anywhere on the dial, the topics that made Coast great can not. I want my show back.

Please! Let Coast be Coast!

Bill Webber Passes

Philadelphia radio and television legend Bill Webber passed away this weekend. He was scheduled for heart surgery but died before it could be done. He was 80.

Webber was a fixture on the Philadelphia media scene for over five decades, and never retired. He was a radio disc jockey, television pioneer, talk show host, kids show host, telethon emcee, announcer, nice guy, a giant of a man, and an industry legend. He served for years as an officer in the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia, and was inducted into their Hall of Fame in 1999. He worked in many, if not most of the media outlets in the Philadelphia area.

That would be enough, but on a personal level, I feel like I’ve lost a part of my childhood. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Bill Webber doubled as Wee Willie Webber on local channel 17 on weekday afternoons as the host of their children’s programming. Bill Webber was the face that greeted me when I got home from school and filled in the commercial breaks during such life-shaping TV shows like “Speed Racer” and “Ultraman.”

That might sound silly, but when I met the man in person years later – thinner, older and sporting a goatee – Mr. Webber was thrilled to hear that he was remembered so fondly and insisted that I, then a grown man, call him Wee Willie and even imitated Ultraman’s Spacium Ray gesture at me as he walked away. A nice man, and a very cool man. He will be missed by many.

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Pop Culture Poser

Brad Benson, of Brad Benson Hyundai. This guy bugs me. His commercials appear far too frequently on News Jersey 101.5 FM. He does his own commercials, making pop culture references left and right, and trying to be funny, and one would hope (for his sake at least), selling cars.

The thing that bugs me, other than the frequency of the commercials, and his implied agreement with some of the station’s gay-unfriendly hosts (his ad about the pilots who missed their landing is horrendous and irresponsible, and don’t get me started on Dennis and Michele), is that he often gets his pop culture references wrong.

Now it’s one thing for KYW to pronounce Janeanne Garofolo’s name as “Jane-anne Garroh-folloh” or CNN to have commentators at the Michael Jackson memorial who don’t know who Berry Gordy is, but this falls into a whole ‘nother category.

On the surface, Brad Benson saying Susan Boyle was on the British “American Idol” instead of “Britain’s Got Talent,” for instance, may seem petty, but look at it this way… Have you ever bought a car? Remember the scary and unreasonable amount of detailed paperwork involved in buying a car? Yeah, that’s a lot of stuff, and a lot of stuff to make sure is absolutely right, T’s crossed and I’s dotted.

Do you want a guy who won’t even do a moment’s research on a commercial he’s paying for to handle details on a car you’re paying for? I don’t. I want someone very detail-oriented, someone who won’t make mistakes and just laugh it off. I guess I’m not buying a Hyundai from Brad Benson.

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RIP Steve Friedman

Mr. Movie has passed away, and I didn’t know. I just thought he was sick and folks were filling in for him. But he had died, sadly of kidney failure, more than a month ago, and he just isn’t there any more.

Radio is a strange thing. We always assume it’s going to be there, and by connection, the people on the radio will be there as well. Tonight I heard an errant comment by the hosts of “Remember When” on 1210 AM where it was said Steve was looking down from heaven. I raced to the internet, and there it was, over a month ago, Steve Friedman had passed.

The man they called Mr. Movie had been a radio fixture in the Delaware Valley for more than three decades. Even when I disagreed with the man, which was quite often, I loved him. His passion for movies and his scary encyclopedic knowledge of them was awesome by any stretch of the imagination. In the three decades he was on the air I went from a casual lover of film to running a video store to being somewhat of a movie critic myself – and I can’t help but think that he had some indirect influence over that.

For most of his uneven run on Philadelphia radio I was a regular listener. I called and spoke with him on more than one occasion – notably once trying to recover from the serious WTF experience of seeing Blue Velvet for the first time.

He taught me more about film than I can’t to admit. I don’t think I see any new movie without thinking ‘I wonder what Mr. Movie will think of this.’ Steve Friedman is a voice in the night that will be missed.

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The Price of Satellite Radio

I love my satellite radio. I love it so much that I rarely listen to terrestrial radio any more. Maybe some WXPN and maybe some NJ 101.5 FM, but let’s face it, my favorite terrestrial programs like Coast to Coast AM and some of the NPR stuff are all on satellite now. Not much reason to turn on the old fashioned radio any more.

Just got a notice from XM (yeah, they merged with Sirius, but they’ll always be XM to me) that my subscription rates are going up. The reasons cited are as follows:

”Music royalty rights were established by the U.S. Congress as part of the Copyright Act. This Act requires payment of copyright music royalties to recording artists, musicians and recording companies who hold copyrights in sound recordings.

“These royalties have recently increased dramatically, principally as a result of a decision made by the Copyright Royalty Board, which is designated by the Library of Congress to set royalty rates for sound recordings. Beginning on July 29, 2009, a “U.S. Music Royalty Fee” of $1.98/month* for primary subscriptions and $.97/month* for multi-receiver subscriptions will be effective upon your next renewal. This fee will be used directly to offset increased payments from XM to the recording industry.”

Now really, that’s fine. As a writer, I’m not someone who’s ever going to begrudge anyone royalties, that’s just how things work, and furthermore should work. I don’t have a real problem with the price hike, as long as my favorite stuff remains on the XM. What irked me was what I found when I went to the XM website and took a survey.

The survey was about my listening preferences, but seemed to mention little of what I actually listen to on XM. I stopped finding Howard Stern funny some time before he left terrestrial radio, so that’s not for me. I can count on one hand the number of times in three years I’ve listened to any of the nearly hundred sports channels, and Oprah barely amuses me even when she’s on TV. The big guns don’t interest me.

Most of what I listen to is talk radio. I’m addicted to Coast to Coast AM, which while occupying nearly eleven hours of programming per day, was not mentioned by the survey. Opie and Anthony get a brief mention, probably because they bitch on air about Sirius’ prejudice mercilessly. But nowhere did I see other things I listen to faithfully like the old time radio shows on Radio Classics and the wonderful audiobook variety at Book Radio. All there was in the survey was the rather vague description of ‘talk entertainment.’ That covers a lot of ground, and a lot of stuff I really don’t like. How can this survey really tell them anything?

The XM world has been getting smaller and smaller since the Sirius merge – mostly because it was more of a takeover than a merge. The mega-powered Sirius, with the ratings powerhouse (apparently) Stern behind it appeared to change everything on the XM dial as if they and they alone were calling the shots. We lost truly entertaining music stations in favor of the inferior Sirius versions of them.

My point is that for the price increase, how about some verification we’ll keep the programming we enjoy? How about it, XM? Sorry, I mean, how about it, Sirius?

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RIP Irv Homer

Legendary Philadelphia radio talk show host Irv Homer passed away last night after suffering a heart attack while speaking at Eastern University. He went out in a way I’m sure he would have liked – talking to the people who loved him.

As someone who became addicted to talk radio as a teenager in the 1970s, Philadelphia’s Talk Station WWDB 96.5 FM was the place to be and Irv Homer was the voice, and in many cases, the voice of reason. In an industry today where talk show hosts are either to the far left or the far right, Irv was dead center, and in many cases he shot holes in both sides with logic and common sense.

Before, after and even during the golden WWDB years Irv talked at other places on the dial, always on the air and always fighting the good fight, teaching us all to think for ourselves, read between the lines and be critical of the status quo. He warned constantly of becoming one of the sheeple and told us all to be critical thinkers.

We have lost a crusader, a defender, a friend, and a father – not just a radio legend. I offer condolences to his family and friends everywhere. Irv will be greatly missed, and radio will not be the same again.

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Ron Silver Passes

Ron Silver, actor and political activist passed away Sunday from esophageal cancer.

He is probably best known for Reversal of Fortune, Enemies: A Love Story and his numerous television roles for which he was nominated for various awards. He also most notably, to me at least, was in Blue Steel with Jamie Lee Curtis, a film which languishes in my personal bottom list of the worst films ever made.

Silver was also very politically active, and was quoted as saying the following: “By inclination I am more of a politician than I am an actor. I care more about public policy. I care more about pro-choice, the environment, homelessness, and nuclear issues than I do about any part.”

Radio Pioneer Frank Ford Dies at 92

Frank Ford passed away today from complications from stroke. Frank Ford was one of the innovators in talk radio, and radio in general, having been in the business since 1937.

The ‘father of talk radio in Philadelphia’ was also an owner of the Valley Forge Music Fair, as well as Auto Sport Importers. In his radio career he worked at WIP, WCAU, WHAT, WPEN, WFLN, WDVT, but is most known for his time with Philadelphia’s most beloved and most missed talk station, WWDB-FM.

Ford retired from talk radio in 2000 when WWDB changed its format to music. Talk radio hasn’t been the same since. He was 92 and is survived by his wife, Lynne Abraham, District Attorney of the city of Philadelphia. We have truly lost one of the legends of radio. He’ll be missed.

And THAT Is the Rest of the Story…


Radio legend Paul Harvey passed away today at the age of 90.

His broadcasts of “New and Comment” and “The Rest of the Story” ran on the ABC Radio Network for decades.

Always opinionated, sometimes entertaining and sometimes controversial, he always took a look inside the news story as he saw it.