Fact Checking the Blathering Babblers

OK, I admit it: No matter how ill-informed the host, ignorant the callers, or ridiculous the conversation, I’m a talk radio junkie. Don’t blame me, it started when I was a kid listening to Bob Grant and Long John Nebel on WMCA in New York.

Around here, the pickins’ are slim. WGY gave up on local content, so that leaves Talk 1300 — and aside from Fred Dicker’s show, that station is getting increasingly infuriating.

Dan Lynch — who left recently — may not have been the most exciting guy in the world, but at least he backed up his opinions with facts. Maybe that’s why he’s gone. Now he’s been replaced by Kelly Stevens, who was once part of the hugely successful Chuck and Kelly morning show on B-95.

Yesterday she was defending the closing of Thacher Park, saying she thought that nobody went there any more. As evidence, she talked about news reports “and blogs” said that attendance at the park was sparse on Sunday. She was dismissive when a caller asked her to provide some data to support her claims that Thacher Park is a white elephant.

I was curious about that so I looked around. The only news reports I found that made reference to Sunday’s park attendance were on Fox 23, which characterized attendance as looking like “the last day of Summer,” and the in the Times Union, which said:

It was packed Sunday, with cars parked all over the lawn, as people scrambled to get in a last hike or view the newly green valley that stretches to the Berkshire foothills.

How typical of the mainstream media! Everyone knows that they lie about park attendance.

As for blogs, doing a Google Blog search, I couldn’t find a single entry that said anything about slim crowds at Thacher Park.

So maybe there is some anecdotal evidence that nobody goes to Thacher Park. It’s just hard to find. What’s not hard to find is an oft-cited stat that claims NY State park attendance was 56 million last year, up 2 million visits from 2008.

Now for today’s media literacy lesson: talk radio is not news, it’s entertainment.  And the more you hear something repeated the more true it sounds.

UPDATE: The TU reports that Al Roney is being considered for the afternoon show to replace Dan Lynch. That would be a huge improvement. At least we wouldn’t be smirking about closing the parks.

9 thoughts on “Fact Checking the Blathering Babblers

  1. I hate to admit it, but I occasionally listen to Vandenburgh just for the pure entertainment value. How can I not laugh when he broadcasts live on location from a dry cleaners in Schenectady, or interviews the owner of 1-800-Got-Junk? In fact, I’m trying to figure out how that station altogether is even making money. I agree that Fred Dicker is a breath of fresh air, but aside from him our local talk radio is on par with what you might hear on a college radio station in northern Canada.

  2. Thanks for pointing this out. It is pathetic how loosely we hold talk show hosts to the truth. It is getting trite to hear hyperbole like references to Nazi’s, Communists, Facists, Mexican Terrorists etc. I had an arch of interest in talk radio that passed. It got to a point where I could write the scripts of morale outrage and divisiveness. I remember in 1980 hearing spokespeople from the NAACP and KKK debate on the radio in Phoenix. The notion of having 2 sides duke it out was exciting. Of course now it is lots of bomb throwind.. I am an NPR listener. There is some bias, but lots of facts too.

  3. I once called in to a talk show Kelly was hosting and ripped her a new one when she was expressing a similarly ignorant commentary on a different topic: sexual harassment. In Kelly’s world, no one really gets sexually harassed. I was infuriated because of some things that happened to me when I was a home health aide.

    I remember telling her that she “must be living a charmed life” and I asked her how she would feel if she had to put up with seriously foul comments and someone trying to grab her because she desperately needed her paycheck.

    I think I specifically asked Kelly how she would feel if Paul Vandenburgh asked her what size her breasts were. As I recall, Kelly didn’t have an answer for that until after my call was over. She said that she couldn’t imagine Paul asking such a question. Apparently I should have explained that it was a hypothetical situation. Or maybe I shouldn’t have bothered calling at all since SHE JUST COULDN’T GRASP IT.

    Good post, Rob.

  4. Roz: Certainly, part of the talk radio game, particularly on unsophisticated local shows, is to take a position that will stimulate the viewers.

    A lot of the people who do this work will tell you later, “Hey, c’mon! It’s my job. I assume a persona on the air to get things going.”

    That’s all well and good, but when it defies common sense and decency — or it degenerates into name calling, as Talk 1300’s morning show often does — then it’s just a lot of crap.

    At the end of the day it’s just a way to make money on the radio. What’s interesting is listening to how some hosts craft their opinions so not to offend sponsors. I never thought I’d hear Paul Vandenburgh defend a public employee union — but a public employee union that’s an advertiser? Different story. On the street they have a name for that, and I don’t mean “entrepreneur.”

  5. Not only that, she kept repeating that state parks are ‘free’. Well, I wish I’d known that before. I’d have just driven past those little booths with ‘Admission Fee’ written on them.

    @Bpb: My favorite of Vandenburgh’s sponsors is OTB. “You can’t come to the track– and you can’t use the phone– but you can use your computer to place your wager!” Gee, I wonder what situation you’re in where you don’t want to be heard calling in a bet, but you can quietly steal a little internet time, while the boss isn’t looking, one presumes?

  6. Thank you, Other Naomi, that’s exactly right: Even after callers talked about paying to get in the park, she did persist in saying it was free to go there.

    I suppose that’s why they set up admission booths to collect parking fees, because nobody uses the park.

  7. “Now for today’s media literacy lesson: talk radio is not news, it’s entertainment.” And that’s the point, isn’t it?

    I mentioned elsewhere that I am a big fan of 1300. Can’t help it, I like blather and don’t take much of it seriously (there’s a punch line about these blogs in here somewhere, but I’m missing it at the moment).

    I think news and events, whether it’s 1300, the TU or Channel 13, not to mention any and every national outlet, has to always be taken as being filtered through the outlets’ prisms, so I don’t take any one source as gospel. The internet and cable have been magnificent for gaining holo-perspectives.

    I like Paul, again, without taking him seriously. I find out what’s locally hot from him and I get a perspective. Don’t always agree; don’t always disagree. I love iconoclasts, I work hard to try to become one, and I view Paul as one, even though he gets over the top. The only thing that really bugs me is his penchant for misusing or mispronouncing common, everyday words. That’s pretty inexcusable for an on-air person, IMO. What I especially like is when he has the lawyers on air with him, particularly Steve Coffey who heads me “People I would like to have dinner with” list. It’s all conversation, so it’s all good. WRT his lack of bashing sponsors, I imagine it is inherently a conflict of interest to be a talk show host and an owner.

    I find Kelly to be fairly bland, so I’m surprised that she’s the focus of conversation here. I don’t know anything about Thatcher Park usage, so I can’t comment much here. I will say that, in my experience, things become much more popular once they no longer are available. So, I would not be shocked if park attendance has been very high in recent accounting. I wonder if that is representative of usage prior to notice of its closing? Also, I could split hairs and say that the park admission is free; parking is not. That was the case, wasn’t it?

    I did like Dan Lynch and I will miss his show. However, he also was mostly entertainment. My impression was that he generally chose a single source for his “facts” and they became gospel to him. I also found him to be very resistant and dismissive to opposing arguments and the callers who made them. Like most talk shows, his had a lot of talking but not much dialogue. But it was fun listening and sometimes gave me something to think about.

  8. BL: I think Dan Lynch brought some knowledge of government and politics to the table, so he wasn’t just talking sh*t throughout his show.

    I sometimes wonder if Vandenburgh’s mispronunciations and malapropisms aren’t just an act to make him seem like a regular guy. Nobody could be that dumb and run a radio station.

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