Dreher, Levin and the Craft of Talk Radio
posted at 12:57 pm on May 26, 2009 by The Other McCain
Those watching the bar brawl between Rod Dreher and Mark Levin (with Conor Friedersdorf thrown in for good measure) might want to see my American Spectator column today:
That Levin employs hyperbole and sarcasm on his show is only shocking to people who don’t listen to talk radio. More importantly, Levin believes conservatives are in a fight they cannot afford to lose, against implacable adversaries determined to win at all costs. When a guy begins a fight by slamming a barstool into the back of your head, the Marquis of Queensberry rules do not apply. If you respond by ripping open his carotid artery with the jagged edge of a broken beer bottle, whose fault is that? (“He needed killing,” as Texans like to say.) . . .
Read the whole thing, but first, let’s ask to what extent this is about ideology and to what extent it’s about Dreher and others misunderstanding the nature of talk radio as a medium. When this thing first broke out, I wrote:
People who’ve never done talk radio, or who’ve never been in a studio and seen how it’s done, have no idea how extraordinarily difficult it is to fill so much as a single hour, much less three hours a day five days a week. Now, consider how difficult it is to do it well, so as to attract a commercially viable nationwide audience. For Dreher (and his source) to disdain Levin is for them to sneer at someone who has succeeded exceptionally in a venue they’ve never even tried.
This is the arrogance of the intellectual elite, to imagine that their particular specialty — the expression of abstract ideals via the written word — is the only ability that matters, qualifying them as experts on anything and everything they choose to write about.
Most people never really think about the craft of talk radio, just like they never think about the craft of journalism, or the craft of blogging, for that matter.
People read Hot Air or Michelle Malkin or Instapundit or Ace, and think to themselves, “Ah, anybody could do that.” Perhaps, but not just anybody can do it well. There is something that Moe Lane calls blog fu, and until you get a million hits, I don’t want to hear you lecturing me about blogging, OK? Ditto anybody who wants to lecture Rush Limbaugh about talk radio.
Because Rush is the very best at what he does — nobody in the talk-radio industry even questions Rush’s absolute supremacy — he makes it seem easy. It’s just like you may not think much of a particular Bad Company song, but until you get up in front of a crowd at karaoke night and actually try to sing “Can’t Get Enough,” you don’t realize what an extraordinary vocalist Paul Rodgers really is.
This is what’s wrong with Rod Dreher and Conor Friedersdorf criticizing Mark Levin: They are not qualified to do so. Is Levin abrasive and over-the-top sometimes? Yeah. And do you know why? Because in most markets, he goes head-to-head with Michael Savage. If Rod and Conor think Levin is too much, they should give Savage a listen sometime. They don’t call it The Savage Nation for nothing.
Levin must compete in the radio market. It is that simple. Talk radio is a commercial enterprise. Given his background and accomplishments — Reagan administration official, president of the Landmark Legal Foundation, bestselling author — Levin cannot afford to fail. He must get on that microphone every evening and win over listeners. He has so far succeeded admirably and I will give him credit for his achievement, and for knowing just how far he wants to push the envelope in terms of attracting listeners.
If you don’t like talk radio, don’t listen. If you don’t like Mark Levin, change the station. But don’t sit there in front of your laptop and try to convince people you are qualified to pass judgment on someone like Levin who must earn his living every day in a very difficult, competitive business.