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How can we protect community radio talk show hosts from their listeners?

Carl [Wolfson] in the MorningMorning show host Carl Wolfson has another ten days or so over at XRAY FM in Portland, Oregon, then he says he is quitting.

“OK. I’m done,” Wolfson declared on his Facebook page in late January:

“The vitriol of so many Bernie [Sanders] supporters and the threat they pose to Democratic unity is a bridge too far. Politics itself has gotten so nasty, so extreme and so personal that I have even been drawn into uncivil discourse in the past few days. If progressives that I have spoken for during the past nine years on radio (and during 40 years of activism) have lowered themselves to label Hillary a “fascist” or the “spawn of Satan” and worse, I have too little faith in politics to continue.”

Shortly after that Wolfson reported his car poop smeared with the declaration “Fuck Hillary.”

Rough NotesXRAY is a wonderful new community radio station. Jennifer Waits has a great profile of the signal. Portland is, of course, a big Bernie Town. 30,000 Portlanders showed up for a recent Sanders rally, I’m told. I don’t want to get into the Bernie versus Hillary thing, but I do want to encourage discussion about how to keep talented people like Wolfson from fleeing from community radio signals after they say stuff that their listeners don’t like.

Before that, it should be noted that Wolfson isn’t quitting just because of smearage. Not so long ago he had a Blue State talk spot on a Clear Channel progressive signal, KPOJ. Then out of nowhere the station switched to all-sports. After a hiatus he landed at XRAY, where, like every other community station I’ve heard of, money and resources are scarce.  “Ninety-hour work weeks and the stress of producing two-hours of live radio on weekdays with a bare-bones staff has taken a terrible toll on my health,” Wolfson lamented on his Facebook statement. “And after the Clear Channel boot, I’ve had to sink too much of my savings into the effort.”

But it appears that Wolfson’s criticisms of Sanders and the response he’s gotten from his audience was the proverbial last straw. His perspective is “crowded out,” he recently told Oregon Public Broadcasting, by his audience. “I will not listen to you any more,” he says they tell him. “You are a traitor.”

“That is a little too much on my side,” he warns, “because it will not allow me to even broach the issue of Bernie’s electability. And I haven’t even endorsed Hillary Clinton; that’s the odd thing about this.”

One of the dilemmas that community and public radio stations face is that, to generate support, they encourage a sense of ownership among their listeners. For example, last year XRAY ran an audio piece contest titled “Radio is Yours.” Folks who contribute to XRAY become “members.” This isn’t unique to the station in question. Most community signals engage in this sort of proprietary sign making. But it comes with a price. “What is this person saying on my radio station?” listeners understandably ask when some controversial issue must be vetted.

What’s the solution? I am not sure. But awareness of the problem is a good first step.


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2 Responses to How can we protect community radio talk show hosts from their listeners?

  1. RK Henderson February 4, 2016 at 11:26 am #

    I’m a Sanders man myself, but I’m ashamed to hear about this. And also educated; I’ve seen Hillary people behave like total louts in discussions with us, but that was on our turf; I never paid attention to how some of us might be behaving on _theirs_. (Or, in this case, turf that just wasn’t ours.)

    This election will soon be over and we’ll all have to get on with business, regardless of the outcome. It’s important not to get caught up in the drama and inflate both the stakes and the potential rewards. It’s just an election, people. Don’t lose your heads.

  2. seaweb February 4, 2016 at 1:03 pm #

    Interesting question. Maybe we should ask “How can we protect community radio and its listeners from divisive partisans who buy in with malevolent intent?” Or “How can we better present community radio as an experience that encourages respect, tolerance and understanding?”

    Many people now are defining their world with reactionary platitudes, violent threats and bold-faced lies. And this very rarely generates consequences.

    This sort of irrational behavior also indicates a community failure. When someone commits vandalism or makes a threatening call, do they really keep it to themselves, or do they talk about it? Their friends, their families and co-workers should be quick to straighten them out and demand some remediation. This is also the answer for the acts of non-listeners. The “brother’s keeper” lesson applies broadly in a healthy community.

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