Orrin Onken's Blog

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MARCH 28, 2011 5:15PM

My shameful secret conservative talk-radio addiction.

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I am a sushi-eating, Prius-driving, gay-marriage-supporting, Oregon, liberal. My parents were union school teachers, and no one in my family has voted for a Republican in decades. I live in a county that votes eighty percent Democratic and I like it that way. I have a dirty little secret though. I like conservative talk radio.

I am fifty-nine years old. I discovered conservative talk radio over four decades ago when I was a high school student in Las Vegas, Nevada. I started listening under the covers at night with a transistor radio held to my ear. Today, a lot of college and a couple of careers later, I use two presets on my car radio. One is NPR. The other is my local right wing talk station. When NPR starts a beg for money, I switch to the wingnuts. When the wingnuts start hawking gold coins or herbal impotence cures, I switch back to NPR. In the forty years I have been listening, conservative talk radio hasn't changed or gotten better, and for forty years I have been unable to kick the habit.

Part of it has to be that I like the call-in format. Like many of my ilk, I put Click and Clack of Car Talk at the pinnacle of radio call-in shows. No one touches the brothers. Just below that is Ira Flaytow's, Science Friday, and then maybe Neal Conan's Talk of the Nation. But once those three are out of the way, I turn to  the sea of undifferentiated conservative talk radio. I don't do Imus. I eschew Howard Stern. Neither sports talk nor religious broadcasting ever pollutes the sanctum that is my car. When NPR fails, it is conservative talk for me.

I can't figure the attraction. I am not secretly sympathetic to the message, and listening to conservative talk doesn't seem to have affected my political beliefs. I am as left-leaning as I was under those covers in high school. I don't for a moment think call-in radio improves my mind by presenting spirited political debate; today's conservative talkers have fewer actual callers and less dissent than those of years past. I do not see anything admirable in the question-and-answer tactic that the hosts use to beat down dissenting views. Yet, when I can't listen to Science Friday or Talk of the Nation, I go straight to the wingnuts.

When it comes to conservative talk, I am not a picky listener. I find the nearest right wing talk station on the dial and listen to whoever is on. In the last few years, I have listened to Michael Savage, Dennis Prager, Hugh Hewit, Micheal Medved, Glen Beck and our local talker here in the northwest, Lars Larson. When, one day, my regular morning talker was replaced with Latin music--because of a change of format at the station--I found the next nearest conservative talk station and listened to whoever was behind the mike. I conclude that my attraction is to the form and not to a given personality.

When people ask why I listen I sometimes say that I am spying on the enemy so I will know better how to oppose them. I have also considered that I like deconstructing the arguments--engaging in an internal political debate with the radio. Maybe I simply like seeing the never-ending parade of folly that is mankind. It could be any of those things or a combination of all of them.

I have never seen the Glen Beck show on television, but I listen to him on the radio. (Like many people, the only place I listen to radio at all is in my car. My daily drive time is about half an hour.) When he is not going on about himself or people who have besmirched him--which is a lot of the time--I like Glen Beck. His mixing of morning-zoo hi-jinks with conspiracy-laden apocalyptic politics tickles me. He reminds me of Jonathan Winters.

I have noticed one thing about conservative talkers. Glen Beck and our local man, Lars Larson, have been in the radio business since they were young men. Neither is educated in anything other than broadcasting. Their lack of formal education often shows, but their entertainment skills and their ability to respond spontaneously to almost any situation make up for it. Like Oprah, the successful right wing talkers seem to have been born for entertainment. I don't listen to radio in my car to educate myself; I listen to ease the drudgery of driving. Perhaps I don't care what is being said as long as it is on a subject I know something about, and it is presented in an interesting manner.

I wonder if Air America didn't fail because it depended too much on policy wonks and true believers. The right wing talkers understand that there is a time tested call-in format made up of on-air talent, inflammatory politics, and careful call screening. The successful stations don't mess with it. They put their best talent behind the microphone, follow the format, and sell special edition gold coins like there is no tomorrow.

If I am right about this, my addiction doesn't really have all that much to do with politics. I like politics, of course, but mostly I like hearing people talk. If I can't have the humorous humanity of Click and Clack, or the calm insight of Neal Conan, I go for people who are indignant, outraged, xenophobic and controlled by invisible forces. There is a never-ending supply of these folks on conservative talk radio, and even though their politics are not my own, I can't get over wanting to hear what they have to say.

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I do this when I'm driving through conservative states (I have lately been driving semi-regularly between Louisiana and Illinois.) It helps me understand why so many people have warped ideas about what is going on in the world.
Obviously, you're more edjumacated than the ordinary Glenn Beck listener. Some time ago, I posted on OS to the effect that Beck was in the constant process of making a cult of personality, and that he was in search of followers, thus making him little different from the Guru Rashneesh.

When coupled with the resentment that most right wingers harbor about liberals, "They're so educated. They're richer than I am. They're smarter than I am. They're more powerful than I am. Who do they think they are? They're not better than me!" Beck & Co. find a willing audience of knuckle draggers to hang on to their every word.

As I've said before. Vote Republican. It's better than thinking.
They are endlessly amusing and provide fodder for my ever expanding four letter word vocabulary because I love talking back....and no one can hear!!!!
They are endlessly amusing and provide fodder for my ever expanding four letter word vocabulary because I love talking back....and no one can hear!!!!
They are endlessly amusing and provide fodder for my ever expanding four letter word vocabulary because I love talking back....and no one can hear!!!!
ah gee, didn't mean to post three times....I have a heavy trigger finger lol!
:-) No earthshaking commentary or insight from me... I just found this piece interesting and well written. I wonder- is it kinda like "people watching" for you? Maybe you appreciate a little humor, a little absurdity, an opportunity to be amused during your daily commute?
I think he listens to talk radio because he is secretly been changed into a conservative and feels guilty about it. After watching the news, I always tune in to hear what the media is not telling you, which is alot. You will hear things the regular media will never tell you. When I tune into liberal talk, I like it too. As far as entertainers go, they lack alot of talent. I think it is mostly their message, but they also seem very angry. The reason right wing radio is so popular is because they are not hateful, they just present their side and do it well. Beck is probably the most feared man by the left. He has uncovered what they have been working on for years and they hate it and him. The problem they have is they never refute his info, they just slander his person. Focus on the message and you might have more listeners. Research at your own peril. You might find out he is right.
I am a republican, and surprise, I actually logged enough hours in a chair at a few respectable universities and graduated with an impressive educational pedigree. I mostly vote republican but not always. I am not blinded by the political affiliation of each candidate and actually listen to what they say and stand for. Then make my own decision based on the available facts. I do not fit the knuckle dragging, ‘unedjumacated’ stereotype that some of your followers made which reflected on their closed-mindedness. And I am not your enemy. I also listen to talk radio and agree with them about half the time. Rush Limbaugh is most definitely an ignorant buffoon but others like Mark Levin have the educational fortitude and knowledge of government to make even the most devout liberal pause to ponder. So do not stereotype all republicans as bumpkins in dirty coveralls with a wad of tobacco in their cheek. Where are the liberal radio talk shows? I would certainly be interested in what they had to say.
Loved this piece. I, too, have a dirty little secret. I listen to the local ultra religious station. Mostly I can't turn it off. And I am always so surprised at what they are really talking about. Last week, this man was going on and on about a book that shoud be in the hands of every Christian, and every high schooler in America....yes, that's what he said...and for half an hour he sang the praises of this cure for Christianity and how young people would be saved if they read it. Silly me. I thought it was the bible. No. turns out he was hawking his own book in the midst of all that hell-fire. Just loved it.
I live in the region too. I totally do the same thing, though it's more recent. I've heard a lot of "Doctor" Savage, and Glen Beck too. I don't know what it is. It's pretty funny, but it's scary too. I've come away from 45 minutes and thought, "not one bit of that was logical in any way." That's weird. We just got a car, and it came with a 90 day subscription to Sirius Radio...I've almost exclusively surfed through the conservative stations, like "Patriot News", during my commute back into P-town. I'm not going to renew, so I want to get as much as I can out of it. I have to say, some days I come away feeling very sick, and will probably switch back to my ipod after the 90 days is up. You have a strong stomach my friend.
I love this piece! My guilty secret is I used to listen to Dr. Laura. I loathe her in theory but love it when she tells people to stop whining and take responsibility for whatever it is they are blaming others for.
I think it's like watching a bad wreck but you have to admit, there's something alluring about it. No Rush Limbaugh?
Why don't you just hire a dominatrix to beat the living shit out of your worthless ass?
Fact analysis shows the callers and the drive-time hosts are not conservatives at all ... they are what the conservative himself Buckley called, simply: The Vulgarians. Not Republicans, or anything other than simply and simple uneducated and credulous, scared and lazy, and sadly, full of hate, they were all Democrats before LBJ forced the Civil and Voting Rights Acts through Congress. They immediately jumped ship, ironically but not ironically, to the Party of Lincoln that freed the slaves that they hate the descendents of ... The commentators are merely Profiteers, something both Beck and Rush have freely admitted on occasion, and, how else would you make that much money without a college degree? (Beck, Rush, Hannity- not a diploma in the bunch) They follow the long tradition of coming straight out of credulity and so, as Palin and Bachman know the ins, outs and predilections of Dispensationalism so well that every third word is a dog whistle, so do the former drive-time DJs know what a C-Student in a nowhere High School who is now being screwed by the puppet masters but won't vote against them because he has a Dream!- a secret idea so great it will make millions, and then he will be one of them and won't want to pay taxes either! These are the cold, hard facts of American Life and History, but, who listens to AM anymore, anyway?

great post, rated
I'm that way with Nancy Grace on HLN and Jack van Impe... Oh the bombast!
Keep your friends close and your enemies closer IF you can stomach the stench...
Good, honest post. Thank you for that. But listening to music is much better for your soul during that half hour commute.
There seems to be a trend in the US in which people enjoy listening to and watching the delusional, the self-aggrandizing, the raging and the flatulent. It is a taste which has fueled the emergence of talk radio, tabloid journalism and reality television. Since I derive no such enjoyment from this kind of material, I can only speculate as to its appeal. From my vantage point, it seems to be based in large part on schadenfreude: malicious joy in the delirious foolishness of others.
I'm a podcast man myself, which is basically talk radio with more profanity and no commercials. I usually listen to comedy podcasts even though I find most comedians to be immature, holier-than-thou pricks. So why do I flagellate myself by listening to this tripe? Because I like to hear people talk and music makes me drowsy.
Well done post...

I listen to right-wing talk radio, but not that often... I can only go far with the constant pablum that passes for facts that I end up with a rapid heartbeat... so for my own health I usually turn it off... There's a few out there that are okay... but mostly it's just reactionary crap.

Ruff: I would really recommend Thom Hartmann... There's an educated guy that's not afraid to present the other side for a debate... He know his history backwards and forwards... For entertainment purposes, Randi Rhodes also knows her stuff and is pretty funny... she'll also take calls from conservatives... Alan Colmes (who I didn't used to like) is pretty good because he's on so many conservative stations that he's not preaching to the choir.
I used to be like you but finally realized that listening to these sociopaths day after day can only have a bad effect on my peace of mind. During the Obama campaign I was counseling the homeless and on my way back and forth to the job (90 minute drive at night) I listened to Michael Savage. It was very disturbing.

I am cured.

I recently (in the past 10 months) started a “job” as a graveyard shift security officer at a small community college. As I live in a rabidly conservative environment, the college campus actually provides one of my few links to the sanity of the world beyond Conservative Ville.

Be that as it may, the fact is that the majority of my coworkers on the security team are conservative or extreme conservative. As a result of the shift I work, I spend the greatest part of 10 hours a night in the security vehicle. I started listening to the car radio presets that my coworkers had programmed into the car radio one night, and have consistently returned to that practice ever since. Some of what I’ve heard I’ve used as motivation for a few of my more recent posts on OS.

You write, “I like deconstructing the arguments--engaging in an internal political debate with the radio. Maybe I simply like seeing the never-ending parade of folly that is mankind. It could be any of those things or a combination of all of them.”

I find that “deconstructing the arguments” is no longer interesting because their arguments are ALL based primarily on straw man/red herring logical fallacies, and their conclusions are ALMOST all non sequiturs. The only conclusions that are not non sequiturs are those based solely on logical fallacies. Generally, their argument begins by presenting the opponent’s statement, following up quickly with a misrepresentative or totally inaccurate re-statement of what was presented, and this misrepresentation establishes the foundation of what is argued against from that point on in the “discussion”.

I can only occasionally enjoy the “parade of folly that is mankind” represented by these individuals, both the hosts and those listeners calling in. In the beginning it was easier to tolerate the ignorance exhibited, but as time as passed, I find it more and more difficult to maintain interest in something that I see as not sad and depressing, but also threatening. But, perhaps somewhat like you, I also tune in at least briefly every night, if for no other reason than to confirm that they are still there, lurking in their darkness of ignorance.

But I have found most recently that I experience an actual physiologically ill effect from listening to too much of that, so I switch to something more intelligent, creative, etc. I also confess a mild fear that too much of their idiocy might truly have a detrimental effect on my brain’s neuropathways.

You also write, “Perhaps I don't care what is being said as long as it is on a subject I know something about, and it is presented in an interesting manner.

I think that as I have listened to more and more of this crap, I have found it less and less interesting, so I have found easier and easier to simply switch away. Are you genuine in saying that you find their presentation “interesting”? I guess if one qualifies “interesting” I could see that. But I have found the easily predictable nature of the “arguments” presented to be rather uninteresting and actually even boring, aside from learning the RNC is promoting that week.

I withdraw my above knee-jerk response. Your message is honest and the questions posed hit home. I, too, am drawn to shows that serve only to infuriate me or confound me with their dogma and illogic. Human nature, I guess. As someone else posted: know your enemy.
Hi Orrin, greetings from Oregon. If you're in Fairview, I probably live about 5 miles from you, in Gresham.

Speaking of talk radio, a strange thing happened in Oregon recently. FM station KUFO, the only hard rock station in the Portland area, changed formats. It is now KXL-FM, and is in the same conservative talk radio format as its companion station, KXL-AM. You have to wonder when a place such as Portland cannot support even one hard rock station, with talk radio replacing it. All I can think is that there must be an insatiable appetite for the stuff.

I can't listen to very much talk radio. All the stations are basically the same thing, and all the hosts are basically the same person -- a right-winger ranting about something, trying to get listeners pissed off about some topic. Even the topics are basically the same -- evil and stupid liberals doing evil and stupid things, and every bad thing in the world is either caused or enabled by liberals.

If you can listen to that, more power to you. I can't imagine anything more tedious.
You guys are all pretty funny. Like it is a sin to listen to talk radio or watch Fox News. If you only listen to one side all the time that is all you will know. For so long in this country, there was only one viewpoint and now that has changed. I think the reason it infuriates you is that it makes sense and you can't believe you have thought the wrong way for so long. It's ok to be conservative. It's not like your worshiping the devil or something. Enjoy the entertainment and heck you might even learn something. Whats wrong with that. To bad there are no liberals that are actually fun to listen to. The problem with liberal talk is they present very little facts and spend more time yelling at conservatives than presenting the news and facts about it. After listening to both sides, I do my research and usually the conservatives are right on facts. So until the libs actually present a factual argument about what they will do in this country no one will listen. They lack in insperation and ideas. Just my opinion.

Thanks to all for the outpouring of sympathy for my unfortunate condition. I think sometimes that I live my life by finding a behavior that makes me miserable and then doing it over and over again.

I would say more, but Talk of the Nation is about to start.

I never listen to talk radio, conservative or not. I am afraid if I listened to them while driving (you cannot escape the quotes and headlines, so I know the basics), I might possibly ram another car, speed uncontrollably to try to get away from it or drive off a cliff. I live in East TN we have some very curvy mountain roads....I could hurt myself. I will stick to NPR or recorded books.
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Love your writing it was really insightful and made me smile. You are doing the research that I can't stand to do. Every time I hear one of these loud talking right wing wing nuts I switch stations. Since I live in Thailand I don't hear them on the radio ,I just read about them on the Internet. It is such a relief not having to listen to the idiocy that they spout. It's not entertaining at all to me but it is incredibly interesting to see all kinds of neuroses and psychosis played out in real life. They are some hurting people. After 25 years living outside the United States I have never seen anything like the crazy right that we have in the United States.