True radio confessions: Time to move that dial?

True radio confessions: Time to move that dial?

Hoyt, Mike

Stock your mind, stock your mind. It is your house of treasure and no one in the world can interfere with it. If you won the Irish Sweepstakes and bought a house that needed furniture would you fill it with bits and pieces of rubbish? Your mind is your house and if you fill it with rubbish from the cinemas it will rot in your head.

Headmaster O’Halloran, Leamy’s School, in Angela’s Ashes.

Bless me, father, for I have sinned, maybe. I’ve been listening to Imus.

The radio show?

Yes, father. I wake up to NPR. I pack the kids’ lunches and learn about politics. I do sit-ups and learn about South American jungles. I warm up the car and learn about the expectations of the auto industry and the behavior of black holes. I stock my mind. But man does not live by NPR alone, padre. Man needs a laugh. When Morning Edition starts to repeat, I slip over to Imus in the Morning.

You and five million other souls. What’s the problem?

Well, after NPR I feel like I worked out and ate grapefruit, spiritually speaking. After Imus I feel like I had a cheeseburger and a cigarette.

A guilty pleasure, huh? What’s the attraction?

I like news and politics, father, and Don Imus is a news and politics junkie. He talks to Al Gore and John McCain, Bob Kerrey and Orrin Hatch. You get these insights, because it’s kind of loose and unpredictable.

He talks to journalists, too. Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather, Frank Rich and Gail Collins, Andrea Mitchell and Tim Russert. Howard Kurtz and Anna Quindlen and Jeff Greenfield and David Remnick and Brian Lamb. They’re all selling their shows and columns and books. But sometimes – Bob Schieffer comes to mind – they give you something to chew on.

Cut to the chase, my son. My back hurts. Where’s the sin?

Well, the show goes low. Not Howard Stern low, but …


OK, lemme see. He has Jeffrey Toobin on, who is hawking this book about the impeachment trials. And it refers to the Paula Corbin Jones case. And, embarrassingly, to Jones’s observations about – sorry, father – the president’s penis.

Toobin writes about this?

Only on pages 43, 44, 47, 124-25, 130, 137-39, 159, and 161. Bear with me. Jones apparently claims that the president seemed underendowed. So Imus thinks he has this world penile scoop, and the show goes on and on about it song parodies, skits, references for the entire month of January. We get Joe Klein, followed by dick jokes. Cokie Roberts; dick jokes. Jonathan Alter; more dick jokes.

And sometimes, padre, there is no separation. Imus tells Ron Insana of CNBC, who would interview the president that night about the economy, to inquire about his shlong. I see. So the journalists are put on that level.


And the show can be mean-spirited… Sort of high-school mean. Ted Koppel’s ears. Tipper Gore’s weight. Who do we like today and who do we hate. Mostly hate. And there’s the race factor.


Imus’s sidekick, Bernard McGuirk, salts the show with ethnic accents. And he does these Amos V Andy sort of voices that sound like black prostitutes, dumb black athletes, and so forth. Sometimes Imus pretends to pull McGuirk back. He’d argue that everybody is an equal-opportunity target, but I think the bad-boy glee goes up a notch for blacks.

Go on.

Murray Kempton wrote about this, back during the O.J. trial. Kempton wondered why a more-than-suspect black guy got so much attention on Imus while a more-thansuspect white guy did not. A fiftyto-zero disparity, he wrote, was “not indubitable proof of racism but it can quite try the patience.”

Good old Murray. An Anglican, I understand. What else?

Weasel words, father. Imus spends three days hammering Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes, including a sketch that tells her to “go get another facelift.” Next day she’s on the show, chuckling and mentioning her book. He spends weeks talking about how he can’t stand Al Gore, the “phoniest person on the planet.” It builds to a crescendo until – surprise! – Al Gore comes on the show. And now, Hillary@ Imus loathes her, calls her an evil presence.’ Then we read in USA Today that Hillary has been invited to the show.

It’s like the words have no weight, padre. Like news and politics is one big joke. And I sit in the Taurus grinning. Complicit. Isn’t that some kind of a sin?

Who knows? But here’s what to do: move up the dial! Try the college stations. Books on tape. Stock your mind, my son.

What if I need a laugh?

Watch The Sopranos.

Copyright Columbia University, Graduate School of Journalism Mar/Apr 2000

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