Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Alan Chartock, WAMC

It will come as no surprise to anyone who reads this blog that I listen to a great deal of radio. I listen to conventional broadcast radio, I listen to streaming stations on-line. I listen to local stations, stations from other states, stations from other countries. I listen to music programmes, news programmes, radio drama, radio comedy, public radio, commercial radio. And I listen to some radio programmes which joyously defy any and all classification. I even had my own radio programme for about a year in college, and miss it sorely sometimes. About the only genre of radio with which I am not intimately acquainted is right-wing talk radio. So it is on no small pool of experience that I draw when I say that far and away the most obnoxious radio personality I have ever had the displeasure of listening to is Dr. Alan Chartock, president and CEO of local public radio station WAMC.

I didn't always feel this way. Ten or fifteen years ago, when I started listening to WAMC, I had much greater tolerance for Dr. Chartock. In gross terms, after all, his political views are in concordance with my own. He, too, is a progressive lefty; supports Obama, doesn't support the wars, &c. We also share a love of Pete Seeger's music. The common ground between us ends there, unfortunately. I am irrevocably divorced from the cult of Chartock by the man's own insufferable self-importance and megalomania.

Dr. Chartock's voice is inescapable on WAMC; both literally (he is on the air almost continuously, hosting his own weekly programmes and serving as a regular commentator and co-host of other programmes) and figuratively (there are very few commentators on WAMC who do not share Dr. Chartock's political views). I can understand, to some extent, the pervasiveness of his actual voice over the air waves. If I remember correctly from my days in the DC area, WAMU's president was also their most regular on-air personality. Perhaps this is inherent to public radio stations in this country (or at least those devoted to commentary and news). I cannot, however, understand Dr. Chartock's refusal to air more than the most paltry smattering of opinions contrary to his own. WAMC offers air time to a wide variety of commentators. Exactly one of them is a conservative; and even his arguments are poorly constructed and inane. It is almost as though he is retained to serve as a straw-man. This theory is not in any way discredited by the fact that during every single fund drive, Dr. Chartock parades this one conservative commentator's brief weekly opinion pieces as evidence of his own (Dr. Chartock's) magnanimous willingness to air other points of view. Is it really Dr. Chartock's sole responsibility and privilege to determine who should and should not be allowed air time? WAMC is a public radio station. It is their responsibility to provide quality programming for their audience, not the palest imaginable shadow of balanced politics.

If WAMC's lone conservative commentator were my sole complaint, it would not occur to me to accuse Dr. Chartock of egomania. Perhaps WAMC is simply catering to its audience's interests. However, Dr. Chartock really shows his hand during his Tuesday afternoon hour-long open political forums. Callers generally fall into two categories: progressives and conservatives (reflecting WAMC's audience and local demographics, the majority fall into the former category). Within each of these categories, there are sub-groups: conscientious callers and, for lack of a better term, wackos. Conscientious callers respectfully voice well reasoned arguments, sometimes calmly, sometimes with great passion. Wackos are generally irate and voice opinions which they are unable to support. My perspective is that both progressives and conservatives can have valuable insights to share, and should be granted air time to share them, provided that they are conscientious. In other words, callers should be screened based on their placement on the conscientious/wacko spectrum, not the progressive/conservative spectrum. This idea, however, is clearly foreign to Dr. Chartock. Progressives are permitted to voice their opinions with minimal interruptions, regardless of where they fall on the conscientious/wacko continuum. Conservatives, on the other hand, are treated to continuous interruptions from Dr. Chartock, with the result that regardless of their state of calmness at the start of the call, their level of agitation increases until Dr. Chartock cuts the call short and informs his call screener, over the air, to add the caller to The List (ie, the list of callers who are no longer permitted on air). I listen to this happen every time I tune in, and it never fails to disgust me. He even has the audacity to accuse his conservative callers of speaking from a "bully pulpit." I believe the Yiddish word for this sort of statement is "chutzpah."

Why do I still listen if Dr. Chartock's antics infuriate me so? WAMC, despite the failings and egocentrism of its president, is still a quality source of local information, and I do enjoy many of its other programmes and commentators. Many years ago, though, I stopped donating to the station during fund drives because I couldn't stand the thought of underwriting Dr. Chartock's gigantic ego. I know many of WAMC's other listeners enjoy listening to him berate callers with opposing viewpoints (they voice their enjoyment in their comments during the fund drives); to me, this is the cheapest sort of lions-vs-Christians entertainment. WAMC's listeners, I believe, would be far better served by a more balanced approach. And perhaps by a change in leadership.


Cheryl said...

Hhmmm... sounds like your feelings about WAMC are similar to my own feelings about another local radio station.

Anonymous said...

Funny that you mention Alan Chartock. Stefan and I were just talking about him the other day.

I have listen to some right wing radio, and the way you describe Alan Chartock is quite similar to how right wing radio hosts operate, except right wing radio is 10 times worse than Chartock. Right wing radio hosts shout down people who disagree with them, boil down complicated issues to simple yes or no questions, question the patriotism of any politician that leans towards the left, etc.

I generally enjoy Alan Chartock, though I do agree his shows need to be more balanced, especially given the fact that he works at a public radio station. He really should not be making disparaging remarks about the right on the radio. He is also not a particularly hard hitting interviewer on the Capitol Connection, where he generally throws his guests softball questions.

That being said, I do think he is smart and I agree with him the majority of the time.

On another note, I must say that I am a big fan of radio too. If you miss being on the radio, you should start your own podcast. I would certainly add you to the list of podcasts I listen to. I would even call in with comments (I can talk about anything but politics). It would be fun to listen to a podcast of someone I know.


Squirrel said...

Cheryl, no, it's totally different, I generally like WAMC, just cannot abide the editorial decisions of the person in charge of... no wait, you're right, it's the same.

Nick, I understand what you're saying, but it's not the content of what HE says that I find objectionable; that, I usually agree with. It's the control he exerts over what OTHERS can say on his station. This concern trumps all other considerations for me. I think he's a great commentator (I think you and I agree on this), but a lousy, awful president of a public radio station. And even if he's less objectionable than right wing radio hosts, well, that's like saying he smells significantly better than a gigantic pile of pig shit.

H'mmm... podcast. I like that idea! Stay tuned.

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