by Stephen Smith
When Rush Limbaugh first became nationally syndicated in 1988, he started a phenomenon that would spearhead an entire industry and revitalize AM radio. Limbaugh’s formula proved to be so successful that few of his imitations dare veer far from his established formula. Right-wing talk radio is successful simply because righteous indignation is fun to listen to. The average person might not have cared much when Walmart began offering a Spanish language option for its credit and debit systems, but listeners to AM radio were treated to passionate tirades predicting the downfall of western civilization. The minutia of some obscure tax bill might be boring but diatribes about class-warfare and creeping socialism make for good radio.
Locally the best stations for right-wing propaganda are Crawford Broadcasting’s 101.1 The Source and Cumulus Media’s 100 WAPI. As no one listens to music on the radio anymore, the behemoth Limbaugh started has moved to the FM frequency. Though most major cities now have progressive radio options too, that is not the case in Birmingham.
For years one of the most enjoyable local right-wing radio personalities was Hank Erwin. Before being elected to the State Senate in 2002 Erwin could always be counted on for a laugh when you were stuck in rush hour traffic. Who doesn’t enjoy a lisping representative of an ex-gay ministry bragging about his wonderful relationship with his ex-gay wife? No one has risen to replace Hank in bringing the metro area tragic tales of pornography addicts or warning us about the satanic underpinnings of Karate and Tae Kwon Do.
Russ and Dee Fine did a good job of feigning outrage until 2006 when they were unceremoniously fired from The Source in the middle of a show without prior warning. Russ insisted it was a plot by the fraternal order of Freemasons and then Governor Bob Riley, who schemed covertly to get the Fines off the air before President Bush visited the area. It couldn’t have possibly had anything to do with the fact that their rhetoric had gotten to a point they were claiming Hispanic people don’t wash their hands after they go to the bathroom. The Birmingham Free Press had a long feud with the Fines after Dee defended an Auburn University frat boy who was photographed at a Halloween party in a Ku Klux Klan costume pretending to hang another boy in blackface. Dee actually said on the air that—you might want to sit down for this—“kids dress up as witches on Halloween. You don't see the witches out protesting.”
Most of the current on-air personalities at The Source are nationally syndicated Limbaugh clones. The closer you get to home, the more they talk about Jesus. Michael Hart is on weekday mornings from 6 to 10. He is an autodidact who educated himself by reading Atlas Shrugged and the Bible supposedly in order to get a really unique perspective that would make him stand out from other right-wing pundits.
The Source airs Lee Davis from 11 to 1 weekdays. Lee also loves the Lord and Ayn Rand. He is at his best when he talks sports or regales his listeners with stories about war or history. Forced into the role of a Limbaugh clone by market demands, Lee missed his calling as an audio book narrator or fiction writer. Seriously, when this guy weaves a tale of woe or heroism it can bring a tear to your eye. Even if it’s about how FDR ruined the country with social engineering or Joseph McCarthy was a defender of freedom.
Over at WAPI Matt Murphy hosts the weekday morning slot. Murphy champions all of the right-wing talking points you would expect from a Limbaugh clone. I had a long back and forth with him through email after he did a show on global warming. He repeated all the misinformation of the denier conspiracy theory and we basically got nowhere. It was Rush Limbaugh that started this particular anti-science movement and it can be assumed Murphy’s research is limited to the websites of other talk radio hosts.
The best local Limbaugh clone is Richard Dixon on WAPI in the afternoons from 2 to 6. Richard’s bio states, “at the age of four he was abandoned by his parents at a local mall and raised by security guards.” Though it is his job to parrot all of the standard right-wing talking points, Richard is quick-witted and genuinely funny. The only time I ever called into a talk radio show it was the Richard Dixon show. He was going on about how evolution wasn’t true. Shockingly, the only people willing to call in who accepted the reality of evolutionary theory were me and a biologist from UAB. I was followed by a dozen or so other callers who painted me out to be a gullible fool for believing in evolution. With a listening audience that must have snacked on paint chips as kids the Limbaugh clones feel no need to educate but rather choose to misinform, stir the pot of social division, and promote an anti-intellectual agenda that can’t be good for the country.