Before I start, let me be crystal-clear on a key point: Gawker is to journalism what the “E” Network is to Edward R. Murrow.
Gawker sets a bar so low that nothing can get under it – save for its various copycats and spinoffs, Defamer and Awl and Oh, Noes, I Can Say Naughty Things About People I Don’t Like On The Intertubes and whatever the hell else was bubbled up from that entire suppurating puddle of intellectual pus, each of which limbo handily beneath that already-minuscule standard.
Anyway – they’ve just discovered that not everything you hear on morning radio is spontaneous, and that some of the callers are actually actors.
On Monday we learned about a curious new venture from Premiere Radio Networks that offers radio shows “voice talent to take/make your on-air calls”—in other words, fake talk-radio callers.
And then we heard from a few folks in the business, and it turns out this is a thing!
That’s right! Morning radio – all radio, really – tries to entertain. And the fact is, most people just aren’t that entertaining.
And so when you tune into your chuckleheaded morning zoo, remember – there is no codecil in the social contract saying “we, the radio station/network, pledge that your entertainment is organic”.
Morning radio is not “journalism”. (Either is an awful lot of journalism, as it turns out).
This confuses some people:
All of wacky morning drive-time radio, apparently, is populated by voice actors pretending to be jilted lovers—or in at least one instance, an aviation expert talking about a local plane crash…”Any time you hear something surreal on a morning radio show, it’s bullshit,” one veteran independent radio producer told me. “The great prank phone calls—they’re all fake. If it’s top 40, and if it has a morning show, then it uses actors.”
While Premiere’s “On Call” service is relatively new, there are several long-standing services that supply scenarios, story lines, and actors to desperate local morning shows. The problem is obvious: DJs have hours to fill, and if anyone is actually calling into the station, they are in all likelihood boring people with boring problems. Enter United Stations Radio Networks, a radio company co-founded by Dick Clark, who still serves as its chairman emeritus.
United Stations generates wacky characters and scenarios—basically mini-radio plays—and sends them out to shows across the country. “It’s, ‘Hey, can you pretend to hate black people for the next 15 minutes so we can get people talking?’” said the producer.
The Gawker has the victorian vapours, in this case, over a syndicated bit, “War of the Roses”, which KDWB’s “Dave Ryan Show” uses – but that’s just one of many.
It actually sounds like a fun gig:
Another strange one, he said, was when he was told to pretend to be a little person outraged at the way American culture becomes obsessed with Elves each Christmas. There was no scenario or storyline, just an opinion designed, presumably, to attract mockery. “I was supposed to be angry about the overmarketing of little people during Christmas,” he said. “They wanted a ‘little guy with a big voice.’” Aside from those cases, Burt said, he mostly played cheating husbands and boyfriends. “It was pretty surreal. I’d get an email with the radio station, the character, the set-up, and the number to call. The hard part was always having to deal with wacky fucking morning DJs. These are the things you do when you need to eat.”
Now, I have to wonder – given that there’s an apparent market for stupid phone bits, wouldn’t it stand to reason that there’s a concurrent market for stupid, risible blog writing?
This next bit (emphasis added) has gotta make you wonder:
Somewhat surprisingly, there’s nothing even remotely illegal about populating radio shows with fake characters and passing it off is real. The FCC does have regulations barring “hoaxes,” but that only bars stunts that “directly cause substantial public harm.”
(Um, yeah – the “War Of The Worlds” clause).
Run of the mill shitty gags, it seems, are OK.
I’m almost tempted to write the guy and ask if he knows that “The Real World” is kinda scripted, too…