Back in the eighties, the first time I worked in Twin Cities radio, you could always tell when a station needed a publicity boost. There’d be an “incident” – a disk jockey would “say” something “objectionable”, or “insult” a “guest”, or some other shenanigan on the air, which would “lead” to a “suspension”, which would get all sorts of coverage from “news” people.
For example, back in the late eighties, “Cadillac Jack” at KDWB “insulted” British pop tart Kim Wilde on the air, and was “suspended” for a week. The Strib, the City Pages and the Twin Cities Reader all slurped up the “story” like puppies racing toward spilled hot dogs.
Of course, the “incident” was about as real as a pro wrestling match; it was a PR stunt coinciding with a jock’s planned vacation. In radio, then as much or more than now, if you actually screwed up for real you got unceremoniously fired, very very off the air. The number of such “incidents” that actually happen, spontaneously, in major-market radio is microscopic. How microsopic? The “real” incidents are practically legends in the radio business.
“Blaze” of “Glory”: Jason Lewis “quit” his afternoon-drive show on Genesis Communications (heard locally on AM1130 KTCN) yesterday. A monologue ended with a vow to “go Galt” and stop “feeding the Beast” – after which he stomped out of the studio. His producer vamped for a bit, and then, luckily, longtime Twin Cities talkradio journeyman Dan Conry just happened to be available to finish out the last half of Lewis’ show.
So I can be forgiven for having an eighties flashback, can’t I?
I don’t know much – I’ll be talking with people I know in the business over the weekend – but if I were a betting man (and I’m not) I’d bank on the following:
- Lewis’ departure from his Genesis deal had been coming for a while
- The “I’m going Galt!” departure was a PR stunt. For what? For his “Galt.io” website (if Lewis had jammed any more Galt references into his “departure”, laws of physics would have been violated)? For his next venture, whatever it is?
It’s savvy marketing, and it’s classic radio – the kind of thing the pasty-faced computer-programmers who dominate the industry today have forgotten how to do.
Lewis, in his day – his first hitch in Twin Cities radio, at KSTP back in the nineties through the early 2000s – was one of the fathers of modern Minnesota conservatism. There’s no overstating how vital he was in putting grassroots libertarian-conservatism on the Minnesota agenda during those years; had there been no Jason Lewis, conservatism would likely have remained a backroom aberration in the MNGOP for much longer than it did; the “moderate vs. conservative” battle would have stayed mired in the eighties for another decade or more. The Tea Party in Minnesota built on a basis of activism that Jason, more than any single person, established.
His first hitch? That was some heady stuff.
Changes: Lewis’ second stint – his return to KTCN and then Genesis, since the mid-late 2000s – was a little more subdued.
Lewis was different in his second go-around; the ebullient crusader for truth and justice was replaced by a hectoring professor who was always the smartest guy in the room and who made damn sure you knew it. He became less a party guy (although talk of him running for Senate kept circulating every election cycle) and more of an ideological libertarian-conservative.
And that’s not a criticism; it’s a perfectly valid character for a talk radio personality (see also Mark Levin), and not necessarily a bad idea in a talk market that had filled up with crusading everymen – including yours truly – since his first debut in the nineties. Although part of me thinks his second go-around would have been better with Joe Hanson producing him; Joe could cut anyone’s unnecessary pretensions off at the knees
The industry has changed a lot over the past 20 years, of course; the days of drive-time talk show hosts, even on small networks like Lewis’ 40-odd stations on Genesis, drawing low-to-mid six figure salaries were coming to a close (damn the luck).
I hope the next chapter in Jason’s media life is a good, rewarding one. I can’t imagine him “retiring” (or anyone else, these days, for that matter).
I remember during Jason’s time at KSTP, during my own long break from talk radio (1987 to 2004), listening to Lewis doing his thing as I drove home from work or tootled around town in a car full of kids doing my errands, pondering what life’d have been like had I stayed in radio, and thinking “that’s the host I always wanted to be when I grew up”.
And in my little one-day-a-week talk radio hobby, I guess that’s what I’ve been shooting for for the last ten years. To be a little like Jason.
Not exactly like Jason, of course. I make a lousy professor. But to be seen as someone who knows what he’s talking about, and who wants to convince the unconvinced, and wants to take my – our – political beliefs to the street and change things? That’s what I wanted. It’s what I shoot for.
And so I wish Jason all the best, and hope I haven’t heard the last of him.