I Don’t Wanna Go Off On A Rant, Here, But…

Dennis Miller – one of my five all-time favorite comics – starts his latest venture, a radio talk show, today (coincidentally, just in time for the re-christening of AM1570, the Patriot’s sister station, as the “Talk of the West Metro”.  Miller appears from 9-noon on 1570). 

Good news?

Maybe.  I’ve commented in the past about how standup comics and talk radio really don’t mix.  Much of Air America’s initial, ballyhooed lineup was former standups – Marc Maron, Janeane Garofalo, Lizzzzzz Winstead, Al Franken, Sam Seder.  Let’s give credit where it’s due – all of them but Seder were quite successful at comedy.  The qualifier – they were successful in their element, working on a stage in front of a crowd, giving them instant feedback (or, in Franken’s case, as a writer, which is another medium entirely). 

And, like most comics who try to do talk radio – a very different medium requiring a very different energy and focus – all of them were disastrous flops on the air. 

On the other hand, Miller is one of the best at what he does – blazingly-literate, funny-in-a-byzantine-intricate-way commentary about people and events.  He’s vastly better at comedy that could  translate to talk radio than Franken, Garofalo or Maron.  And he’s been edging closer to the radio medium – via his great HBO series and his failed stabs at Monday Night Football and his CNBC show – for most of a decade, now.   If there were a standup comic who could do talk radio – who might have learned how to make the transition from talking to a room full of people to talking to a microphone and a slate of phone callers and an audience that one must imagine rather than see – it could be Miller.

And he’s a libertarian conservative.  That’s going to help, of course; liberal talk was and remains DOA, while conservative talk promises to surge as the next election cycle approaches.  Miller should be in his element.

Brian Maloney on the challenges Miller faces:

An astounding glut of syndicated weekday fare, with far more programs than the market can support.

True, but that’s been the case for years, and is hardly a reason not to give it a try.  I mean, it’s only money, right?

A curious time slot choice, 10am – 1pm ET, which will have him up against Rush Limbaugh and many other successful mid- morning shows.

That is, indeed, a strange choice.  Far better, I’d think, to run Miller either in the morning slot, against the likes of Laura Ingraham and Bill Bennett, or perhaps as an alternative in the afternoon to Sean Hannity. 

Though 80 stations signed up for his debut, quite a decent number, most are tiny, including a number of Salem Communications- owned outlets.

True – including here in the Twin Cities; 1570 is a smaller, more niche-oriented signal (albeit much better-placed now than during its years as “the Patriot II”, broadcasting shows that didn’t quite make the cut for AM1280).  Maloney correctly notes that these small stations are notorious for tape-delaying shows, making it impossible for people in their markets to call in and participate (and accordingly lowering listenership).  AM1570 will be running the show live in the Twin Cities, which is a very good thing – but 1570 is, at best, a very new project (as in, on its first day today!), and is a smaller, weaker signal than even AM1280.

Miller brings baggage to the radio, including his failed CNBC show, where his performance was lackluster. Does he have a real passion for the issues? Can he develop a topic?

We’ll see! As I noted above, Miller might be a more auspicious candidate for this than the vast majority of comics – indeed, more than any comic I can personally think of at the moment. But having some solid radio experience on his production team will help a lot, too (presuming Miller breaks from traditional standup comic form and can actually listen to their advice…)

Most of all, he simply lacks the experience in talk radio needed to hit the ground running. We’ve repeatedly seen celebrities plucked off the street and given shows, only to fail when they quickly run out of steam.

Always a good point; from Soupy Sales to James Hightower to Al Franken, the radio landscape is littered with the carcasses of celebs who were “the next big thing” (or more recently “the alternative to Limbaugh”). But I think Miller has paid more applicable dues in the business than any of the others; he’s in the right place (right of center!) and, arguably, at the right time.

Handicaps aside – and there are some big ones - I think Miller stands a chance.

5 thoughts on “I Don’t Wanna Go Off On A Rant, Here, But…

  1. On a barely related note, I understand business is business, but when 1280 dropped Mike Gallagher for Laura Ingraham in the morning, I felt kind of bad for Mike. I mean, he was a big fan of Mpls and 1280, he came out here and did the fair along with Michael Medved and Hugh that first year (and made a huge deal about it and thoroughly enjoyed himself while here), and he is one of the 5 primaries on Townhall, which is so closely linked to Salem. I just felt it was like a slap in his face to get punted off to 1570, and now he’s not even in his native timeslot so no one here will be able to call him.

    That said, I am extremely grateful that Salem and/or 1280 decided to move Laura Ingraham into the morning slot here. She is a FAR better host with more compelling listening than Mike is and has. She has the education, training, and industry experience (legal and journalism/broadcasting) that just places her on a whole different plane than Gallagher. She fits in with the intellectualism and “coming from a position of knowledge and experience” of Michael and Hugh far more than Mike does. I’m sure there are many people at TownHall who wish they could put her between Bill Bennett and Dennis Prager.

  2. I agree, Bill. Ingraham was a very good move. Now if only the Robot Radio station could just get it’s programming fixed. The only time you don’t hear double commercials or 2 day-old news is on Saturday morning when there are actual humans on site.

  3. You don’t like the two day old news Kermit? It always catches my attention and can be kind of fun at times. Did we really launch another space shuttle today? I thought we just did that yesterday.

    Gallagher was a nice guy, but not exactly a great talk radio host. Ingraham’s a terrible interviewer, but she is intelligent and has a great production team.

  4. Three days in a row I heard that Alphie Rodriguez got the death sentence. While it was very satisfying, they kept saying “yesterday”.
    Tip for the Patriot: Make your news date non-specific. It would help with the “credibility” ad campaign you’re running right now.

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