The Messaging Game

We like to complain about the corporate media, but too few of us support independent media. Across the internet, low power AM and FM stations, cable access and in publishing a great many have risen to take up the challenge first heralded more than 40 years ago by Gil Scott Herron’s “The Revolution will not be televised,” and reinvigorated by the Occupy Movement.

There are reasons for that. The high profile so-called Progressive media sources, like Al Gore, NPR, MSNBC and others on an all too short list have either betrayed true progressives and liberals, or attempted to co-opt them altogether for nakedly partisan purposes. Discontent among young voters who flocked to groups like Occupy, or environmental groups, or the I can’t breathe justice rights issue was abandoned or mocked by the democrats, revealing pure political motivations while abandoning the real base of the Progressive and Political movements.

Commentator Thom Hartmann has brought a pale indignation, and who can sit through another ill-prepared debate he holds with a right winger who reveals Hartmann’s willingness to go to great links in bending to the illusion of “gentlemanly” dialogue. Leslie Marshall couldn’t suck up to right wing propagandist Sean Hannity more in her desire for face time on FOX. Ed Schultz, who during the Madison protests in 2010-11, emerged as possibly challenging the media hegemony of the right is now all but…no, he’s forgotten. Stephanie Miller’s cogent arguments, when she attempts to make one at all largely amounts to her saying “Duh!” MSNBC simply is moving the nation to the right more slowly and under the costume of progressivism. The nominally progressive WCPT recently lost the only environmental show in Chicago, hosted by Mike Nowak, creating a monumental void in an already underrepresented segment of the market. NPR and the local Chicago community channel WTTW have all swung decidely to the right, wishing not to confront or run afoul of the right wing, corporate coup in washington DC.

Nowhere in this so-called liberal media are substantive discussions on climate change, race and immigrant justice, XL keystone, Enbridge, net neutrality or the TPP. the abandonment of those issues by the dems, I believe, has driven many from the party.

Hopeless? Not so much. Messaging however requires the involvement of citizens on several fronts. The first is in fighting to protect internet neutrality. It is the last true media still available for the unfettered, unfiltered voice of the people. Second, is to support and engage local, non-corporate and alternative media. Tune in. It is easier than you can imagine now. Access to Q4 radio can be done now from virtually any device. I listen daily in the car from my smart phone. There are others in Chicago as well, creating some of the most interesting, best informed and innovative programming on the air. Or you could listen to the same old boring crap on Chicago radio; all of it careful scripted and crafted to follow editorial dictates by media magnates in bed with one of the two political parties dominating power and money and messaging in America.

Finally, the Left muust learn to message like the right. Here is where we win. Here is the perfect opportunity to be a smart ass, because behind our sarcasm are deep truths and realities. Behind their flimsy bumper sticker lines are veiled ideals of greed and privilage, and a fundamental inhumanity that leaves the poor, the minorities, the elderly and the handicapped depserate, forgotten and abandoned.

They like phrases like Reagan’s smug retort, as he and his administration laid the groundwork for the slow and careful corporate take over of our nation and the theft of its wealth-from the mouths and pockets of the people. “The scriest words in the English language, I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” Hmm, you mean like FEMA, the CDC, Social Security, the FAA, paved roads and safe food?

maybe if we shot back with equal disdain and smarminess, like: “I’m from the government and I’ve been sold to the highest bidder!”

How about, I’m from the corporation and I’m selling you what you once got for your tax dollars.”

Perhaps this, I’m from the corporation and I get paid twice, once in subsidies and also from you!”

Or there’s this: I’m from the mega-church and I’m here to help; please surrender your soul.”

And my favorite: “I’m from the media and I’m the millionaire who speaks for the middle class.”

Listen Saturday’s from 11am-1pm to WC Turck, Brian Murray and guests on Chicago’s real alternative media, AM1680, Q4 radio, streaming at
CAM00236WC Turck is an author, artist, playwright and talk radio host in Chicago. He has been called the most dangerous voice on the Left. He is currently working on a new book “Shoot Down: An unflinching look at the events leading up to the shooting down of Malaysia Air Flight 17.” His first novel, “Broken” was recommended by NAMI for its treatment of PTSD. In 2006 he published “Everything for Love,” a memoir of his experiences during the siege of Sarajevo. He wrote and produced two critically acclaimed plays, “Occupy my Heart” and “The People’s Republic of Edward Snowden.” He works with the homeless and foreclosure victims in Chicago. He partners in a weekly radio show dedicated to issues, society and politics with cohost, activist and artist Brian Murray For more information, past shows, videos and articles, visit

The Illinois Policy Institute (IPI) is a conservative think tank with offices in Chicago and Springfield, Illinois, and member of the State Policy Network. IPI is a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) as of 2011. IPI is also a member of ALEC’s Health and Human Services Task Force and Education Task Force. Senior Budget and Tax Policy Analyst, Amanda Griffin-Johnson, presented model legislation (the “State Employee Health Savings Account Act”) to the HHS task force at ALEC’s 2011 annual meeting.[4] Collin Hitt, Director of Education Policy, is a private sector member of the Education Task Force representing IPI. He sponsored the “Local Government Transparency Act” at the ALEC 2011 States and Nation Policy Summit. In its 2006 annual report the Cato Institute states that it made a grant of $50,000 to the Illinois Policy Institute. The Cato Institute is a libertarian think tank founded by Charles G. Koch and funded by the Koch brothers.

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Revolution and Beer…Reactionary of the Week: “Progressive Talk” Radio

wcptThe reaction by the shop clerk in that little second hand shop was astounding. When I said I had a show on a local commercial Progressive station, you might have thought I’d come it to announce that I was molesting pigeons in the street.

“I listen to National Public Radio, “he replied, wielding the words like some soulful shield.

“Right now,” I replied, “we’re being told that we can pretty much say and do anything legal as we try to cover the grassroots and activism scene, you know all those real stories that never seem to get covered in the mainstream media.” (I was proud and eager, BABY!)

“Right now,” he shot back, punching the wind from my sails. “Look, I don’t have a lot of faith in commercial radio. No offense. Like I said, I get my information from NPR or the internet.”

I nodded respectfully and shook his hand, asking him to at least give us a chance. This whole episode might have been brushed away if it hadn’t happened time and again though.

When we were invited to contribute to WCPT, Brian and I were new to this radio thing. We believed we could do something positive. Our goal was to un-cluster some of this grand fervor over larger-than-life national political spectacles, and wrestle a few issues to the ground so that people could deal with them. We’ve always said that there’s no need to go outside of Chicago to find national news. It seemed all too intuitive for a Chicago-based Progressive radio station (or any current events station) to want people passionate and engaged in such work on the air. I mean, why wouldn’t they? However, no matter how sincere we are about dealing with real issues, we constantly kept running up against the lousy reputation of talk and commercial radio.

Air America Radio, Helllllooooooooo out there…

Let’s now take a step back and recall the days of Air America Radio (AAR). The concept was to serve as a balance against the wild proliferation of Right-wing and corporate media. From the start, AAR was plagued with problems; both internal and external. For one, the mainstream media and it’s reactionary offspring never had to explain who and what it was to its very targeted base. It disingenuously positioned itself as “fair and balanced,” for example. When all you have to do is be sensational enough to draw-in advertisers, you can get away with a lot. Being able to quickly stir-up your core constituency, by simply throwing some red meat at them at a steady clip, is a HUGE example of the benefit. Gaming working class conservatives, by pandering to their fears without addressing the root causes of their problems, seems to be a lethal and effective mix of hyperbole and entertainment that really sells ads and attracts leveraged investors. But to do it the other way…well, that would be radical.

Right-wing media positioned itself as the voice and champion of traditional (W.A.S.P.) America. With 80% of the market owned by conglomerates that shat out right-wing stations across the nation faster than an Amish elder after his first trip to White Castle, this was an uphill struggle from the start.

AAR had to fight for every inch of the market, arguing against “patriotic” stations carrying Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and other nationalist demagogues (quite the statists, I might add, before the skin color of the head honcho went darker). This truly regressive coalition of right-wing behemoths was nothing short of awe-inspiring. Large corporate clients avoided the new hip, media savvy progressives, perversely arguing for a citizen-centered nation. Right-wing entities organized campaigns to bully potential advertisers to AAR stations, which severed key ad revenue. Then there was the crop of mobilized, enraged working-class whites, fundamentalist Christians, and newly assimilated “middle class” Latinos, who were roped-in by W and Rove’s rodeo machismo. This flag-waving monsoon of hysterical straight-talkin, bargain-huntin real patriots, clung to cheap Walmart appliances—the same Walmart decimating small town economies across the nation—with pride in a redefined era of “Murcan Exceptionalism.” Opposing viewpoints were “fightin words,” and with the newly-crowned Muslim enemy to the world, Sadam Hussein; this mob was ready for war against the Liberal enemy within our sacred borders. Unfortunately, we’re now witnessing the destructive power and impact of this hysterical vacuum chamber.

Oh, you’re not off the hook either

But there was something even more fundamental to the decline and illegitimacy of so-called Progressive Radio, and that was the people who ran those stations. From the start they were rocked by scandal and infighting, poor business models, not enough experience, and perhaps a fundamental misunderstanding of what real Progressives believe in and fight for. But for many Progressives, particularly those in the hinterlands, so to speak; any Progressive voice is like a rescuing embrace in an otherwise hostile forest of Right-wing stations choking the national discourse. And while most true Progressives, and other real lefties, eschew dogmatic party loyalty; Progressive radio seemed better than nuttin’.

The Establishment of Chicago’s Premiere Progressive Talk Station

In Chicago, on Monday, May 5, 2005, WCPT AM 850 became the city’s premiere Progressive talk station, with hosts like Marc Maron, Jerry Springer, Randi Rhodes and Al Franken. Two and a half years later WCPT moved to AM 820, which gave it a stronger daytime signal, but as with 850, it powered down so severely between dusk and dawn that during those hours it sounded as if the station was broadcasting from the Republic of North Korea. Meanwhile, better than five conservative, Right-wing, or fundamentalist evangelical stations in the Chicago market churned-out content 24 hours a day. During the winter months, WCPT is still lucky to get in 9-10 hours of listenable programming per day.

So there is the background, and as I said, real Progressives and Lefties hate the party flag-waving and lock-step ideology. Sadly, that is what so-called “Progressive Media” has become. The stark evidence for that was illustrated plainly when national hosts like Stephanie Miller, Randi Rhodes, and Ed Schultz either ignored or decried the Occupy movement once it proved it could not be co-opted into a ready-made Obama zombie army. Despite this, WCPT never hesitated to run its snarky, self-made scolding of what the “99% movement is all about.”

I confess, we have not been in talk radio for very long, but I have been a careful observer of the media for some time. With several dozen media interviews, apart from that year in radio and television broadcasting, over the last 20 years I have garnered some insights. Paramount among them is that there still is no consideration for the audience. There’s also the over-emphasis on national spectacle to the degree of distracting people form engaging issues in their own locality.

Don’t get us wrong, we love some “Smiley & West”

In Chicago, WCPT simply seems to assume that calling itself Progressive and Liberal is enough to attract listeners. Proof that the model has failed utterly is that a “Progressive” station like WCPT, in a predominantly minority and Democrat city, is barely 42nd in the market. You can ask Obama’s Super PAC, it ain’t due to a lack of capitol in the hands of its ownership. It could and should be in the top three, and without a great deal of effort in such a marketplace.

Recently the station abandoned its Arbitron rating subscription, dooming local programing, and telling the audience quite literally that the station could care less who and how many are listening. Their model now seems to only be interested in syndicated and brokered programs—those in which people pay to get on the air. Shows that set out to engage and activate grassroots and activist movements across the city were abandoned, and the tone of the station, with the addition of a convicted corrupt politician, Jim Laski, a grudgingly; barely-Left-leaning legal show; and the Stephanie Miller ass-clown show—a three hour entertainment and DNC commercial. By contrast, the right pounds and pounds issues to death.

WCPT and other Progressive show-boaters could become true powerhouses for the working-class, but aside from having the trust of many Progressives and Liberals, they’re squandering it; and perhaps far more than that of their adversaries on the right. At times, it’s just so damn boring.

We’d venture so far as to say tolerance is much more a Leftie attribute than a Right-wing attribute. This is a center-Left nation right now, largely due to the open-mindedness of the majority of American people around issues that do matter—although that’s in jeopardy. Tolerance of a great many things, as part of the socially progressive tendencies of the “middle class,” (Brian prefers “working-class”) has helped maintain some ground. The key is integrity and adherence to a greater cause. Willingness to fight injustice and social regression. Amid the halls of WCPT the talk is that the station is largely a tax write-off for its wealthy and Democrat party supporting owner, and that it is a vehicle to help get a Gay Marriage amendment passed in Illinois. There is ample concern that once the amendment is achieved there will no longer be any use for WCPT’s Progressive format. One indication of such a thing is their lack of support for most of the local programming that has existed on the station. Only the strongest of the local crew have survived in the flash flood of Nationally syndicated, and quite predictable, commentators. But I look at sell-out stations like WLS, which boasted legendary and historic legacies. The damage done to Progressivism and to the nation by squandering the potential for what a station like WCPT might attain seems to me, well, rather regressive!

Catch WC Turck and Brian Murray only at Watch us every Tuesday at 7:30 p.m., and Wednesdays at 2:30 p.m., on Chicago Cable Channel 19. Please don’t forget to Like us on Facebook.

ACTIVISTS AND COMMUNITY ORGANIZERS: If you have a cause to champion, please let us know. We proudly stand with you in the important work of strengthening the grassroots support network for the city of Chicago.

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