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Published: Thu, 21 Sep 2017 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Thu, 21 Sep 2017 03:20:59 -0400

 



Impeach Eisenhower!

Fri, 07 Jul 2017 12:29:00 -0400

Impeachment talk has been in the air this week, with rallies in dozens of cities calling for Donald Trump to be ousted from office. Impeachment talk has been in the air for nearly a quarter-century now—you have to go back to George H.W. Bush for a president who didn't inspire a big chunk of the opposition to talk about kicking him out of the White House, and even then there was a small chunk of the opposition who wanted to kick him out of the White House. There always is.

In that spirit, here's the anarcho-pacifist Beat writer Lawrence Ferlinghetti reading his 1958 poem "Tentative Description of a Dinner to Promote the Impeachment of President Eisenhower" (with bonus video footage assembled ably by an anonymous YouTuber):

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/e2Ldh1A5p-w" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0">

If you'd rather read to yourself than be read to, you can see the text of the poem here.

Ferlinghetti's four pages of antiwar verse did not inspire a mass movement to remove Eisenhower from office (nor was that the point), but it did help inspire a young broadcaster named Lorenzo Milam to try to start a pacifist radio station in Washington, D.C. I tell that story in chapter three of my book Rebels on the Air: An Alternative History of Radio in America; the short version is that it was 1958, the Cold War was in full swing, and the FCC wasn't about to license a dissident radio outlet in the nation's capital. After two years Milam gave up, applied for a license in Seattle instead (on the theory that maybe the authorities wouldn't care about an outlet located far away from the nation's capital), eventually got the go-ahead, and founded KRAB-FM, which in turn inspired a wave of listener-supported non-state, non-commercial radio stations around the country. Not a bad legacy. Certainly a better legacy than actually impeaching Eisenhower, which would've just saddled us with Richard Nixon a decade early.

(For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here.)




Shakespeare and the Assassins

Fri, 16 Jun 2017 11:59:00 -0400

(image) Last weekend's Big Fake Outrage involved a Shakespeare-in-the-Park production of Julius Caesar that features a Caesar based on Donald Trump. Caesar, as every schoolboy knows, is murdered in Act 3, so the show was denounced as "assassination porn" (note: the play is famously anti-assassination) that proves just how uniquely crazy Trump has made people (note: modernized productions of Julius Caesar are a cliché, and just a few years ago a high-profile performance featured a Caesar based on Barack Obama). Under different circumstances the hubbub might have faded by now, but on Wednesday some jerk tried to kill a bunch of congressmen and then some people started suggesting he was somehow influenced by the play (note: that's nuts). So we're still hearing about it.

But enough about Julius Caesar. Want to know what a tasteless assassination-themed appropriation of Shakespeare really sounds like? Check out MacBird!, Barbara Garson's MacBeth parody in which Lyndon Johnson plots the death of John F. Kennedy. Below you can hear a performance directed by Phil Austin, of Firesign Theatre fame, that aired on one of the Pacifica radio stations in 1967. If you'd rather read the script, it's here; but honestly, it's more fun when you can hear the actors' faux-Kennedy accents:

src="https://archive.org/embed/pacifica_radio_archives-BB5388" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="500" height="40" frameborder="0">

The original performance of the play starred Stacy Keach in the LBJ role. Sadly, I don't have a recording of that one.

Bonus links: Matthew Lasar has more on MacBird! here. Garson has a cameo in my review of a rather different piece of literature here. For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here. For another Friday A/V Club with a Firesign Theatre connection, go here.




How Deregulation Gave Us FM Radio, HBO, and the iPhone

Mon, 22 May 2017 14:14:00 -0400

"We've gone to a modern [broadcast] system that has a lot of places where stuff can happen without permission," says Thomas W. Hazlett, who's the FCC's former chief economist, a professor at Clemson University, and author of the new book The Political Spectrum: The Tumultuous Liberation of Wireless Technology, from Herbert Hoover to the Smartphone. "And we have seen that the smartphone revolution and some other great stuff in the wireless space has really burgeoned...That comes from deregulation." So-called net neutrality rules are designed to solve a non-existent problem and threaten to restrict consumer choice, Hazlett tells Reason's Nick Gillespie. "The travesty is there's already a regulatory scheme [to address anti-competitive behavior]—it's called antitrust law." Greater autonomy and consumer freedom led to the development of cable television, the smartphone revolution, and the modern internet. While we've come a long way from the old days of mother-may-I pleading with the FCC to grant licenses for new technology, Hazlett says, "there's a lot farther to go and there's a lot of stuff out there that's being suppressed." He points to the history of radio and television. Herbert Hoover and Lyndon Johnson exercised extraordinary control over spectrum allocation, which they used for their own political and financial gain. With liberalization, we now have hundreds of hours of varied television programming as compared to the big three broadcast networks of the '60s, an abundance of choices in smartphone providers and networks as compared to the Ma Bell monopoly, and more to come. Hazlett also discusses his views on current FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, how the FCC delayed the arrival of cable television to protect incumbent broadcasters, and "the most infamous statement ever made by an FCC regulator" in a 1981 Q&A with Reason magazine. Interview by Nick Gillespie. Edited by Justin Monticello. Cameras by Todd Krainin and Mark McDaniel. Music by RW Smith. Subscribe to our YouTube channel. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.Subscribe to our podcast at iTunes. This is a rush transcript—check all quotes against the audio for accuracy. Nick Gillespie: HI. I'm Nick Gillespie for Reason. Today, we're talking with Thomas Winslow Hazlett, an economics professor at Clemson, a long-time Reason contributor, former chief economist at the Federal Communications Commission, and author most recently of the epic new book, The Political Spectrum: The Tumultuous Liberation of Wireless Technology, from Herbert Hoover to the Smartphone. Tom, thanks for talking to us. Thomas Hazlett: Thanks for having me, Nick. Nick Gillespie: Your book is a masterful counterblast, I think, to the intellectual status quo when it comes to broadcasting, cable, Internet, especially related to things like spectrum auctions and net neutrality and whatnot. Your large argument is that government inhibits innovation rather than encourages it. Is that accurate? Thomas Hazlett: Yeah, that's the starting point, but I certainly go farther, a lot farther in this book, because there has been significant liberalization, and we learn a lot from the directions we've gone. We see the suppression through administrative allocations of spectrum, which just means that we have this Mother-may-I system where the government's in charge of who does what in wireless and has to give explicit permission. We've gone from a system like that to a modern system that has a lot of places where stuff can happen without permission. Nick Gillespie: Right. Thomas Hazlett: We have seen that what we call perhaps the smartphone revolution and some other great stuff in the wireless space has really burgeoned. We have these emerging networks and these ecosystems. That comes from deregulation. Nick Gillespie: Is it deregulation or is it government ... I guess and different examples, and we'll talk about those, but sometimes it's explicit deregulation, or the government saying, "We're going to get out of this. We're not going to do anything." Other [...]



The Social Media of 1939

Fri, 17 Feb 2017 12:43:00 -0500

(image) In the first two decades of the 20th century, a new subculture embraced a new technology. Ham radio operators built their own transmitters, traded and modified each other's designs, negotiated complicated covenants that let them share the unregulated ether, and formed groups to enforce the rules. They battled the military (figuratively speaking) for the right to use the airwaves, and they invented broadcasting at a time when virtually everyone assumed that radio would be used only for point-to-point communication. They were often young, often anonymous, and often prone to pranks. They were the social media of a century ago, and you can draw whatever parallels you'd like between their subculture and the subcultures of today.

Before long the government would be regulating the airwaves, broadcasting would be professionalized, and the ham operators would be confined to their own segment of the spectrum, where the rules they followed became more strict. But on that reservation they kept their kind of social media alive. Here is an artifact from that middle period of amateur radio, after the anarchic early era but before it stopped seeming unusual to hear live voices from another side of the world: a 1939 "Pete Smith specialty" called Radio Hams.

Smith, then famous and now forgotten, narrated dozens of short films in the '30s, '40s, and '50s, the bulk of which were comedies. There is some comedy here, but it's mostly serious—we even get a couple of deaths:

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/SyWlJPNLPf8" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0">

Yes, it's kind of awkwardly made. (This was a common hazard in the Pete Smith series.) If you'd like to see a more lyrical piece of filmmaking about the Depression-era hams, you'd do better to watch the 1938 picture Love Finds Andy Hardy. Most of the movie is unexceptional, but—to quote my old obit for Mickey Rooney—"about an hour into the picture, there's a quietly engrossing amateur-radio sequence, a wonderful moment that belongs in the syllabus of any class on the prehistory of cyberspace." I unfortunately can't embed that series of scenes, but if you want to watch the whole film you can find it here.

Bonus links: I found that Pete Smith short via this essay at Ken Dowell's blog off the leash. Dowell's post also quotes my book Rebels on the Air, which includes a long discussion of the early days of amateur radio. But the bit he cites is on another subject: unlicensed community radio in northern Canada.

(For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here.)




Will Donald Trump Cut Public Broadcasting Loose, Or Will He Decide He's the Man to Make It Great Again?

Mon, 23 Jan 2017 17:25:00 -0500

The press is aflutter with talk that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting may be headed for the chopping block. More specifically, The Hill informs us that Trump staffers have been "discussing" the "privatization" of the CPB. In other words, we don't actually know what's happening. "Discussing" means the administration hasn't settled on a plan; "privatization" could take many forms. Nor do we know how any particular proposal will play out politically. Usually I roll my eyes during these debates, knowing that for all the apocalyptic rhetoric they inspire they have invariably ended with the CPB still in the budget. Occasionally it gets a funding cut, but even those tend to be erased within a few years. But as you may have noticed, our new president is unpredictable. Given all the allegedly impossible things that have happened lately, you can't just assume past will be prologue, even if the forces that have kept the CPB alive in the past are still at work. That said: The forces that have kept the CPB alive in the past are quite definitely still at work. Back in 2011, when congressional Republicans were threatening to cut off NPR's money because it had fired Juan Williams, I offered a brief tour through the history of the We're Going To Defund Public Broadcasting show. The Williams spat, I wrote, was a more exciting hook for the drama than the one Richard Nixon used in 1971, when presidential pique at the Eastern liberals who dominated PBS spurred him to propose a "return to localism" that would have kneecapped the crowd in charge of the system. On the other hand, it doesn't have the cloak-and-dagger spirit that the State Department flunky Otto Reich brought to the play in 1985, right after Ronald Reagan's reelection, when he met with NPR staffers in a smoky little room and warned them that the White House thought they were "Moscow on the Potomac." Nor is it as colorful as the 1993 spectacle starring Bob Dole and David Horowitz, who attacked the radical Pacifica network rather than NPR, providing an opportunity to quote a much weirder series of statements than anything in the Juan Williams kerfuffle. ("We didn't have Satan before the white man. So the white man is Satan himself.") And the exclusive focus on NPR this time around means the stakes don't feel as high as they did in 1994, when Speaker-elect Gingrich started musing that he might "zero out" the entire public broadcasting budget. A decade later, a House subcommittee heightened the dramatic tension by voting to eliminate federal support for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) altogether. That element of danger was a suspenseful touch. While there are Republicans who honestly think the government shouldn't be in the business of subsidizing public broadcasters, there are more Republicans—or, at least, more powerful Republicans—who just think the government should be subsidizing a slightly different group of public broadcasters. As I wrote in 2011, "The system was still standing after Nixon made his threats, but all save one of the programs he found objectionable went off the air. After the Gingrich-era battle ended, the Republican pundits Fred Barnes, Peggy Noonan, and Ben Wattenberg all landed gigs at PBS—and following an initial cut, the CPB's budget crept back upward. The funding fight under George W. Bush took place against the backdrop of a conservative CPB chief crusading for a more right-friendly PBS and NPR." (*) These exercises may not cut public broadcasters loose, but they do whip them into line. Needless to say, it would be completely in character for Trump to try a trick like that. (Sample scenario: He ruminates about funding cuts, PBS adds a MAGA voice or two to its lineup, and then the president declares public television a great American institution.) On the other hand, it would also be in character for Trump to endorse a privatization plan as a painless concession to the more free-market wing of the Republican coalition. It'[...]



Talking Obama's Legacy and Trump's Presidential Powers: Nick Gillespie

Thu, 12 Jan 2017 15:26:00 -0500

Earlier today, I was on the Keith Larson Show, talking about how Donald Trump will receive massive and enhanced powers as president, thanks in part to Barack Obama. Larson, a long-time North Carolina talker, is posting his shows at SoundCloud (below) and also TuneIn, iTunes, and Stitcher. Go here for more info on that.

I join the show below at the one-hour mark.

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NPR Does Alex Jones

Tue, 06 Dec 2016 21:13:00 -0500

All Things Considered's David Folkenflik did a report today on the conspiracy-chasing talk-show host Alex Jones. Because I wrote a book about conspiracy theories, I was one of the people Folkenflik interviewed. You can listen to it here:

src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/504590375/504590378" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0">

Folkenflik's story leads with last weekend's PizzaGate shooting, in which an Alex Jones fan fired a rifle in a D.C. pizza joint because he believed child sex slaves were being held there. But Folkenflik interviewed me on Friday—two days before the incident—so I didn't say anything about that. Instead I'm quoted on the general contours of Jones' worldview. The written version of the report extends my cameo a little longer than it lasts on the radio, adding a line that contrasts my thoughts on Jones' politics with the Southern Poverty Law Center's views on the topic.

When I was chatting with Folkenflik, I mentioned that if I ever write a profile of Jones, the two people I'd most want to interview for it are the filmmakers Richard Linklater and Mike Judge. Linklater put Jones in his 2001 movie Waking Life, and it's a rather interesting scene to watch now that Jones has attracted national notoriety. Jones is generally understood as a "right-wing" guy, and I understand why that's so. (He certainly isn't a leftist.) But he slips easily into the Phildickian film's countercultural worldview, condemning "dehumanization," "classism," "systems of control," and "this corporate slave state" as he drives through a dreamscape:

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/JJXspT2VtOE" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0">

And Judge? Jones conducted a chummy interview with the Beavis and Butt-head and King of the Hill creator back in 2013. It's a pretty fascinating conversation, especially when the talk turns to Dale Gribble, King of the Hill's resident conspiracy theorist. Dale, Judge chuckles, "probably gives you guys a bad name":

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/NzR_bfvxDZM" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0">

It's not easy to imagine, say, Rush Limbaugh delivering the rant in the first video or the interview in the second. Any accounting of Alex Jones' worldview—and of the place he occupies in our cultural terrain—needs to consider the question of what people like Linklater and Judge see in the man, and vice versa.

Obligatory advertisement: As I said at the top, I wrote a book about conspiracy stories. It's called The United States of Paranoia, and if you find this stuff interesting you may find the book interesting too. But I should probably note upfront that it mentions Jones just once, and only fleetingly at that.




Talkin' Clowns on the Radio

Wed, 12 Oct 2016 08:02:00 -0400

Because I can't stop writing about clowns, people ask me to go on the radio to talk about clowns. Here are two recent interviews about the Big Bozo Scare—the first, from last Friday, with the Calgary show At Night with Dan Riendeau...

src="https://www.omnycontent.com/w/player/?orgId=fdc2ad13-d199-4e97-b2db-a59300cb6cc2&programId=b7a48ef8-a7aa-4528-a3f5-a5ca0111f253&clipId=693a5730-7f68-4361-8776-a69c01276309" width="100%" height="150px" frameborder="0">

...and the other, from yesterday, with The Blaze's Pat and Stu:

src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/287193550&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true" width="100%" height="450" frameborder="0">

In other news, the AP reports that "Ronald McDonald is keeping a low profile with reports of creepy clown sightings on the rise." Naturally.




Jerry Doyle, RIP. Radio Host and Babylon 5 Star Was 60.

Fri, 29 Jul 2016 11:26:00 -0400

(image) I'm saddened to announce the death of Jerry Doyle, who hosted a great nationally syndicated radio show out of Las Vegas that Reason staff appeared on dozens (and perhaps hundreds) of times over the years. Doyle was also a cast member of the fondly remembered science fiction show Babylon 5, on which he played "Mr. Garibaldi." He also wrote at the site Epic Times, a treasure trove of commentary and links. Doyle, born in Brooklyn and raised in New Jersey, was 60 years old. The exact cause of death isn't known.

It was always a pleasure to appear on Doyle's show even though (or because?) we didn't agree on everything. He was a rare talk radio host who wasn't a rabid ideologue or partisan. Instead, he was funny, self-deprecating, and always measuring issues by how they affected everyday people. What he liked about Reason was that we weren't coming at things from the same old, same old position. He spoke with the restrained and resigned anger and annoyance of someone who wanted something different in American life and politics, and his rallying cry was "It's not Left vs Right, it's right vs wrong!" I know in my case at least, that led him to call bullshit on me if he thought I was getting too abstract in my examples or thinking. He also had a great sense of humor. Because of the time difference, I often appeared on the show around dinner time in the Eastern Time Zone and one time I was in the middle of chopping vegetables for a meal when his call came. I tried to continue my prep quietly but he heard the tap tap tap of the knife and asked, "Are you cooking dinner, Dr. Gillespie?" (he insisted on calling me by that honorific, both as a sign of respect and as a good-natured way to bust my balls). "At least tell us what you're making."

RIP, Jerry Doyle, the airwaves are diminished by your passing. Reason's deepest condolences to your family, friends, and audience. 

His show's Facebook page is here.




The Back Door to the Radio Dial

Wed, 06 Jul 2016 16:23:00 -0400

(image) In theory, the lowest frequency on the FM dial is 87.9 megahertz. But many radios, especially in older cars, go a little lower, allowing listeners to pick up a signal at 87.7 FM—a spot allocated to whichever TV station broadcasts on channel 6. Not that there are many stations left at channel 6 these days.

This would just be a piece of trivia from the rapidly receding age of analog television, but for one fact: Some clever broadcasters are now using that spot as a back door to the FM dial, slipping uninvited into a marketplace where the government has long enforced high entry barriers. Technically these are low-power TV stations, and they transmit a pro-forma video signal to keep things legal. But they're producing programs aimed at radio listeners. "This phenomenon has proven helpful for certain types of audiences underserved by traditional radio," Ernie Smith notes in an engaging story for the website Tedium, and it "has led to a number of small stations, such as Cleveland's Latino-focused 'La Mega'...finding a new home on the dial." In the industry, such outlets are nicknamed "FrankenFMs."

If that doesn't sound like a friendly nickname, that's appropriate: Some broadcasters have less-than-friendly feelings about the TV-on-the-radio stations. The left end of the FM dial is reserved for noncommercial stations, such as NPR's affiliates. Unsurprisingly, NPR doesn't like the interlopers. (As Smith puts it, "NPR friggin' hates FrankenFM.") In 2014, when the Federal Communications Commission considered a proposal to embrace the FrankenFM stations, the public radio network filed comments attacking the idea.

Much as I admire the ingenuity of the back-door FM broadcasters, I have to agree with one of NPR's arguments: The FCC could fit a lot more operations onto the airwaves by opening that part of the spectrum up to traditional FM broadcasters, as opposed to simply tolerating some TV licensees who have found a loophole. As far as I'm concerned, the commission may as well extend the FM band all the way down to 82 megahertz, guarantee the existing FrankenFMs a space among the new licensees, and then open the door to new comers. In the age of internet broadcasting, the old limits on who can have an FM signal aren't the chokehold that they used to be; but I'm always glad to see more rather than fewer options.




Talkin' Orlando Conspiracy Theories on Public Radio

Mon, 20 Jun 2016 13:33:00 -0400

(image) I'll be discussing Orlando Pulse Massacre conspiracy theories today on Press Play, a show on the Santa Monica public radio station KCRW. The program starts at 12 Pacific Time, 3 Eastern; around 10 minutes after that, I'll start chiming in. To listen live, go here. For more from me on Orlando conspiracy chatter, go here. For more from me on conspiracies in general, go here.

Update: A podcast of the program is posted here.




On the Radio Today: Jesse Walker, Mark Potok, and Michael Wood Debate Conspiracy Theories

Wed, 08 Jun 2016 09:20:00 -0400

(image) The annual Bilderberg conference, star of many a conspiracy theory, will begin tomorrow. To mark the occasion, the Philadelphia public radio station WHYY is interviewing me today to "discuss the more pervasive conspiracies, why people believe them, and how they are affecting this election cycle and the political system in general." The other guests will include the Southern Poverty Law Center's Mark Potok, whose work I have criticized from time to time, and the University of Winchester psychologist Michael Wood, who I wrote about here.

The show will air from 11 to 12 this morning, eastern time. To listen, tune in here. To get ahold of my book about conspiracy theories, go here. To see this year's Bilderberg agenda, go here. To tell me that that's not really this year's Bilderberg agenda, go here.

Update: Here's a recording of the program:

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SiriusXM Suspends Glenn Beck for Brad Thor's Comments on Trump; Brad Thor Responds to His Critics

Tue, 31 May 2016 14:08:00 -0400

SiriusXM announced today that it is suspending talk show host Glenn Beck for a week, following an interview last Wednesday in which a guest made comments that the company felt "may be reasonably construed by some to have been advocating harm against an individual currently running for office." The guest was Brad Thor, a popular novelist with conservatarian politics. In his interview, Thor compared Donald Trump to a Latin American caudillo and suggested that Trump, if president, would suspend the Constitution and seize dictatorial powers. Then came the controversial part. "It is a hypothetical I am going to ask as a thriller writer," Thor said to Beck. "With the feckless, spineless Congress we have, who will stand in the way of Donald Trump overstepping his constitutional authority as president? If Congress won't remove him from office, what patriot will step up and do that—if, if, he oversteps his mandate as president? His constitutionally granted authority, I should say, as president. If he oversteps that, how do we get him out of office?" Thor added that he doesn't "think there is a legal means available. I think it will be a terrible, terrible position the American people will be in, to get Trump out of office, because you won't be able to do it through Congress." Several people took this as a suggestion that someone should kill Trump, an interpretation Thor strenuously denies. "It's not a defense of assassination," he told Reason today. "I don't even want to see a dictatorial president assassinated. We are a republic—a nation of laws—and the greater good would be served by the despot standing trial." And if there's no trial? "Safeguarding the republic against a dictatorship is a topic of conversation that dates back to the Founders," he says. "If we had to unseat a president without the backing of the Congress, we would need a patriot along the lines of George Washington to lead the country from tyranny back to liberty." Thor's appearance on the Beck show is embedded below, with the relevant section starting shortly after the four-minute mark: width="100%" height="166" scrolling="no" frameborder="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/265875584&color=ff5500"> My thoughts: I understand why people took the words "what patriot will step up and do that" as a casting call for an assassin, but it's also true that there are forms of extralegal political action that stop well short of the Oswald option. In any event, it's clear that Thor's scenario was set not on the current campaign trail but in a hypothetical future where a president is playing Perón. If nothing else, this shows just how quickly American politics have been scrambled. If you said seven years ago that the Glenn Beck show would one day get into trouble for airing comments that were widely construed as a call to assassinate an American president, a lot of pundits would have nodded their heads sagely. But they might not have believed you if you added that the president in question would be a Republican denounced as a fascist by the same people who used to throw that sort of accusation at Glenn Beck.[...]



Before Trump, There Was Pappy

Sun, 01 May 2016 12:00:00 -0400

The Texas press didn't know what to make of Wilbert Lee "Pappy" O'Daniel, the eccentric businessman, broadcaster, and bandleader who plunged suddenly into the Democratic primary during the state's 1938 gubernatorial race. They certainly didn't expect O'Daniel to get anywhere. He had no political experience. For most of his life, he hadn't been a Democrat. He hadn't paid his poll tax, so he couldn't even vote for himself. Surely, they reasoned, the voters would instead choose one of the established leaders in the race—probably Railroad Commissioner Ernest Thompson or Attorney General William McCraw. Or maybe Tom Hunter, an oilman from Wichita Falls who had run for the office several times before. Meanwhile, O'Daniel embarked on a 20,000-mile trek across Texas. The candidate would roll into town in a long white bus with a little stage atop it. Huge crowds would swarm in to see the show: 3,000 in Colorado City, 15,000 in Cleburne, 22,000 in Austin, 25,000 in Waco. Pappy's band would play a few country tunes, and then the solidly built radio star with the slicked-back hair would join them, alternating parts of his stump speech with more songs. They come to town with their guitars/And now they're smoking' big cigars, he'd croon. Them hillbillies are politicians now. At first the papers barely noticed O'Daniel's tour through the state. (The Fort Worth Star-Telegram didn't bother to mention his massive Waco rally until three days after it happened.) When it became clear that something big was afoot, they argued that no one could tell whether the crowds consisted of supporters or just gawkers. Did those mobs actually agree with O'Daniel's vague platform? the pundits asked. Or were they only there to enjoy, in the words of the syndicated columnists Drew Pearson and Robert Allen, "a mellifluous radio voice that women gush over and a hill-billy band that delights both young and old"? When the Star-Telegram finally acknowledged that Pappy was attracting "larger and more enthusiastic crowds than any other candidate," it added that many members of those audiences were nonvoters and wondered whether the movement was a "bubble." All the while the carnival kept getting bigger, until finally it took over the Lone Star State. When the Democrats of Texas cast their ballots, O'Daniel won about 30,000 more votes than every other candidate combined. He went on to defeat the Republican (in Texas in those days, the Democrat always defeated the Republican) and moved his broadcast base into the governor's mansion. Long before Donald Trump threw his hair into the ring, Pappy O'Daniel's radio-sparked campaigns ushered in an era that effaced the lines between popular culture and politics, paving the way not just for Trump but for Jesse Ventura, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kinky Friedman, and every other politician who started with a fan base instead of an exploratory committee. If you want to know how a reality TV star can open a presidential primary season with a second-place finish in Iowa and then victories in New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada, O'Daniel's tale is a fine place to begin. 'That's What Brings 'Em In, Boys' Pappy O'Daniel was not the first man to mix mass culture with political power. William Randolph Hearst had used his newspapers to propel himself into Congress several decades earlier, and before then the circus impresario P.T. Barnum had gotten himself elected to a couple of offices in Connecticut. Nor was O'Daniel the first to use radio as a political tool. Earlier in the '30s, the broadcaster-cum-quack John R. Brinkley, best known for telling listeners he could cure their ailments by transplanting goat glands into their bodies, had run for governor of Kansas. And of course Fran[...]



Anthony L. Fisher on SiriusXM's Insight Hour Today 12p-1p ET

Wed, 27 Apr 2016 10:22:00 -0400

Tune into SiriusXM Channel 121's Insight Hour today from 12p-1p ET, where I'll be(image) riding shotgun alongside guest host and former Reasoner Michael C. Moynihan for some satellite radio shenanigans. 

Joining us will via telephone will be Canadian law professor and author of Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything?: When Celebrity Culture and Science ClashTim Caufield. Later in the hour, Reason contributor Johan Norberg dishes on socialism, Venezuela, and Bernie Sanders

We'll be taking calls, too: 877-974-7487.