Editorial by John Ziegler

Bravo, Michael Smerconish!

11/28/2001

Take This Job and Shove it!

It seems that many of us dream of one day telling our employers that we don't need them any more and that they can try to find someone else to replace us. Very few of us, however, actually get the chance to achieve that rare moment of freedom. Last week, former local radio talk show host Michael Smerconish made good on his unique opportunity to do exactly that.

As a former local radio talk show host myself, I can tell you that what Smerconish did was rather remarkable and, in some ways, worthy of both notoriety and praise. Being a radio talk show host, especially in this day and age of consolidation of media companies, is hardly what it is cracked up to be. There are very few good jobs and the leverage that management has over you is both creatively and personally suffocating. In most professions the employer has the upper hand, but, largely because so many people desire to do this job that seems to require limited amount of work/talent for a significant level of glory, this reality appears to be exponentially exacerbated.

Not only does management have an enormous reserve of power over the average radio talk show host, but they also usually (partially because they are often jealous of the attention the host receives) have no hesitation in using that supremacy in an almost inhuman manner. Having worked for several of Michael's former bosses I can tell you that they were some of the worst offenders in that regard. One in particular is legendary for taking a seemingly sadistic pleasure in his torturing of hosts and creating inane rules simply to make sure everyone understands that he is in charge. No one enjoys hosting a show for the man, but very few have the courage to risk being perceived as castrated by having their precious microphone taken away from them.

This unhealthy working environment dramatically impacts what is heard on the air. In this soft advertising market hosts are under increasing pressure to bastardize their credibility by prostituting themselves for commercial interests. These same pressures have a very significant effect on the censoring of controversial or potentially unpopular statements on the part of the host. While the vast majority of the editing is self-induced (out of a need for survival), there is no doubt that certain thoughts, though extremely credible, are not commercially viable in this era of political correctness.

While I don't pretend to know exactly why Michael left WPHT, I do know that he had experienced and was irritated by these unfortunate developments. For WPHT to ludicrously and publicly argue that his ratings were not up to acceptable levels (they were an amazing success story) shows me that that they were simply afraid of dealing with a host who was becoming too strong for them to continue to comfortably control.

Because Michael certainly has the rather robust ego that is usually associated with talented individuals, he was not likely to allow himself to be diminished and disrespected, and because he happens to have several other jobs that more than pay the bills, he had the very rare option to walk. When one party is incapable of dealing from anything other than a position of unquestioned dominance and the other no longer feels the need to accept that arrangement, the relationship is sure to end. That seems to be exactly what happened here.

Now that Smerconish is at least temporarily gone from the radio airwaves (he will still have the delicious chance to walk past his old studios on the way to doing his commentaries on Channel 10), there is only one truly talented radio talk show host remaining in Philadelphia, and, sadly for most radio listeners, he does a morning show mostly devoted to sports.

Why Philadelphia, the cradle of freedom of speech and a town known for its outspoken nature, has such an incredible dearth of gifted talkers is a bit of a mystery to me. What is not nearly as mystifying is why Smerconish would no longer feel that it was worth putting up with considerable aggravation just to keep the right to get paid for speaking to callers on the radio for ten hours a week.

Like most endeavors in life, it is not nearly as easy to do well as it appears to be, and, usually not nearly as much fun as it should be.

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