Book Review: “Talk: A Novel” by Michael Smerconish rips the scab off talk radio
You’d think by now with its addictive impact on America, there’d be a good novel about ideological talk radio, a mega-bucks business that has enriched corporations, turned once-serious and spirited political debate into the equivalent of verbal political professional wrestling, and redefined the once-cherished concepts of consensus and compromise into dirty words among many. Some hosts have clearly undergone ideological reprogramming as they clawed their way up to the talk radio or cable talk top. [icopyright one button toolbar]
The late Oscar Levant said after hearing that World War II era singer Doris Day made her first movie: “I knew Doris Day before she was a virgin.” And so it goes with talk show hosts who may evolve as they attract an audience, say what they need to say to get them whipped up and to return again and again and deliver that demographic to advertisers.
Independent talk show host Michael Smerconish has finally written the book for those who are fascinated with talk radio and how it works — as a novel. In “Talk: A novel,” Smerconish rips the scab off the festering wound of ideological talk. To be sure, there is a plot — and a good one — centering on top Florida talker Stan Powers, his struggle with his conscience and his entry more directly into the political realm. It’s a compelling story that reads as a gripping political/media novel.
But what’s really worth the price (and more) of the book is Smerconish’s revelations about how talk works and how the audience is perceived as easy to manipulate, lead and get to tune in again and again. Tell ’em what they want — but tell it coated in big heaps of red, ideological and partisan meat.
Among my many favorite quotes about talk radio in this book my favorite is when Powers gets this piece of advice: “It’s not what you want to say, Stan, it’s what they want to hear. Always remember that.”
My second favorite quote of advice for Powers: “Three extremists are worth more than ten moderates.”
Do all talk show hosts have to be polarizing ?
The success of independent talker Smerconish suggests they don’t. The Politico once called Smerconish’s show “Talk Radio Without a Shout.” And it’s indeed different: many left and right talk show hosts are like defense attorneys or prosecutors by going after or defending their “side” in trial and in closing statements. Smerconish is more like an attorney in discovery trying to elicit information. When he began his fulltime talker career in Philadelphia in 2002 he was a conservative talk show host but he evolved — and some of the evolution was forced on him. He feels the party he loved left him.
He first irked conservatives during the 2008 campaign when he gave a positive reaction to a speech by Barack Obama and then did an even-handed interview with him on his radio show. He further angered conservativs by arguing for a more moderate Republican Party agenda. In August 2009 he interviewed President Obama from the White House, six months after his show was nationally syndicated. By 2010 he left the Republican Party.
Smerconish became a contributor to MSNBC and filled-in host for Chris Matthews on “Hardball” he moved his radio show totally over to Sirius XM satellite radio in 2013. He’s now on CNN (one of the few cable refuges for moderates, centrists and independents) and got a weekend show that was used to fill in for the unlamentably departed Piers Morgan. The advance hype for “Talk” promised that it would be”an explosive novel exposing the inner workings of conservative talk radio and campaign politics” and become the “Primary Colors” of the talk radio industry.
It is. And, therefore, many will instantly hate it, diss it, and put negative reviews on Amazon even though in some cases it’s clear they never even read it.
But Smerconish truly gets talk radio. And if you like a good political novel and are interested in what REALLY goes on in talk radio, you’ll get “Talk: A Novel.”