Shocking You From Orbit
I love talk radio. Not the blathering idiots like Hannity, Limbaugh, and Boortz; the only thing scarier than their lack of awareness is the idea that many listeners actually use those clowns as their only source of news. No, I’m all about the shock jocks—Howard Stern et. al.—and Stern’s return to the airwaves gives me a chance to compare the three largest syndicated satellite radio shows. I get Opie & Anthony shows via subscription on Audible.com, and as for Howard Stern and Bubba the Love Sponge, I got their first shows from …3ji9…03tfe(huhi&(&H …sorry, went through a bad cell there. Where were we?
Anyway, back in the early ‘90s, I was a Stern freak. I worked in a townhouse in Alexandria, Virginia and had my own little office, meaning that I could listen to whatever I damn well pleased and didn’t have to worry about co-workers getting offended by the Butt Bongo Fiesta or whatever. When I left Alexandria, I left behind Stern, who wasn’t then broadcast nationwide; aside from a year or so that he was on while I lived in Memphis, I haven’t heard him regularly since 1993 or so.
And when I listened to Monday’s debut broadcast, it was like no time at all had passed…and that’s not a good thing. Stern was using the same sound effects, the same farts-and-strippers shtick, as he did back during the Reagan administration. It was fun to listen to, in the same way that it’s fun to listen to Winger or Slaughter or one of those other fourth-rate hair bands that I liked for ten minutes back in the late ‘80s. Unfortunately, in the intervening years, Stern has preserved all the wrong elements of his show—Robin Quivers adds nothing but snide commentary and a racial dropcloth, and Stern still doesn’t get that strippers are dull as hell to listen to on the radio. The best elements—Jackie the Jokeman’s one-liners and Billy West’s voices—are long gone, and Stern apparently has to filter every single topical story through himself. He’s no longer in touch with the majority of his listeners; he’s dining at Nobu and waking up to a magazine cover girl. And he’s trying so hard to be shocking…which is really pretty pathetic. If he settles down and makes the show comment on the world, rather than the reverse, he could have something good again…but if not, Sirius is in a lot of trouble.
My vote for best satellite radio shock jocks goes to Opie and Anthony, the New York-based duo who got fired a few years back for orchestrating a stunt where a couple had sex in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. Ooooops. Anyway, if you’re not familiar with O&A, they’re damn funny—and they aren’t obsessed with telling the world how astonishingly revolutionary they are, a la Stern. (Check out some of their clips at http://www.oavirus.com/ .) Yeah, they have their downsides—I imagine if I were anything but a straight white guy, I’d be offended by them nearly every day, and their sidekick Jim Norton has a too-limited repertoire of gay/ retarded/pedophiliac jokes. But they’re intelligent enough to offer substantive commentary on the news; they rotate out their in-jokes and wacky characters on a mandatory, regular basis; and they still pull off a pretty convincing average-dude routine, commenting on chicks, sports, and work—while still throwing out the occasional holy-crap-I-can’t-believe-they-did-that moment.
There’s also Bubba the Love Sponge, based out of Tampa but now broadcast nationwide on Stern’s Sirius Network. He splits the difference between Stern and O&A; he’s got an ego nearly as large as his gut, but he gets humility forced onto him—a guy named “Bubba the Love Sponge” isn’t going to get invited to the best parties. He’s got a good redneck tinge to him—the callers that reach him often sound like they’re phoning in from swamps—and what he knows (wrestling, football, hatred of the FCC) he knows well. But he flounders whenever he’s trying to comment on anything outside his area of expertise—he got skewered by Bob Costas on HBO a year or so back when he was trying to defend a routine slaughtering a pig live on air. And he’s got a whiff of geek-vengeance to him when he talks about hanging with football players and porn stars. But his sidekick Manson (who does the voice of angry redneck Vietnam Vet Ned Schnittt—and yes, there are three T’s) is, hands down, the sharpest and wittiest wingman on radio, and worth listening to all on his own.
Bottom line? Opie & Anthony has the best show, but Sirius is doing a much better job of putting together a total entertainment package. This’ll all change in three years or less, probably when XM and Sirius finally merge, but for now we’re out of the post-Janet Jackson wasteland and free to enjoy some good adults-only talk radio. And there ain’t no downside to that.