Five years ago, the late David Foster Wallace wrote a profile of political talk radio host John Ziegler, delving into the peculiarities of the job. “To appreciate these skills and some of the difficulties involved, you might wish to do an experiment,” Wallace wrote.
Five years ago, the late David Foster Wallace wrote a profile of political talk radio host John Ziegler, delving into the peculiarities of the job.
“To appreciate these skills and some of the difficulties involved, you might wish to do an experiment,” Wallace wrote.
“Try sitting alone in a room with a clock, turning on a tape recorder, and starting to speak into it. Speak about anything you want — with the proviso that your topic, and your opinions on it, must be of interest to some group of strangers who you imagine will be listening to the tape. …
“Ideally, what you’re saying should be not just comprehensible and interesting but compelling, stimulating, which means that your remarks have to provoke and sustain some kind of emotional reaction in the listeners, which in turn will require you to construct some kind of identifiable persona for yourself — your comments will need to strike the listener as coming from an actual human being, someone with a real personality and real feelings about whatever it is you’re discussing,” Wallace wrote.
Rod Blagojevich began his one-time stint as a radio host at about nine minutes after 7 a.m. Wednesday morning, on Chicago’s WLS-AM.
“Good morning, this is uh, guh — former Governor Rod Blagojevich,” he said, speaking over the JXL remix of Elvis Presley’s “A Little Less Conversation.”
“How are you, and this is a time for a little more conversation and a little less action.”
For the next two hours — between commercials, news reports, traffic and weather — Blagojevich took jabs at fellow Democrats such as Gov. Pat Quinn and House Speaker Michael Madigan, and dredged up old talking points about taxation in Illinois.
He joked with two actors from The Second City comedy group, and heard words of support from comedian D.L. Hughley.
And he showed that — sorry, Blagojevich haters — he may have a future in talk radio.
It turns out Blagojevich’s ability to shut out the world and repeat the same talking points — honed over years in politics — are well suited to talk radio demagoguery.
“Now I know that most people have no idea who their lawmakers are,” Blagojevich said in a rant shortly after 8 a.m.
“I also know that most people have no idea what happens in a faraway place like Springfield, when these politicians go there, and they’re surrounded by all the lobbyists and the special interests, and then they listen to them, they act on the stuff the lobbyists want, and the people back home who elected them? ‘We’ll screw ’em — we’re gonna pay for all this by raising taxes,’” the former governor said, using the salty language made famous after his arrest in December.
Yes, it’s the same sort of thing Blagojevich has been saying for years. But what’s fascinating is the way in which he said it.
As he spoke, his voice was rising, getting louder and more impassioned. By the time he was imploring people to “learn who your lawmakers are,” he was speaking rapidly, almost spitting the words out.
When actor Joey Bland met the man he portrays in Second City’s “Rod Blagojevich Superstar,” he said it was surreal: “I feel like Laurence Olivier meeting Hamlet.”
When Bland invited Blagojevich to see the show, the former governor shot back: “Well Joey, let me paraphrase 'Hamlet' — to see the show or not see the show, that is the question.” Blagojevich made no commitment either way.
None of this excuses any wrongdoing Blagojevich is alleged to have committed while in office.
And were he to make a go of it in radio, he’d need some new talking points (the tax rant felt like a flashback to 2007’s fight over the gross receipts tax).
The point is that America, F. Scott Fitzgerald notwithstanding, is ripe with opportunities for second acts.
Whether it’s after an acquittal or after time in the federal pen (assuming he’s ever formally indicted), Blagojevich seems to have a voice for radio.
Brian Mackey can be reached at email@example.com.