The Lighthouse Theater on Manhattan's upper east side was jammed packed Saturday afternoon for what Talkers magazine's founder Michael Harrison billed as "the most important session" of the annual gathering of talk show hosts from across the nation. Not surprisingly Al Sharpton stood the event up, didn't bother calling, and must not have felt it was all that significant that Harrison himself - the greatest advocate of talk radio on the planet - had personally invited him to be one of a panel of six to slice and dice talk radio, race, and the future - perhaps especially significant in light of Barack Obama's possible upcoming presidency.
By my estimation there was one conservative, one center-left moderate, and four liberals on the panel. The task was simple: to engage in a discussion of ideas as to how non-dominant voices could be used in the medium of talk radio today.
Ideas to be covered included: should there be minority focused radio, how should minority voices be integrated into general market radio (radio that all people groups access), and other unique elements as it related to talk radio and race.
Larry Young of WOLB in Baltimore went first and commented on the influence and comfort of working in talk radio - following a 23 year career in the Maryland legislature. Lincoln Ware of WDBZ in Cincinnati went next and immediately began to attack the influence of Sean Hannity, repeatedly and without mercy. Sunny James, an African American female podcaster from DC followed - pinch-hitting for the blind-date no-show Sharpton, she mostly listened and promoted her own ability to fill in for other people. But she had seriously been put on the spot, and had no prepared remarks. Jesse Lee Peterson who hosts a syndicated show was the lone conservative on the panel, and remarked that he found it odd that Al Sharpton would not be there but that it didn't surprise him. Peterson went on to insist that minority focused ownership, programming, and promotion did not serve well the greater purpose of bringing people together.
When Peterson invoked that name of Sharpton and later Jesse Jackson he irritated the remaining two panelists Charles Ethridge a weekend co-host on New York's KISS-FM, and Coz Carlson WWRL's morning host also based in New York. Immediately the scene turned into five on one.
Immediately Mr. Ethridge claimed "racism" in the agencies that "buy" black owned stations, and what they are willing to spend as compared to "white" stations. Claiming that the "system" allowed stations who performed better in the ratings to only "earn" .92 for the "earnings" of 1.27 for "white" stations.
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