As many of you know, over the years I've done "point-counterpoint" talk radio shows, off and on, with Pat Buchanan and Oliver North as a way to promote Americans United in the media.
In recent times, I did a weekly broadcast with North every Friday afternoon. We sparred over lots of issues during that time and had a lot of fun. But recently, the colonel decided it was time to retire from the radio business. I was about to hang up my microphone too when an opportunity that was too good to pass up crossed my path.
Americans United was given the chance to sponsor a one-hour program each weekday afternoon on a new radio station, KCAA in Los Angeles, 1050 AM. The slot open was 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. Pacific Time. I jumped at the chance.
This new show puts me in the driver's seat. Instead of bantering with right-wingers, I can do solo shows on topics that are important to me and, I hope, to you. The new program is called "Cultureshocks." With some luck, it may be coming soon to a station near you, or failing that, you can check it out on the Internet.
Talk radio is still wildly popular and still dominated by right-wing screechers. When they're not pushing the far-right line, talk radio programs too often waste valuable air time with endless chatter about lurid, high-profile crimes, fluff about celebrities or loud-mouthed "shock jocks" whose main goal seems to be to offend as many people as possible in as short a time as possible.
Serious talk often gets bumped off the airwaves entirely. This includes issues of great personal or constitutional significance and people with things to say who are infrequently heard.
We're talking about these issues on "Cultureshocks." Why does President Bush's faith-based initiative pose a threat to faith communities? Brent Walker, director of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, talked about this topic in an entertaining, yet informative, way for the non-commercial 42 minutes in my hour. Dr. Eugenie Scott, head of the National Center for Science Education, explained why creationism is not science, and David Berliner of Arizona State University told listeners why public schools are better, not worse, than they were in the '50s. So far, more than 30 guests have joined me on the air for spirited, informative talk.
Why do so many Americans accept the political extremism peddled by TV preachers? Michael J. Gelb, author of How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day, explained how people learn to think critically and what can go wrong when they don't.
How did an uninformed, uncredentialed character assassin like Ann Coulter became a news commentator despite her non-historical "research"? Coulter critic Brendan Nyhan explained it all. Sadly, Nyhan told me he had never been invited to be on a radio show other than mine!
But "Cultureshocks" isn't just the "Barry Lynn Hour." I've had fun giving a few conservatives, like pop culture critic Michael Medved and Eagle Forum director Lori Waters, a chance to explain their views of the world. I'm not afraid of listeners having another viewpoint, as long as it is challenged when it heads off base. And on "Cultureshocks," it is every time.
Please be advised, I've never wanted to be an alternative to Rush Limbaugh. But my hope is that for an hour a day we can explore big ideas with reasonable rigor, a little humor and a desire to educate as well as entertain.
It's always hard to gauge success with a new venture like this, but we've had some positive feedback, at least from guests. An author of a book about sexuality in advertising wrote me immediately after his show to say that I asked the best questions he'd ever heard. The chief lobbyist for a public-interest computer privacy group said, "It was so rare for anyone to have done any homework." I'm glad for that feedback.
The company that owns the station, Talk One, provides a variety of weekend programs around the country, and they've already incorporated a "best of" hour of my show each Sunday. They will soon launch a campaign to syndicate the Los Angeles daily hour to other outlets around the country. We'll let you know how you might push for entry into the radio market where you live. In the interim, the show's website, www.cultureshocks.com, is up and running and will archive commercial free-versions of each show a few days after they air on the radio.
The face of radio is changing. New technologies, such as satellite-based networks, have enabled people to bypass the mindless chatter, shout shows and right-wing bombast and have the programs, entertainment and information they want beamed right into their cars, homes and offices. In addition, the Internet offers a worldwide audience, available to anyone with a modem.
I'm convinced there is an audience for serious, substantive talk radio. The numbers may not rival Howard Stern's audience, but fans of thoughtful conversation are out there. I want to reach them through "Cultureshocks" and make them aware of Americans United and the work we're doing.
I hope you hear me on the air soon. And if you do, give me a call for some thoughtful talk radio for a change!
Barry W. Lynn is executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.