Sure, if you get your jollies hearing jokes about environmentalists, the poor, and the disenfranchised you probably can’t stop slapping your knee during the Rush Limbaugh program. But in general there’s not a lot of wit on talk radio lately. For the most part, the talk radio format has become a humorless void of political grandstanding and smearcasting. Blame the right wing morons for turning an entertainment medium into a barren kiosk of propaganda.
Lionel’s show originates from WOR-AM here in New York City, but it’s syndicated nationwide. In fact, the radio mega-corporation Clear Channel has been gradually creating new “progressive talk” stations, which feature Air America programming, and Lionel’s show is often tucked into the schedule. Which is strange in a way, because Lionel isn’t really a political talk show host at all.
He makes it clear on his show, he is NOT a liberal. However, he is most certainly a lawyer and an eccentric raconteur with a wacky vocabulary and an acid wit. On the side, he takes on a few stand-up comedy gigs too.
I’ve listened to Lionel for a long time, and traditionally he focuses his quirky intellectual laser beam on legal issues in the news, as well as sex and “news of the weird" kind of stuff. Actually, almost any topic is fair game. If it’s strange, titillating, or pisses him off, he’ll talk about it. But lately, Lionel is a little less lighthearted than he used to be. The war in Iraq and the war-promoting lockstep rightward march of talk radio has REALLY pissed him off. Yet, it seems to have made his show a little better. He may have the perfect temperament for relaying really bad news and trying to make sense of it.
While he’s not really a lefty, his opposition to the Bush agenda has made his show a good complement to Air America's programming. Although they’re doing a fine job providing an oasis of liberal talk and a significant radio news portal, Air America isn’t always easy listening. With all that information and attitude, the listener is also subjugated to occasional waves of hysteria and raw anger that can be hard to take.
To be fair, when it comes to Bush and the war I’ve been known to exhibit a bit of hysteria and raw anger myself, (I’d like to think I do a better job of venting than Janeane Garofalo) but even I can only take so much naked fury coming out of my radio.
Lionel however, keeps his cool. The only histrionics you hear on his show comes from the callers. Instead of ratcheting up the emotional content of the show when he gets an obnoxious or irate call, Lionel handles each situation with aplomb. As a lawyer, he knows how to let fools prove themselves foolish. And his firm grasp of talk radio dynamics have made him a master of mercilessly poking fun at call-in knuckleheads (or any caller really) without getting them too upset about it. A concise definition of Lionel’s radio persona– gracious spirited smart ass. And perhaps another reason Lionel is so good with the phones is that he got his start in radio as a caller himself.
Back in the 1980's, there was a golden era of South Florida talk radio, when legendary radio hosts like Neil Rogers and Bob Lassiter perfected the talk format as “theater of the mind” broadcasting. (Air America’s Randi Rhodes came out of that same scene.). Over the years, Lionel became one of the most well known caller’s on shows like Lassiter’s. In an unprecedented move, the program director at WFLA in Tampa let him come in and try his hand as a talk radio host in the late 80's He soon had a regular gig there, which eventually led to a stint at talk radio giant WABC in New York in 1993.
Lionel came into his own as a talk host doing afternoon drive at WABC. Funny and unpredictable, Lionel was the opposite of the dour talk-corpse he replaced, Bob Grant. However, when they put Lionel on in the morning with Mike Gallagher, who must have the second lowest IQ in talk radio (But I don’t think anyone on the air is dumber than Michael Reagan), it was a HUGE mismatch. Within months Lionel was gone. After a brief career fling with Court TV Lionel went solo, syndicating his own radio program from New York.
If you had to pinpoint Lionel politically, he’s more or less a contrarian libertarian with a passion for individual rights. Actually, before the Iraq War started, Lionel supported the invasion. While not beating the war drums like most right-wing hosts were at the time, he was still a New Yorker shaken up by 9-11. And like a lot of Americans, back in 2003 Lionel admits that he still harbored some irrational bloodlust leftover from the terrorist attacks. Also like so many, he assumed that the Bush Administration wouldn’t launch a big bloody war without some damn good reasons. Oops.
While the recent revelation of the Downing Street Memo seems to prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that the war was started under false pretenses, it’s been obvious for a long time that the Bush Administration has been less than honest-- conducting policies that have not only have killed and maimed many thousands, but has also made us LESS safe than we were before the terrorist attacks.
And what makes Lionel different from the Air America roster and new batch of lefty talk hosts out there, is that there’s a real “everyman” quality to his take on the war. On his own, he came to realize the war wasn’t just a big mistake, but that it is an ongoing outrage committed in our name AND that we are being lied to about it (or diverted from it) everyday. And while his program is often cobbled together with Air America programming, Lionel is also broadcasted on stations which carry bloodthirsty racists like Bob Grant and Michael Savage (like WOR here in New York). And he must REALLY piss off some of the listeners of those radio stations. I like that. Sometimes WOR lets him fill in for Bob Grant in the afternoon. Now that’s FUN.
So as a little gift to you, here’s a commercial-free mp3 of Lionel’s show from last Friday. It’s one of his more serious programs, specifically about the Iraq War. While he’s as likely to do a show about porn, a celebrity trial, or music (unfortunately his taste in music isn’t so hot– he thinks Chicago was a great band), he also can dig right into a political topic, without screaming, yelling, or foaming at the mouth. (And Mike Malloy, please calm down. I hate them too, but...)
Also, if you haven’t heard Air America in the morning, check out Morning Sedition. After a rocky start, they jettisoned the lame British broad and the comic insanity of Marc Maron has taken center stage. Here’s the unofficial site for Air America archives, including Morning Sedition. Also, if your interested in giving a listen to some of the other anti-war voices in talk radio (Yes there are a few now, besides the Air Americans), check out The White Rose Society.
Sadly, there is no site currently hosting archives of the Lionel Show. Although for those of you who know how to download binaries from Usenet, I’ve seen archives posted in this group– alt.binaries.sounds.radio.misc.
You can see a list of all the affiliates that carry his program, and you can find a number of stations there which stream Lionel’s show live as well. It’s usually broadcast on Monday thru Friday from 10pm to 1am eastern time. Here in New York, they only play the last two hours starting at 11pm on 710 WOR-AM.
I like Air America, and I hope they succeed on every level. These are dire times, and there is a real need for leftist voices to be heard in talk radio, and the massive propagandist lies of Hannity, Limbaugh and the snorting droves of talk pigs must be challenged. But it’s equally important for talk radio listeners to hear from someone who ruminates on current affairs with logic and wit, unfettered by party politics. And if the talk host happens to be a radio professional AND mischievous AND congenial, all the better. We need to laugh. We need common sense. We need Lionel.