Don't belittle the little people

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The Independent Online
Every person everywhere desires self-fulfilment. And if not that, one moment in the limelight may suffice to keep some poor slob from topping himself.

Brits, more than most people, internalise their feelings, keeping that stiff upper lip in place so as not to betray the seething pain and frustration beneath their wafer-thin psyches.

Talk Radio in America, and now here, is designed not as an ego-trip for presenters (even though it often becomes so) but as an outlet for listeners' emotions and fears.

If there wasn't a market for that, it wouldn't exist. In fact, talk radio has been a staple of the broadcasting scene here for more than 15 years. It's just that before Talk Radio UK it had always been on a local level. And some presenters have been very popular.

The current crop of American radio shock jocks are actually few compared to the vast numbers of more stable and thoughtful talk-show hosts in the US. As is the case here, their goal is to give listeners a chance to have that one moment of glory. But it is also true that many US shock jocks use their shows as conservative social and political platforms. As the middle class and, therefore, the American dream melts away, the nation's white male population is seeking salvation in "old fashioned" values and a fantasy world that died in 1960.

They use people like Rush Limbaugh as radio shrinks, ready to listen and to assure them that once the Republicans are back in, peace and order will be restored.

Yet some jocks, like Limbaugh, only take positive calls. His show comprises pre-packaged adulation of Limbaugh, very much like Hitler's propaganda broadcasts: there is no discourse, no dissent.

This won't happen on Talk Radio UK. The licensing requirements state we must offer equal time to all views. Besides, since your so-called "Mother of all Parliaments" is such a bore, I'm sure we will come up with some far better forensic debate.

And then there's Miles Kington. His column, belittling the little people's small talk, sounded like something you might hear in a Tory drinking club. He obviously doesn't think there's any socially redeeming value to Talk Radio. As he said in Thursday's Independent, "It's just mindless wittering and gratuitous insults."

Granted, there may be a couple of presenters geared towards such a market. So be it. The market is there. But for the most part, Talk Radio UK shows deal with human issues and problems.

The fact that these issues (and the "mindlessly wittering" ordinary people who respond to them) may not come up to Mr Kington's standards says more about his pompous attitude than the mentality of people looking for a moment of glory.

Dan Ehrlich, London correspondent of the `New York Daily News', will present a current affairs show every Sunday (7-10am) on Talk Radio UK.