A few years ago the city of Fayetteville honored On the Air with a special On the Air with Richard S. Drake Day proclamation.
There is no expiration date on the bottom; I’ll go on celebrating the day (sometimes publicly, sometimes not) every year from now on.
OTA began way in the pre-Y2K days as a simple call-in show on July 1, 1991. And when I say simple, I mean really simple. It turns out the station (Fayetteville Open Channel) didn’t have one of those nifty little boxes from Radio Shack that you can turn on and talk to folks who call you hands-free.
So on that first show, which had Washington County JP Joe Robson as a guest, I had to listen to the question asked by the caller, and then repeat it back to him - sort of like a particularly cheesy episode of Ghost Whisperer.
Later, after a trip to Radio Shack, things got a little more professional looking.
The show came about during one of the most politically intense periods in Fayetteville’s history (well, except for the Civil War, I suppose) and most of the interviews - as now - tended to be political in nature. I began to become bored, even though those who watched the show for political reasons weren’t.
On a professional program, you have people who book guests for you. On a little show (and it’s still a little show, no matter how big my ego gets sometimes) the responsibility is still pretty much mine. With a handful of exceptions, I have been responsible for contacting people and asking them if they’d they’d like to be on the show - after telling them what the show actually was, for those who never watched it, or had heard of it.
For someone who has battled a crippling shyness (to the point where folks accuse me of being arrogant) all of his life - this has gone a long way towards overcoming a great deal of that.
After a time I thought it might be fun to have others who weren’t as rabidly political as some of my other friends were on the show. I had the folks on who like to dress up in medieval costumes, and we had a great sword battle on live TV.
These were the days of the Great Access War of 1991/1992 (ask your grandparents) and On the Air with Richard S. Drake found itself bounced from studio to studio to studio.
Around 1995 we stopped going live (for a variety of reasons) and just concentrated on taping the show. There had been those who were telling me that doing the show as a call-in was a “public service,” and that abandoning that format was a terrible disservice to the citizens of Fayetteville.
Well, I always suggested to the folks who lectured me this way:
“If you feel that strongly, do you own call-in show.”
The reason for dropping call-ins was simple, in the end. All too often, callers just wanted to hear themselves talk, or argue with the guest, or ask a question that had been dealt with 20 minutes before.
And yeah, there were the obscenities, but you just ignored those. It was like a game - Rattle the Host - and you learned not to respond. Horribly, during one show I directed years ago, the host and co-host took it upon themselves to lecture the callers about the sacrifices that men and women had made in war time, securing their right to free speech.
Despite my frantic efforts to get them to move on, they talked - and talked - and talked.
It was, of course, like a red flag to a bull. Even more obscene calls came in, and the host/co-host simply could not believe that their calls to patriotism had not shamed the callers into silence.
I discovered that I really liked talking to these people I was lucky enough to have the studio, and to have the thread of conversation interrupted by a call that was often inane, or politically motivated upset that flow of conversation.
Sturgeon’s Law says that 90 percent of everything is crap, and that includes my show. But I like to think that somewhere in that ten percent are some damn good conversations that the audience has enjoyed.
I know that I have.
As much as I’d like to take the credit for my show all to all myself . . .
My current director/editor is C.F. Roberts, also known as “The Most Dangerous Man in Fayetteville,” who who has been responsible for making a silk’s purse out of a sow’s ear on more than one occasion.
He stands at the head of a long line of people who have put with my eccentricities over the years, and my mouth opening and something truly stupid emerging.
The best bit that never made it on the air
We did a show a few years ago on juvenile Diabetes, with two mother/daughters, and the problems they faced in their lives after the diagnosis of Type I Diabetes.
Suddenly, in the middle of the interview, I asked, “So what was it like for you both to discover that your daughters were pregnant?”
Where was I at that moment? Imagining applying for the Maury Povich show?
We all laughed and went on.
I’ve got that master tape somewhere, along with my past life regression, a program which will never air ever, ever again . . .
Oh, to be a Democrat in Arkansas now that Gordon Thornsberry is an elected official!
“It is better to vote for the worst Democrat than the best Republican. America will be ahead. I’m giving people permission to vote for ‘ol Aden.” - Pope County Justice of the Peace Gordon Thornsberry, quested in Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (July 7, 2012)
Maybe there’s something about being a JP in Pope County which gives someone an inflated sense of their own self-importance. Then again, who knows? Maybe there were actually people waiting for Thornsberry to say it was okay to vote for Aden.
In 2012, Dick Cavett would be over-qualified to be a talk show host
Some time back it was a great pleasure to discover that TCM was running classic episodes of the old Dick Cavett show, featuring interviews with actors and directors like Alfred Hitchcock and Katherine Hepburn, among others. When I first began doing my own talk, Dick Cavett was one of my role models; he showed us that a talk show could be both intelligent and entertaining.
With that in mind, fans of Cavett may want to locate the book he co-wrote with Christopher Porterfield, titled simply Cavett. It’s a fascinating look “behind the scenes” of the best talk show America has ever produced, bar none. Yes, it’s long out of print, but that’s what libraries and used bookstores were made for.
Living as we are in a time when reality TV “stars” become talk show hosts, it’s nice to look back on a time when people actually not paid their dues, but knew what the hell they were talking about when they opened their mouths.
Quote of the Day
For every complex, intriguing, engaging, well-scripted, brilliantly acted drama on television, there are 63 cheaply made reality shows killing time and watched by viewers who don't so much want to invest in TV as have it wash over them. - Michael Storey, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (January 13, 2009)