For the first three years of my show (On the Air with Richard S. Drake) we operated as a live call-in program, taking calls from any and all callers. While a certain amount of the time it was enjoyable, to be honest, I pretty much found the whole format to not only a waste of time, but also a colossal pain in the ass.
It wasn’t until I was interviewed for a documentary a few years ago that I finally told the truth about live call-ins, but I’m glad I did. For far too many callers, it is an ego trip, and many of them are not terribly knowledgable about the subject they are calling in to ask or argue about.
You really aren’t supposed to talk about this, especially if you have been involved in any aspect of live call-in shows, but it is the truth. While many conversations were a joy to take part in, many, many others were a total waste of time.
Of those who waste time the worst offenders would be those who call in, pretend to have a serious conversation, and then suddenly break into an obscenity - sometimes followed by the sounds of wild laughter.
This is part of a time honored game called “Rattle the Host.”
Sadly, it has succeeded many times over the years.
On more than one occasion, I have seen program hosts stop in the middle of a show and try to argue with such callers. Once, on a late Saturday night, while directing a show, I vainly attempted top stop two men from delivering a stern, heartfelt lecture to their tormentors, reminding them of the brave men and women who had died over the years to preserve their of speech.
I think we all recall that stirring moment in Saving Private Ryan, when Tom Hanks cried out, “For freedom and public access, boys!”
Deep, deep sigh.
Even though what may come through the telephone receiver may be offensive, and even vile on occasion, the truth is that it is rarely, if ever, meant with any real animosity. Rattle the Host is just a game, the television/radio equivalent of throwing a rock in a pond, and seeing what ripples it can create.
Knowing that and accepting it, however, are two different things. In 1993 my crew and I came up with something we called “The Shit List” to deal with obscene callers. It worked this way:
If someone called in and wanted to be connected with the studio we took their number and called them back. If, once they were connected, they popped off with an obscenity, we put their name on a list, and never returned their calls again.
Invariably, we discovered that most of such numbers connected to ether bars or fraternities.
On a couple of occasions after a show an irate host would demand that a number be added to the list, because a caller had corrected misinformation the host was spouting.”Sure,” I would say, but I never did.
In addition to the game of Rattle the Host, we also had the not-infrequent host who would come in for an hour long show with 15 minutes worth of material, and count on phone calls to get him through. Eventually, the hapless host would be covered in flop sweat, resembling nothing so much as desperate used car salesman, reciting the station’s phone number in a mad mantra, over and over again.
If I were the director, I usually let this go on till for about half an hour, then I’d ask either a camera person or someone who worked at the station to go to the break room and call-in with a question. Oddly enough, this often broke the ice, so to speak, and other, more legitimate callers, would soon follow.
In the mid-1990s our show abandoned the call-in format altogether. While it was enjoyable for the first couple of years, I tired of the stop-and-start nature of the format, interrupting a good conversation all too often merely to take a call from someone who might just ask a question which had been dealt with ten minutes beforehand.
I prefer conversation, uninterrupted by anything short of laughter on the part of the participants of a particular interview. I like to think the audience does, as well.
Quote of the Day
“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what. ― Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird