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Media: April 2013

| April 1, 2013

This is my first column as the media critic for Illinois Entertainer, and I’m very excited to be joining a publication I’ve been reading for 30 years. Those of you familiar with my history know that the media has been my life’s work: as a participant, an observer, and a critic. If you aren’t familiar with me, let me introduce myself.

I was a radio producer in Chicago for 17 years, working alongside radio legends like Steve Dahl and Garry Meier and John Records Landecker. My experience as a producer gave me insight into the inner workings of a radio show – the personality clashes, the struggles with management, and most importantly, the incredible amount of work that goes into doing a personality talk show of any kind. I wrote a whole book about it – The Radio Producer’s Handbook (Allworth Press, 2004) – with fellow producer John Swanson.

I was also a disc jockey for seven years at The Loop (WLUP-FM, 97.9) in Chicago (in the late ’80s, early ’90s), and I have a great appreciation for music radio. I don’t think the DJ is an unnecessary interruption from the pure music experience. On the contrary, I believe they are essential to the past, present, and future of radio. We’re lucky in Chicago to be blessed with some of the greatest jocks in the country, and I consider it part of my job description to share their names and stories with you. I did this with pride for more than five years on my blog, Chicago Radio Spotlight, and I did this in longer form recently with Records Truly Is My Middle Name (Eckhartz Press, 2013) – a book I co-wrote with Landecker.

My focus with this column will not just be with radio, however. I’ll also be covering, following, and reporting on television. I’m lucky to have worked for and with many local television personalities and journalists over the years. I’ve written for them, written about them, booked them on the radio shows I produced, and appeared on their shows. There’s something truly amazing about watching a great broadcast journalist in action, just as there is comedic value in witnessing those who keep the spirit of Ted Baxter (“The Mary Tyler Moore Show”) and Ron Burgundy (Anchorman) alive.

But I think my most important asset as a media critic has actually been developed in the years since I left radio. I studied the financial side of the business in excruciating detail while I was working on my satirical novel, $everance (ENC Press, 2007), and I studied the “advocacy journalism” of cable news and political talk radio. I was slightly disgusted by what I found, but trust me, it wasn’t evidence of a vast political or financial conspiracy, and it wasn’t widespread political bias in the media.

I will, however, admit to a few biases of my own . . .

•    I’m pro-talent
I have a soft spot for great talent and the talent behind the talent, but I have a very low tolerance for blowhards. I won’t hesitate to take them to task when they blow a little too hard or take themselves too seriously.

•    I’m anti-mogul
The media moguls, and the bankers that control the media conglomerates’ ridiculous debt loads, are constantly under my surveillance. I know I’m just one voice, but I will happily remain a burr under their saddles. (By the way, if you want to read the most narcissistic book ever written, check out Sumner Redstone‘s A Passion To Win. I’m convinced that the editors at Simon & Schuster – also owned by Redstone – intentionally didn’t edit his thoughts so the whole world could find out what kind of a boss he was.)

•   I’m an F.C.C. skeptic
The Federal Communications Commission is constantly trying to slip a new rule by us while we aren’t paying attention. Unfortunately for them, I’m always paying attention. I consider the deregulation of the media in 1996 the single biggest reason the business is now a shell of its former self, and for some reason, the F.C.C. seems to have learned zero lessons from this mistake.

•    My B.S. detector does not have an off switch
I’ve heard so much of it in my career, my eyes roll on their own.

•   I’m not ratings-obsessed
One thing my 20-plus years working in broadcasting taught me was ratings ebb and flow, and you can’t overreact to someone’s good or bad ratings in the short term. Only long-term ratings trends are real stories.

•    I always follow the money
Whenever there’s an inexplicable decision in the media, I follow the money. Whenever there’s a show or station going downhill suddenly, I follow the money. The answer nearly always lies there.

I’ll climb off my soapbox now. Starting next month, I’ll begin introducing you to the people I believe are making a difference in the media – either good or bad. I want to thank IE for giving me this opportunity and wish the previous media critic, Cara Jepsen, the very best in her future endeavors.

— Rick Kaempfer

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Category: Columns, Media, Monthly

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Comments (2)

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  1. Rick,
    Excellent first column. Keep your biases. They are perfect.


  2. Karen Riha says:

    At last, a voice of reason as to the condition of the “lamestream media.”
    The “author’s note” at the end of $everance was precedent.