radio

Is Howard Stern, the man who gave us Butt Bongo Fiesta, evolving into a prophet for our time?

Is Howard Stern, the man who gave us Butt Bongo Fiesta, evolving into a prophet for our time?

Howard Stern gave a remarkable two-part interview last week on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross. In terms of cultural encounters, that’s interesting in and of itself.

A good many social conservatives — OK, I’ll own this — have usually found it easier to think of Stern as one of the harbingers of the apocalypse. If he was not one of the four horsemen, he was the nearly naked drunken guy dancing with abandon somewhere in the end times parade, much to the delight of those citizens who think of Mardi Gras on Bourbon Street as the cultural high point of the year.

Writing in “Prophet of All Media” for Tablet, Liel Leibovitz makes an argument that, like Stern, is provocative. Leibovitz repeatedly compares Stern to Judaism’s prophets, and he begins with an earthy tale straight out of the Talmud about a prostitute who breaks wind and delivers a related prophetic word to her client, a rabbi.

“And it’s just the sort of story that makes the seminal text of Jewish life — often introduced to young yeshiva students as an account of God’s own mind — so transcendent,” he writes. “To imbue humans with wisdom, the ancient rabbis who compiled the Talmud realized, you need more than just a commandment; if you want humans to listen and learn, you have to embrace all the appetites and the oddities that make them human. Try to talk to us about the labors of redemption, and we might scoff at such haughty moralizing or slink away from the effort it demands. Deliver it in a good yarn about a farting prostitute, and we’re bound to laugh, think, and empathize.”

Much of Leibovitz’s argument continues in this vein, leaving the impression that apart from the occasionally unkind or crude remark, Stern surely joins the farting prostitute in having a heart of gold.

In time, however, Leibovitz reaches the mother lode of his case, with a comparison for all Americans who have set NPR as the first station on the audio devices built into their automobile dashboards. Leibovitz goes so far as to compare Stern to Terry Gross — not by mentioning their most recent interview, but by comparing the cultural effects of their respective style of interviews.

This is very long, but essential. Media professionals, let us attend:

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Given the byline on this profile of radio personality Delilah, it's no surprise that it gets religion

Given the byline on this profile of radio personality Delilah, it's no surprise that it gets religion

Radio personality Delilah Rene is the queen of sappy love songs and dedications.

When my kids were younger and still rode in the same vehicle as me, we’d always listen to the “Delilah” show. Alternately, we’d be touched by her heartwarming stories and chuckle at her willingness to dole out relationship advice after multiple failed marriages.

Last year, I pitched the idea of an interview about her faith — something that was evident on the show but about which I’d never heard much — to a national editor I know. But I got no bite.

So I was pleased this week to see an in-depth profile of Rene in the Seattle Times — and one that delves nicely into the radio host’s faith.

Grab a tissue before diving in:

IT HAS BEEN more than a year since he left her: the carefree 18-year-old son with the tousled hair and crooked grin.

Zachariah Miguel Rene-Ortega’s ashes are buried under an apple tree in a planting bed shaped like a tear. “Zack’s Grove” also includes Greensleeves dogwoods, two fig trees and a wooden bus shelter with a sign stenciled in white: “Every hour I need Thee.” Scattered about the grove are little talismans left by his friends.

Zack’s mother is Delilah Rene, the most-listened-to woman in American radio. She lives with her large family on a 55-acre Port Orchard farm, along with one zebra, three emus, three dogs, four pigs, five sheep, six cats, 30 goats and dozens of chickens. A remodeled 1907 farmhouse on the property serves as her six-bedroom, 2,500-square-foot home. A multiwindowed turret on the second floor is set aside for prayer. This farm is where Zack grew up and made friends with local kids who still come over.

“Stuff just shows up,” Delilah says, standing in the rain at the grove. “I come out here and find little tokens, mementos, stakes and flags.”

She still dreams of Zack: happy, beautiful, ageless.

When asked how she gets through each day’s mix of regret and sadness, she mentions God. “I know he’s with Him,” she says. “And when my time comes, I’ll be with him.”

No, this writer isn’t afraid of faith — even complicated faith — which will become more clear if you read the whole piece in the Times’ Pacific NW Magazine.

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Lee Habeeb likes to tell human stories, but The Daily Beast smells culture wars

Lee Habeeb likes to tell human stories, but The Daily Beast smells culture wars

Lloyd Grove’s Daily Beast profile of Lee Habeeb and his Our American Stories venture in Oxford, Miss., calls to mind the aphorism that the late Clare Booth Luce kept on an embroidered pillow: “No Good Deed Goes Unpunished.”

Many conservatives consider NPR, as Grove writes, “rightly or not, as inhospitable to anything that isn’t progressive or politically correct.”

For a good example of why conservatives should entertain such thoughts, listen to Terry Gross of Fresh Air anytime she welcomes Jane Mayer as a guest. The default setting is not to have conservatives speak for themselves, but to have one writer present speculations about why conservatives do what they do.

That NPR receives any federal funding for such programming becomes doubly galling to conservatives.

Conservatives have launched hundreds of programs on talk radio since the Ronald Reagan years. The difference in Habeeb’s effort is his emphasis on storytelling instead of political arguments. It’s a rare conservative radio host who will tell the back story of “Gimme Shelter” by the Rolling Stones, remember the late character actor John Cazale or give props to the rock forerunner Sister Rosetta Tharp.

Amid this programming, Grove inquires about the funding behind Habeeb’s nonprofit foundation:

The program is produced by a tax free nonprofit that Habeeb established in 2014, American Private Radio, which is supported largely by charitable donations (a cumulative $3.3 million in tax years 2015 and 2016, as reflected on APR’s publicly available 990 forms).

The program has begun to share advertising revenue with the local stations (three minutes of commercial time per hour, vs. five minutes for the stations). Habeeb, however, refused to discuss his financial backers.

“Donors have a right to privacy. I respect it,” he said in an email, citing several court decisions that protect the anonymity of donors to nonprofits. “They like the stories, which are positive, and love that we tell stories about American history, about people like Steinway [the piano maker] and US Grant [the Civil War general and president] and so on … I am waiting to see if you take a deep dive on such matters about Pro Publica and the host of left wing non-profits that arise, and will you be scouring the 990’s of those institutions?”

It’s fair enough to bring the gimlet eye to any person, but what difference does it make if this conflict-averse content is quietly funded by the Koch Brothers, Chik fil-A or Tom Monaghan?

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More Washington Post editorial-page news: Stunning Reagan letter about faith and eternity

More Washington Post editorial-page news: Stunning Reagan letter about faith and eternity

I was never a Ronald Reagan fan. Like many blue dog, pro-life Bible Belt Democrats, I found it impossible to vote for him. One of my closest graduate school friends said that he lost his Christian faith (I am not joking) because he could not worship a God who allowed Reagan to reach the White House.

Reagan was a B-grade actor, a talented but shallow politico. Thus, I was surprised when the evidence began to emerge that Reagan did most of his own reading and writing. It turned out that all of those pre-politics Reagan radio commentaries were not produced by ghost writers and then read on the air by a PR pro. Reagan wrote them, in longhand. He wrote those punch lines. He wrote the paragraphs summarizing all of those books and journal articles.

As a Jimmy Carter-era evangelical, I also had doubts about the depth of Reagan’s Midwestern, old-school mainline Protestant faith.

I say all of that because of an amazing feature that ran the other day in The Washington Post under this headline: “A private letter from Ronald Reagan to his dying father-in-law shows the president’s faith.” It was written by editorial-page columnist Karen Tumulty.

Once again, we face a familiar question: Why was this a topic for an editorial-page feature, instead of the front page or, perhaps, in the newspaper’s large features section? Where would this feature appeared if a letter had emerged containing revelatory information about Reagan’s views on the Soviet Union, his thoughts on aging or even his views on abortion?

Don’t get me wrong. This is a fine essay and the subject material is gripping. The overture:

Something tugged at Ronald Reagan on that otherwise slow August weekend in 1982.

“Again at the W.H.,” the president noted in his diary. “More of Saturdays work plus a long letter I have to write to Loyal. I’m afraid for him. His health is failing badly.”

Loyal Davis, Reagan’s father-in-law and a pioneering neurosurgeon, was just days away from death.

Something else worried Reagan: The dying man was, by most definitions of the word, an atheist.

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Turn your radio on, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Maybe there's a holy 'ghost' at this radio station

Turn your radio on, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Maybe there's a holy 'ghost' at this radio station

There's no denying that the media world continues to undergo changes at just about every level. And while it's rare, sometimes those stories include what we GetReligionistas call a holy "ghost" -- a nonreported (or underreported) religion angle

The reality of one such "ghost" shows up over at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, where the story of a local AM radio station's pending demise caught my eye. KQV-AM, an all-news station for 42 years, will cease broadcasting at the end of the year, the paper reported.

It wasn't until a reader gets nine paragraphs into the story that some curious words emerge, phrasing from owner Robert W. Dickey, Jr., suggesting there may have been something else involved than just reading headlines and reaping profits:

As FM became the primary radio format to hear rock or other music, KQV in 1975 became one of a number of stations nationally switching to an all-news-all-the-time format. Mr. Dickey’s father, the late Robert W. Dickey Sr., was a station manager who got financial backing from billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife to form Calvary Inc. and purchase the station from Taft Broadcasting in 1982. ... 
The news format, due to the salary costs of the necessary number of reporters, editors and announcers involved, is much more costly than music programming on radio, Mr. Dickey said. At the same time, the media industry in general has been suffering from a drop in advertising by major retailers and others. Mr. Dickey said he did not consider a format change at the station because of his family’s longtime focus on delivering news as a mission.
“We perceived the world of reporting on the news as a sacred one,” he said. “What made this worthwhile is not that we were making money, but that we were doing something important.”

Having hung around radio people in New York City at around the time KQV-AM switched its format, I can tell you that few newscasters would've described their work as a "mission" or "sacred."

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Historian George Marsden revisits C.S. Lewis’s remarkable case for 'Mere Christianity'

Historian George Marsden revisits C.S. Lewis’s remarkable case for 'Mere Christianity'

The latest offering in Princeton University Press’s splendid “Lives of Great Religious Books” series is “C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity: A Biography” by front-rank historian George Marsden.

Without debate, Lewis’s classic has been the most popular explanation and defense of the Christian faith the past six decades, and Marsden is just about the perfect guy to analyze this remarkable book.

“Mere” had modest sales upon its 1952 release but eventually developed quite astonishing popularity(3.5 million copies sold in English since the 21st Century began, available in at least 36 other languages). That’s a good story that many media have treated. If yours hasn’t, then the Princeton event offers the perfect peg.

This theme was so familiar that The Religion Guy’s news expectations were slim when he idly scanned a review copy. Then Marsden magic and readability kicked in and The Guy couldn’t put it down. After all, Marsden’s award-winning “Jonathan Edwards: A Life,” somehow managed to make the great Colonial theologian’s prolix writings understandable, and as intriguing as his life story.

Lewis “does not simply present arguments; rather, he acts more like a friendly companion on a journey,” Marsden says. He “points his audiences toward seeing Christianity not as a set of abstract teachings but rather as something that can be seen, experienced, and enjoyed as the most beautiful and illuminating of all realities.” 

What underlies the stunningly wide impact of “Mere Christianity”?

Marsden describes: (1) timeless truths not limited by culture, (2) common human nature that reaches readers, (3) reason put in the context of experience and affections, (4) poetic imagination, (5) the “mere” aspect, focusing on what all Christian branches believe, (6) no “cheap grace” and (7) “the luminosity of the Gospel message itself.”

“Mere” originated not as a book but brief BBC Radio talks to Britons in the pit of World War Two that were then issued as three small books.

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Sensing a ghost on NPR: So why did that white DC suburban family move to Anacostia?

Sensing a ghost on NPR: So why did that white DC suburban family move to Anacostia?

Truth be told, it's hard for your GetReligionistas to do much in the way of blogging about news reports that show up in media settings other than digital print or in video reports that make it into the sprawling universe called YouTube.

Take visual media, for example. When it comes to covering television news reports, we have found that the software gods rarely get along. It is rather hard, in some online platforms, to embed videos from the major video newsrooms. We are talking Tower of Babel level coding issues here, unless something -- like I said -- ends up on YouTube. Sigh.

And then there is radio. Luckily, NPR has a fantastic website that handles most of its content in a multi-platform manner, offering news consumers print versions of reports or transcripts of what went out on the air. That really helps.

But here is a case in which a faithful GetReligion reader who lives in DC Beltway-land thought she heard a religion-news ghost slip past during a feature on WAMU (American University Radio) in Washington, D.C.

If you follow the link she sent us, you hit a wonderful audio-only "Anacostia Unmapped" feature with this headline: "Meet The New Neighbors." ... You really need to listen to this piece in order to "hear the ghost." So click here and do so, please.

OK, what was the key moment?

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