Tuesday, February 17, 2004

'Coming up this hour, an exclusive interview with George W. Boosh'

The Atlantans among you are no doubt familiar with our town's two news/talk radio stations - Cox-owned WSB-AM (750) and Clear Channel-owned WGST-AM (640). And if you follow the media, you know that WSB consistently crushes WGST and has for years. Anybody remember "Planet Radio"?

There have been signs lately that Clear Channel is getting absolutely desperate. Saddled with a 100-watt nighttime signal, WGST can't reach the suburbs after sunset, so Clear Channel recently turned its FM "80s station" into a second talk station, much to the dismay of my wife.

And recently I've started to see (illegal) little blue signs stuck in the ground near busy intersections which read "For traffic information, tune to 640 AM." The signs are obviously put up by WGST, but they have no branding. The station apparently wants to get listeners by making people think there's some situation that requires them to tune in to 640. Pathetic.

However, on my way in to work, I often tune in to WGST's morning program before Neal Boortz begins at 8:30 on WSB. The WGST morning show is way better than the headline-reading boredom that is the WSB morning program.

One of the things I like is that at 8:23 every morning, WGST has an interview with some kind of "news maker". On Mondays, for instance, they always have Steve Roberts from ABC News on to talk politics. And during the NFL season, they had John Madden on every Friday to preview the Falcons and other weekend games.

Or so I thought.

This morning they featured an interview with a guy named Frank Caliendo, who is a comedian/impressionist appearing at some local comedy club. But the interview began with this intro: "Welcome back John Nadden, who you hear every week during the football season."

That's right. John "Nadden". Not Madden. Nadden.

I remember thinking Madden sounded particularly incoherent during those WGST interviews, but I also very clearly remember that his appearances were never, ever, labeled as satire, the work of an impressionist or anything of the sort. It was always "joining us is John Nadden" (which, of course, is not distinguishable from "joining us is John Madden" on the radio.)

But they had a big laugh about the "Nadden" appearances on WGST.

It turns out this Caliendo dude appears on Fox Sports as Madden, Rush Limbaugh and other characters to give weekly NFL picks.

On TV, of course, the comedy/satire context is clear. Even so, Fox clearly labels these bits as "Frank's Picks" and makes it clear that he's doing impressions. Which is what you'd expect of a legitimate media outlet.

WGST, it seems, is not burdened by those same kinds of standards. It was ironic that on the same morning they laughed about Caliendo's "John Nadden" appearances, they were oh-so-careful to explain that they are reporting that Alex Polier is denying an affair with John Kerry only because that rumor had, itself, become a story.

Caliendo and Tom Hughes (the WGST morning show host) were quite amused by the fact that AJC sports editor Furman Bisher was so taken in by the fake Madden that he included a bit in his column about being glad football season is over so he won't have to listen to Madden on WGST.

They explained that the actual John Madden is not very happy about the WGST ruse. Hughes' defense was "hey, we never said he was John Madden. He's John Nadden!"

Again, this seemed to surprise them. Who cares if a major-market radio station supposedly presenting "news" passes off a comedian as the country's most respected NFL personality and goes out of its way to not reveal it's a joke?

So maybe it was James Curville who provided the post-Iowa analysis a few weeks back. And perhaps it's Paul Hervey doing those Paul Harvey segments; Rush Limpaugh airing everyday from noon to three and Dr. Maura on in the evenings.

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