Friday, August 11, 2006

WDEV's Mark Johnson: The Best of Vermont's Talk Radio

I've got the kind of job that requires talk radio. I'm a house painter, you see, and there's nothing more boring than seeing your brush go back and forth 20,000 times a day and listening to that same voice in your head over and over. No thanks. I'll take talk radio over that voice any day, and everyday I do.

WDEV's my favorite station by far - at least in the morning. And Mark Johnson's got the best show going - by far. Sure, he can get a bit bland more frequently than I'd like but he knows how to interview better than anyone else in the state. Johnson's at his best, however, when he's had a little too much of that Vermont Coffee Company coffee he flacks for. His hyper-silliness is strangely endearing in a very nerdy kind of way. You can imagine his offspring rolling their eyes and giving that youthful "Daaaaaaad," when he gets rolling into his giddy zone.

You can always count on Johnson having a more than listenable show. He usually does his homework - with the exception of the other day when he had a man named "Robin" on the show and he introduced him as being a woman. Oops. But he rolled with the blunder and came out and admitted the obvious: “I obviously haven't read your book." Or the book jacket, I might have added.

The worst thing Johnson's got going for him are his obnoxious regular callers. Good grief, where do these folks find the time - or gall - to call every single day? Worse, they say the same damn thing every time they call. Don't they know that we know what they're going to say before they say it? Hell, all I need to hear Mark say is "we've got Dick from St. Albans on the line" and I can hear Dick's rant about the big, horrible government in my head. And the same goes for "Bill in Waterbury" and his angry rants about the Constitution. Or "John in Barre," who has to begin every call with a bit of history about himself (where he worked, where he studied, how long he's been retired). Ugh.

As these all-to-frequent-callers attest to, Johnson's one-call-a-day policy is way too lax. He needs to figure out a way to shut the door on these same old, same old, same old callers, one after the other, day in and day out. Not only do they bring the show to a grinding halt, I think they prevent new callers from calling just because they don’t want to be lumped in with the caller drones. "Ew," I can hear someone saying to themselves as they dial up WDEV, "am I going to sound like THEM?"

For the most part, however, Johnson just puts up with them. I guess that's what makes Johnson such a nice guy. Until, of course, the nutcake named Brian Pearl calls him. But even Pearl gets through and gets his time to spread his hyper-right-wing paranoia. If anyone ever gets Johnson’s ire, it’s Pearl. Notice, for example, the little game the two of them have with the introductions they give themselves. Most everyone else is simply referred to by his or her first names, but Brian Pearl is introduced as "Brian Pearl." To which, Pearl responds without fail: "Hello, Mark Johnson." Oh boy, feel the tension.

Pearl doesn't have the guts to bitch about Mark to Mark, though. He knows Johnson will cut him off at his knees. Instead, Pearl waits to bitch about Mark until True North Radio begins after Mark signs off at 11. On True North, Pearl gets to fall into the rightwing arms of host Paul Beaudry, a man who is trying like hell to be Rush Limbaugh but he’s missing one key ingredient: a brain.

Last week, Pearl called Beaudry to report that he was convinced a "terrorist cell" was formed in Central Vermont and they were calling Johnson's show to foment the notion that Israel might be overreacting in its response to the kidnapping of two of its soldiers. And Beaudry latched onto it like Rush would latch onto a prescription medication, later declaring that these "terrorists sympathizers" wouldn’t be allowed on his show. Way to go, Paul! Score one for homeland security!

Other than the fact that Johnson’s listenable and Beaudry's not, there’s another big difference between the two: Johnson's paid to do his show and Beaudry pays for his hour of airtime. Trust me, WDEV’s Ken Squire is no dummy. If someone like Beaudry's going to slobber on Squire's microphone, he’s going to pay handsomely for it. I've heard that Beaudry and his rightwing supporters are paying close to $200 an hour for the chance to spew their hate on a daily basis on WDEV – the same Anthony Pollina pays for his "Equal Time" show.

And there's a reason Johnson gets paid for his work. He's damn good. And he helps me get through the morning. I just wish I wasn't on a ladder so I could give him a call once in a while. What's your excuse?