Monday, July 28, 2003

Report from the Heartland

On my recent inspection tour of the continental United States, I mostly inspected the mile or so on either side of various Interstates. I sampled the airwaves more adequately, however, even though with the car in drive and my mind in neutral, what was actually being said in the broadcasts didn’t stick with me. I listened as dogs listen, not to the words but to the tone of the voice. Clear Channel D.J.’s sound a trademark note on every station even when it isn’t literally the same person celebrating the vibrant personality of Amarillo, the Athens of Potter county, on Wednesday and the pioneer spirit of the old Northwest in Terre Haute two days later. On Clear Channel stations, however, it often is the same person.I could also usually tell I had tuned into right-winger talk show by the perpetual snarl. Similarly, NPR announcers almost always sound like psychiatric nurses trying to calm excitable patients. There are exceptions. The musical segues on NPR seem to feature Mongolian throat singing with remarkable frequency, and conservative commentators spend a certain part of every hour flattering their listeners as if the entire middle of the country was suffering from a perpetual crisis of low self esteem.

Travelers to this country often remark on the monotony of its commercial landscapes, the identical strip of brand name stores and restaurants plunked down in an astonishing variety of physical settings; but, to judge by the radio, anyway, America’s feelings are as franchised as the burger joints.

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