Reflections on 40 years as a talk show host
This week marks my 40th year as a radio show host.
I believe I spoke with—not to, with– more people than any living human being. Obviously some people have talked to more people than me. China’s head of state speaks to more people in a one-minute speech to his nation than I have spoken to in 40 years. But I can’t think of anyone alive who’s spoken with more people than me. Even a therapist who spoke with 10 people a day for 40 years spoke with fewer people because therapists talk to the same people over and over. I almost always spoke with different people.
Being a talk show host gave me a unique laboratory to study the human condition. This is especially true in my case. I talk about a lot of topics, politics is just one of them. I talk just as often about men and women, religion, happiness, children and just about everything that matters.
This human laboratory taught me a lot about the human condition.
Here are some examples :
No. 1: There are a lot of single people.
Ironically, talking to so many people made me realize how many people don’t have friends, people they can freely share their thoughts with. I thought single people were rare. What I discovered is that people who have real friendships are rare. No wonder the UK has a loneliness minister.
No. 2: Without speaking with so many people, I would surely be less wise. Callers (and letter writers) have made me a wiser person, and for that I am their collective debtor. One of my favorite examples is the woman who called my show to discuss the topic of one of my weekly “Happiness Hours” (the second hour every Friday): “Can you be happier than your least happy child ?”
She told me (and millions of listeners) that she had a “miserable” daughter in her thirties who had made her (the caller’s) life miserable. But one day, she came to a conclusion: “I didn’t break it; I can’t fix it. I thanked this caller profusely for helping countless people at that time – and many more who have or will hear me quote her on the radio and in speeches.
No. 3: Without speaking with so many people, I wouldn’t know which of my views are outliers. For example, decades ago I said I’d rather my teenage son smoke tobacco than weed. Hardly any caller agreed with me then – or now – on this.
Number 4: I learned how true the saying “Never underestimate people’s intelligence and never overestimate their knowledge” is true. I’ve talked to a number of stupid people – that is, people with stupid ideas – but I almost never talked to someone who I thought had a low IQ. In other words, the problem with people’s thinking is not that they lack the ability to assimilate deep and complex matters; it’s that they don’t think clearly.
No. 5: The most important quality in communication is to be interesting. It’s obvious when you first hear it, but if you ask someone to fill in the blank: “The most important quality in communication is…” most people won’t think to say “interesting”.
It’s the one thing that characterizes all talk show hosts. Left or right, whether they’re talking about politics, finance, sports or something else, they’re interesting. If you’re not interesting, you lose your audience, then you lose your job. No matter how important what you have to say, you have to get people interested first.
This is true for all forms of communication. Take music, for example. I always wondered why I preferred the interpretation of a Beethoven sonata by a pianist to that of another pianist, or the direction of a Beethoven symphony by one person rather than another. After all they play or lead exactly the same notes.
Thanks to my realization of the most important quality as a talk show host, I finally understood why I preferred the performance of one musician to another: The performance I preferred held my interest more , although I didn’t like the interpretation as much.
It is said that radio has a limited future. I have heard this for 40 years. That may be true, but talk radio’s audience is still many times that of Fox News. If it were to be gradually replaced by podcasts, it would be a waste – as much as I enjoy podcasts and do two of them myself. Hearing the voice of your fellow citizens in addition to that of the host and guests is of great importance, although I always tell newbie talk show hosts to end calls with a certain type of caller most quickly as possible: those that are not interesting. .
Even after 40 years, I love this job. Being able to tell millions of people what I think about just about anything – and getting paid well to do so – is a gift. I’m a lucky man, and I hope my listeners feel lucky too.
The opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Epoch Times.