Talk show host, comedian, attorney, and political analyst Lionel is this week’s guest on Real Politik. He discusses his participation in the origins of contemporary talk radio, a long fascination with political conspiracies, the decline of broadcast journalism, the return of Howard Beale, how courtrooms can resemble comedy clubs, and much more.
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A veteran broadcaster and pioneer podcaster, Lionel has consistently been the Number One rated talk host during his time in New York. Talkers Magazine listed him in the HEAVIEST HUNDRED: The 100 most important radio talk show hosts of all time. He’s also been included in Talkers Frontier Fifty as an outstanding talk media webcaster.
“When I ventured into regular classic terrestrial radio in 1988,” he recalls, “when it was great–when it was really burgeoning and exploding. I was a caller for many years and, to make a long story, very, very short, I was asked to try my hand to just come in and do a Sunday show in October, 1988. [Then in ] January of 1989 I did mid-days nine until noon in Tampa. Seven months later I did afternoon drive. It just was through happenstance that people liked what I did.”
It was in the glory days of talk radio before everybody wanted to be Rush, or the Wannabes came along–when it was interesting, when you had local. You had people who really did not belong on radio, people who did not have stentorian voices, as did and do I not. I’ve been described as Joe Pesci on helium. My favorite is Curly Howard on Benzedrine. People had personality [and] perspective. And then Rush came along and simultaneously revamped, rekindled, and reinstituted AM radio as a viable commercial property, and simultaneously destroyed it by inspiring all of these right wing Rush wannabes who were talentless, and still are in many respects.
On free speech over the airwaves, Lionel sees obstacles such as the “fairness doctrine” being refashioned to challenge online commentary.
The worst practitioners of stifling free speech are the Left because they were the ones who were responsible for [the Fairness Doctrine]. ‘If you can’t beat ’em, destroy them.’ It is so antithetical to freedom because the answer is, If you don’t like Rush Limbaugh, compete against him! The good news is you will never see the fairness doctrine again. The bad news is you may not see terrestrial and conventional radio in five-to-ten years. But keep in mind, the government is still–irrespective of party–trying to get the genie back in to the bottle, and to go after the ‘internets’–as W once called it.
“I’m still asking the question, How the hell did that happen?” Lionel remarks concerning 9/11. “I still watch–thanks to YouTube–documentary after documentary. Gore Vidal said three things that I think are the most important: Number one, I am not a conspiracy theorist I’m a conspiracy analyst. Number two, It is or will become an article of faith for you not to believe in conspiracy theories in this country. And number three, conspiracy theory has become synonymous with the unspeakable truth; something that’s horrible.”
“When Boston came along–this is how bad it was for me–I said, ‘OK. What do they want for me to believe?’ Not ‘Turn on the news, let’s see what’s happening.'”
“I’m not saying there aren’t reptilians and Illuminati and HAARP and weather [modification] and vaccines. I’m not saying there’s no truth to that. Some people, though, didn’t read all the chapters. And they’ll just spout stuff. But I say, ‘Give me somebody I can kind of tone down, than somebody I have to wake up.'”
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Since Lionel has worked as both an attorney and comic, and host his own legal comedy show on Court TV, Snap Judgement, he can discern potential comedic elements of the courtroom. “Everyday, in your local courthouse, there is a passion play that’s so fascinating. (And may I suggest to you the best is small claims and misdemeanor–county court in Florida–the best stuff in the world.) Let me tell you something, the most dangerous place for bailiffs–or as we called them, bus drivers with guns–is family court and small claims, because when you see people showing up with an engine bloc …? One time I had a guy who was very dissatisfied with his the bolts on his upholstery and I thought he was going to kill.”
Lionel is the author of Everyone’s Crazy Except You and Me . . . And I’m Not So Sure About You (Hyperion). Newsweek notes that Lionel is “[a]n intellectual known for his irreverent political and social humor.”
More information on Lionel and his entire line of web-based media is accessible at lionelmedia.com.