STEINBERG: Next WLS will be stocking Lake Michigan with zebra mussels
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I had never heard the name “Chris Plante” before Robert Feder tweeted news Wednesday that the D.C.-based conservative radio personality is replacing Bob Sirott and Marianne Murciano on WLS-AM.
The latest example of huge media companies — in this case, Georgia-based Cumulus Media, owners of WLS and 445 other radio stations — deciding that what is easiest and cheapest to offer is also best for listeners everywhere. One size fits all.
That said, I like to keep an open mind. Off to the Chris Plante website. There, the first thing I read was his most-recent tweet: “What do you think was the REAL lie of the year? Perhaps ‘Russia, Russia, Russia’?”
Ah, the Trumpian Fallacy in rampant splendor. Take a truth you don’t like — such as Bob Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s alleged-for-now collusion with Russia — and insist, based on nothing, that it’s a lie. Then hold your breath and see how many buy it.
Quite a few. Particularly in places like Georgia.
In Chicago, not so much.
Feeding lies to the deluded has been a growth industry, with Fox News and Breitbart growing in size, power and profitability as a whole segment of America seals itself in an echo chamber of self-deception and faux victimhood. Plante spent time as a youth on the mean streets of Winnetka and was once a respected journalist. But he traded that to become what one approving critic called “the dauphin prince if you will, to King Rush.” A Limbaugh wanna-be. That’s supposed to be a good thing.
In some places, perhaps. But at the risk of provincial pride, Chicago does still value both place and independence. The Sun-Times is run by a former alderman and a group of union heads. The Trib, for all its historical aspersions toward internationality, is run by a local tech whiz.
Our radio gems stand out for their uniqueness — WBEZ, WFMT, WBBM — not because they’re funnels for whatever sour pap they’re fire-hosing from the coasts.
Chicago is also home to institutions of higher learning from the University of Chicago to Truman College; from Hyde Park’s ivory towers to evening classes in Uptown packed with immigrants arming themselves with the knowledge they need to shape the future of this country — a future which is coming, no matter how the GOP reactionary rebellion flails madly and in vain to stop it.
Chicago is where a rumpled Wobbly like Studs Terkel could reign on the radio for decades. Swapping Bob Sirott for Chris Plante is like poisoning king salmon so you can stock Lake Michigan with zebra mussels.
To be fair to Plante, he does have a background in journalism, so perhaps that one tweet is not indicative of his entire schtick. One swallow does not a summer make.
I will tip my hand about Bob and Marianne. I like them, and for the very reasons WLS is showing them the gate. They are human and Chicago. Bob first came on my radar in 2000, at the 95th birthday party of federal judge Abraham Lincoln Marovitz, a man who not only attended the opening of the Empire Room at the Palmer House in 1933, but also took bubble dancer Sally Rand as his date. Bob burst in with a film crew. I was so shocked to see that someone from TV knew who Marovitz was, I demanded to know why he was there. Bob said he wasn’t going to let such a civic treasure go unheralded.
Yes, for a brief time I did commentary on Sirott’s TV show. Though to be honest, that was the low point in our relationship. To watch Fox 32 in action, its skeleton crew, its automatic cameras gliding around a largely-automatic newsroom, was to stare horror-struck into the soulless technological abyss that the Cumulus Medias of the world believe people here will accept.
Bob began his love affair with radio at 15, taking the Ravenswood “L” to the Merchandise Mart to insinuate himself into WMAQ’s studios. Since then, many ham-handed station managers have nudged him aside for many imported flashes-in-the-pan who sparkle for a moment, then are yawned away.
Bob and Marianne — I’m sorry to give her the short shrift; let’s just say, Marianne worked through three pregnancies on live TV, so she’s no cream puff — will someday sail off to a well-deserved rest. But it won’t be now, and it won’t be at the hands of Chris Plante. They’ll land well; they always do. And WLS is betting on the wrong horse. Either the hall-of-mirrors right-wing propaganda machine Plante represents will soon ebb, or the nation we love will. I’m betting on the former.