Local radio hosts loom large over tea parties

Much ink has been spilt debating whether yesterday’s tea parties were “an organic movement built on genuine anger, or a more cynical and partisan effort by the Republican Party to score points against the Obama administration.” Although clear evidence on either side has been elusive, another group’s influence is much more visible: local radio talk-show hosts. Around the country, radio personalities were prominently featured at tax day events around the country.


Dressed as Thomas Paine, Joe Thomas, a radio host at Charlottesville’s WCHV 1260 AM, was the emcee at the event.

“Today doesn’t mean anything if we let November slip away,” Thomas said at one point as the crowd cheered.


Sergio Sanchez, a personality from Edinburg-based KURV Talk Radio 710, led protesters at Archer Park on Wednesday evening, calling for voters to oust Rio Grande Valley congressmen in the next election.

“They all need to go home,” the conservative talk-show host said. “Democrats and Republicans.”


Speakers at the event included several state representatives, such as Republicans Barry Mask of Wetumpka and Harri Anne Smith of Slocomb; Tim James, a Republican gubernatorial candidate; and talk radio show hosts Greg Budell and Kevin Elkins.


Radio host Kirby Wilbur of KVI-AM said Americans need to help each other, not rely on the government to fix the country’s economy.

“Go out to dinner, buy a car, and stimulate the economy yourself,” Wilbur told the crowd.


Though some high-profile conservative pundits insisted that the tea party was an organic movement that came exclusively from the grassroots, representatives of conservative San Francisco radio station KSFO-AM were at the San Francisco rally distributing signs with the station’s call letters and the phrase: “Give me liberty, not debt.”


The keynote speaker, WRKO Radio talk show host Todd Feinburg, said it is “unfathomable” to live in a state with massive government pensions and rampant cronyism. Feinburg, whose radio co-host is former House speaker Tom Finneran, decried “cozy” deals between teachers’ unions and Democrats, calling schools “a disaster.”

“We just elected a president of the United States whose qualifications come down to hope and change.”

Feinburg used Finneran as an example of Statehouse politicians who “get teary-eyed at the smell of marble. …You put people in power and scumbags result.”


Speakers included Republican Rep. Todd Tiahrt of Kansas, a spokesman for Republican Rep. Sam Graves of Missouri, Libertarian Party spokesman Mike Ferguson, representatives of several political activist groups and Chris Stigall, host of a talk show on Kansas City radio station KCMO.

Given the central role that many radio personalities played around the country in organizing and publicizing the rallies, it’s difficult to accept the hypothesis that the protests were a mere result of frustration shared by thousands around the country. And while it’s customary for news outlets to report on planned marches and other political events, it’s quite different for anchors and hosts to appear as guests and promote the protests. This time around, the tea parties brought into sharp relief the ambiguous niche that talk radio occupies in the journalistic spectrum. As a society, we expect these radio hosts offer commentary on the news. Are we ready to accept that they not only manufacture news, but that the press is expected to cover them? That’s a cup of tea that’s going to need more than a spoonful of sugar to help it go down.

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Katia Bachko is on staff at The New Yorker.