Majors: Something New Is on the Air

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Change is in the air, and on the air, in 2017.

In talk radio, where some think American politics often begins, two new national talk radio shows launch this week, one from the world of conservative talk radio, and one from the liberal world of National Public Radio.

Both also feature broadcasters of color — one Hispanic, one African American — moving into prominence with new national radio shows.

The new conservative show, at 9 am Eastern, aims to join radio stars like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. It’s hosted by Washington, D.C. area broadcaster Chris Plante, whose “Chris Plante Show” has run on WMAL radio at 9 am for several years.

Plante, a former CNN reporter who covered the Defense Department, is from a family of broadcasters, including both brothers and his step-father, CBS reporter Bill Plante. He has two recurring themes for which he has two tag lines: political hypocrisy – “if they didn’t have double standards, liberals would have no standards at all,” and media bias – “Democrats, and the media…but then, I repeat myself.”

Plante, who has described himself as being somewhat libertarian (though he has in most cases ridiculed Gary Johnson and local Libertarian Party candidates when mentioning them at all), a sometimes reluctant Republican voter, and an independent with a wait and see attitude on Donald Trump’s policies, was a vociferous critic of Hillary Clinton and the DNC in the 2016 election cycle.

For a year or two Plante has been appearing occasionally on FOX News paired with a liberal in point/counterpoint panels, or as the “one lucky guy” on “Outnumbered,” FOX’s newsy (almost) all woman noon answer to “The View.”

WMAL radio’s recent line up was a morning show, “Morning on the Mall,” followed by Plante, Rush Limbaugh at noon (eastern time), Sean Hannity and then Michael Savage.

Hannity and Limbaugh are at the top of the talk radio firmament, each along with NPR’s “All Things Considered” and “Morning Edition” having an audience of more than 13 million people daily. For comparison, the most popular cable news shows, such as “The O’Reilly Factor,” reach 3 million people, and major morning broadcast shows “Today” and “Good Morning America” reach an audience of fewer than 5 million.

Sean Hannity currently has a $100 million multi-year contract and Limbaugh’s multi-year contract is for $400 million.

If Plante, whose maternal family and birth father are Hispanic, can duplicate their successes, he’d be one of the few non-white broadcasters breaking into Oprah territory by earning more than $10 million a year.

Sylvie Rivera, who runs a Facebook fan page for WMAL (The Real Housewives of WMAL) thinks Plante will succeed nationally: “This is so exciting for Chris and for his longtime fans, who’ve seen him rise from an unknown evening radio talk show host in 2006, to national and international prominence. We look forward to sharing Chris’ wit, dry humor, vast political & pop culture knowledge and absolute control of the facts with the rest of the Nation!”

One hour later, at National Public Radio, Joshua Johnson, launches a new show, at 10 am Eastern time, “1A,” the show’s name referring both to the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights and to the front page of newspapers “1A” replaces the almost 37-year-old old “Diane Rehm” show, which had an audience of 2.8 million.

Rehm, a Palestinian-American, began her career as a volunteer, also at a local DC radio station, WAMU. Rehm’s show proclaimed itself dedicated to civil discussion and offering multiple points of view, especially on its Friday news round up segment where a panel of American and British, liberal and conservative, journalists discussed the events of the week in advance of the similar Sunday TV programs.

But her career was marred by lapses into bias, as when in the 1980s she alone on her panel was unaware of the author Joan Peters, who had received death threats from Palestinian activists for publishing a book, “From Time Immemorial” (1984), whose thesis was that the economic activity of Jewish settlers had attracted Arab immigrant labor to Israel who were not an original Palestinian population. In 2016 Rehm was forced to apologize to Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders when she was fooled by a fake news story circulating on leftist websites into believing that he was a dual Israeli-U.S. citizen.

Johnson, who is replacing Rehm, co-created Truth Be Told, one of several NPR shows (like Snap Judgement) that are attempts to find an audience beyond the white upper middle class liberal one so often spoofed even by other “progressive” media programs like Saturday Night Live.

Truth Be Told, produced at KQED in San Francisco, aimed to be conversational and low key. It aired previously uncovered reports on race in America, like the plight of African Americans facing employment discrimination in Silicon Valley, or of white students enrolled in black colleges. Though Johnson only created that show a few months ago (he’d previously been a reporter at an NPR affiliate in Miami, where he graduated from college in 2002, for a few years), NPR was impressed enough to hire him to replace one of their flagship national shows.

Chris Plante was off the air for the past week and is mum on what his first order of business will be. For Johnson’s maiden show he’s inviting listeners to give him New Year’s Resolutions for the country:

What should America’s #NewYearsResolution be? Your answer could end up on tomorrow’s premiere of @1A!

— Joshua Johnson (@jejohnson322) January 2, 2017