Talk Radio and the GreenStone Media NetworkShannon Sonn
The GreenStone Media Network represents a response to the highly polemical, male-dominated talk radio – epitomized by Rush Limbaugh – that until recently represented the vast majority of available programs. Steinem commented, "It seems to me that commercial talk radio has become less about community and more about conflict. Less about information and more about repetition. Less about improving ourselves and more about being angry at the world." Breaking from what they consider polarizing, inflammatory and highly divisive approaches, GreenStone proposes to provide female-oriented talk radio to bring women back to radio through nonpartisan, emotionally involving and engaging talk. President, CEO and former FCC Commissioner, Susan Ness characterizes their lineup, "This is radio that is designed to help women navigate all aspects of their lives – from current events to balancing work and family, to healthcare and education – we're providing an inviting place to relax and enjoy insightful and engaging discussion without turning people off."
GreenStone currently divides twelve hours of radio programming daily between four weekday programs: The Radio Ritas, Lisa Birnbach, Rolonda and Women Aloud. The network plans to expand offerings in the coming year to include evening, weekend and short form programs. Thus far GreenStone has relied largely on research they commissioned to inform programming decisions. Topics addressed include: raising boys; Paul McCartney's divorce; how to keep romance in your marriage or relationship; whether marijuana should be legalized for medical use; the rape of women in Darfur; American Idol; decorating a home to prepare it for sale; mid-life personal and career changes; the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina; women's fitness; style with Tim Gunn of Project Runway; movie soundtracks; the season finales of Grey's Anatomy and other popular shows; NY Mets' announcer Keith Hernandez' comments on women not belonging in the dugout – or baseball at all; and Spring Cleaning. Network executives do not get involved with broadcasting decisions. GreenStone's hosts and their respective producers determine both daily subject matter and the scope of their individual programs. Maureen Langan, one of the Radio Ritas, explains, "There is no mandate as to what we can and can't talk about. Our motto is: 'We're as edgy as you can get with a kid in the car.' So we try to adhere to that motto." Lisa Birnbach agrees, adding that any perceived overlap with the views, interests or inclinations of board members like Steinem and Jane Fonda remains coincidental; broadcasters do not act as mouthpieces for a larger agenda.
Some commentators have attacked the network, labeling programming 'anodyne', 'apolitical' and 'fluffy.' GreenStone executives and broadcasters respond to such criticism, drawing a distinction between apolitical and nonpartisan. Langan comments, "We don't talk in political absolutes. We are political in terms of being personal." Hilliard explains further, "Almost all the topics women care about are political at their base. It isn't that we are going to avoid political subjects [...]. We believe that if we get enough information about it and we do it in a way that is not polemical and not highly partisan we will have much better success, with women in particular ... ." The Radio Rita Broadcast from November 15, 2006 exemplifies this approach.
The program opens with a discussion of President Bush's recent comparison of Iraq to Vietnam. Langan begins, "President Bush actually made a reference to Iraq and the Vietnam War. He said Iraq was comparable to the Vietcong's physiologically devastating Tet offensive of 1968." Kahaney adds, "A lot of people say we are in a quagmire in Iraq and it's a no win situation and he actually made reference to that. And the shocking part is that he's been saying we can win that and we have to see it until victory whereas there was no way out of Vietnam except to walk away." Here the morning team transitions. Kahaney inquires, "So anyway, did you know that Vietnam has become the vacation hotspot? Supposedly it's really reasonable and really fun and people come back raving." This thread continues briefly before another topic gets introduced:... Arabic television station Al-Jeezera – that's the Arabic television station – it launched an English-speaking channel today that will report news from a middle eastern perspective and they say challenge the dominance of western media. I think that's great. ... I think they are saying it's a way for terrorists to get their message out but I also think that the right to free speech is supposedly a big deal in our country and if people from the Arab world want to watch Al-Jeezera I think they should.
GreenStone's interpretation of and emphasis on nonpartisan discussion and focus on including a broad range of topics gets reflected here. The rest of the show includes segments with Carolyn Bigda a reporter from Money Magazine, Rob Rosenthal, a classically trained chef and comedian, and Peter Moore, Executive Editor of Men's Health Magazine. Obviously differences exist between the four current programs, largely according to the interests of the individual broadcasters, but all shows manifest similar attempts toward balance.
Shannon Sonn is an M.A. candidate in American Studies at Columbia University in the City of New York.