Has talk radio jumped the shark?

Genghis at AOSHQ rips into leading conservative talk-radio hosts, whom he accuses of being “entrenched in power and way too comfortable for their own good.” Apparently, he’s got no problem with Laura Ingraham or Mark Levin, since their names don’t make his list.

Of the six hosts Genghis names, I don’t get to hear Glenn Beck or Lars Larson that often, and O’Reilly’s already said he’s giving up his pathetic attempt at radio. I like Michael Savage, eccentricities and all, simply because he’s a populist hell-raiser who speaks his mind without any concern for whose toes he steps on. So, that leaves us to discuss Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh.

I don’t like Sean on TV, but his radio show has very strong production values. It’s fast-paced with lots of sound bites, he gets big-name guests and, best of all, he seems to pay attention to the conservative blogosphere. If a headline sparks outrage with Malkin, HotAir or Instapundit, you can be pretty sure that Hannity will be talking about it.

Hannity has two really bad habits: First, every issue is cast as a titanic struggle between the forces of Good and Evil, as if to justify that Carmina Burana snippet in his hourly opening. Second, as Election Day nears, Hannity inevitably goes into GOP cheerleader mode, shaking his pompons and doing somersaults for every politician with an “R” beside his name. The Manichean melodrama and the shameless partisanship are both turnoffs for me.

Genghis complains (a) Rush takes too many days off, and also (b) “Half of the show is devoted to the Pittsburgh Steelers and his golf game.”

As to (a), I’d just say that listener discontent about Limbaugh’s vacation days is mainly caused by the vast gulf between Rush and his guest-hosts. Rush is just so damned good that it’s always a disappointment when you switch over at 12:06 p.m., get stoked by that Pretenders bass riff and then . . . Mark Belling? Click. Time to switch to the FM classic-rock station and hope they’re playing some tasty ZZ Top.

On point (b), I don’t mind Limbaugh talking about golf or football for a few minutes on Monday, or any of the other little personal diversions he talks about from time to time. Politics is not the only interesting topic in the universe and, hey, it’s his show. He’s the most successful radio phenomenon since Alan Freed, and if he occasionally feels like chatting about his hobbies, why should I complain? It’s a free country and if I get bored, all I have to do is punch a button and I’m listening to Zeppelin’s “Black Dog” or Edgar Winter’s “Frankenstein.”

I think Rush is vastly underappreciated. As a journalist, I’ve interviewed lots of celebrities — from Peter Jennings to Tom Wolfe — but the one guy I’d most like to interview is Rush Limbaugh, simply because he is so influential and such an innovator. Most people don’t realize how Limbaugh revolutionized the talk-radio medium by introducing “rock bumpers” (the music intros to each segment) and the use of audio actualities (aka “sound bites”).

Rush is to radio what Columbus was to geography — he discovered new territory by sailing off to do what nearly everybody said couldn’t be done. There was never a national political talk radio program until Rush did it, and he did it against the unanimous advice of all the “experts” in the business. You can grumble all you want about his vacations and golf talk, but it’s like questioning Joe Montana’s Hall of Fame credentials because he sometimes threw an interception.

The man is quite literally irreplaceable and one of these days, when Rush is dead and gone, your grandchildren will be asking you to tell them what it was like to live in The Limbaugh Age.

(Cross-posted at The Other McCain.)

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