The latest wrinkle in post-9/11 political discourse is the dilemma that many politicians are facing regarding the health care debate. At so-called town hall meetings hosted by Congressmen around the country, the level of anger has become so palpable that any exchange of views has become short of impossible.
And both sides are lining up, either defending these vocal protests or lamenting the inability to be able to calmly discuss health care legislation. No matter how you may feel about this new development on the political horizon, there's no question that many elected officials are simply unable to figure out how to move forward.
Some Congressmen have apparently decided to hold office hours, where constituents can exchange their views in a one-on-one format. But of course, that limits a larger exchange of ideas, witnessed by many who have a horse in this race. So, a stalemate exists.
In this heated environment, no one seems to be able to figure out how to make it possible for a Congressman or Senator to hear from an interested constituent, an angry constituent, or an even sympathetic constituent - where hundreds or even thousands of similar people can participate actively or passively. In the last few days, I have read several newspapers, watched TV newsmagazines, and listened to NPR political features and programming - and everyone is stymied.
But perhaps there's a solution. Why not put these town hall meetings on the radio?
And I don't mean just on NPR or all-news outlets. Why wouldn't a station with an engaging, funny, or irreverent morning show host a town hall meeting as well? If Jon Stewart can make ratings from the political spectrum, and become a bona fide source of information for millions of Americans, tell me that Ryan Seacrest, Preston & Steve, Bubba the Love Sponge, or Drew & Mike couldn't do the same thing. Book your local Congressman or U.S. Senator, bring the audience in via phone, text, Facebook, Twitter, and have at it.
Radio is a perfect venue for a reasonably sane and entertaining exchange of views, without the screaming, shout-outs, and mob atmosphere. Take the calls one at a time, air everyone's opinions, and give the radio personalities leeway to inject humor, sarcasm, and their own personas into the mix.
The end result? No riots, wide participation, a large audience, perhaps a little civility, and a chance for radio to do what it does best - connect with local listeners on a personal, meaningful basis, the way no other medium can. Stations and shows will probably get some much-needed news coverage, too.
Broadcast radio needs to distinguish itself with its content and its creativity during a time when other media, new gadgets, and clever innovations are stealing all the thunder. As research over the past few years has clearly shown, many consumers are still listening to the radio on a regular basis, but most take it for granted.
How can radio halt perceptions that it has been reduced to a utility, and instead, provide programming that is buzz-worthy, current, and edgy?
Here's a way: address this "town brawl" issue by doing what radio does best. Invite a Congressman or Senator to breakfast.