pick: Left wing or right wing.
to popular belief, not all talk hosts fall neatly into one
of those two categories. Since June
2000, Radio America's Alan Nathan has proudly carried the
centrist torch. According
to Nathan, his daily three-hour "Battle Line" is
the only talk radio show featured on both "Sirius Talk
Left" and "Sirius Talk Right."
Bedroom & Money
The upstate New York native likes to strike a balance with his show. "Most
[other] centrists are ameliorating, consensus-building; my show is aggressively
centrist," he remarks. "When people tune in, they [know] that we
want the Republicans out of our bedroom and the Democrats out of our wallet
and both out of our First and Second Amendment rights."
hearing that interesting show mantra for the first time generally
get a big kick out of it; however, neither Democrats nor
Republicans feel threatened.
Nathan, remarks, "Each feels emboldened. You hopefully
get the sense there's an aggressive centrism here. But while
aggressive, we're still about fair play. I've been convinced
for a long time that this has been missing from radio."
A former television correspondent, Nathan left that medium after becoming "fed
up" with what he believed was a left-leaning bias. "It's just as
we can honestly admit there's genuinely a disproportionate amount of conservatives
in commercial radio," he comments. "There's no two ways about it
- in popular, commercial talk radio, there's a far more conservative [slant]
than anything else."
reporters have clear boundaries. "You are to immerse
yourself in the `who,' `what,' `where,' `when' and `why,'" notes
Nathan, who attended the University of Wales College of Swansea. "You
shouldn't bring any bias, but clearly, all of us have our
biases. Even your attempt to understand objectivity is acquired
through subjective means. Still, you're getting a lot closer
than if you didn't bother trying at all. As a correspondent,
you really need to be mindful of that, if you're really going
to be properly serving your viewing audience."
Formerly on the Financial News Network's "The Insiders With Jack Anderson," Nathan
was with the show until FNN was sold to NBC. As he recounts, "It was made
part of CNBC and a couple thousand of us lost our jobs."
out of work, Nathan put together a PBS pilot. "The checks
were slow and my bills were not," he jests. "Unfortunately,
I didn't have time to hold out for that [show to be picked
of exactly why he felt an aggressive centrist voice might
be the very thing that was needed on the airwaves, Nathan
notes, "I find myself agreeing and disagreeing, embracing
and rejecting perspectives held on both sides of the aisle.
I'm convinced that Republicans and Democrats take our freedoms
by empowering the government to bully individuals with intrusive
same time, however, he says, "Libertarians will take
those same freedoms by empowering the wealthy to bully individuals
with fiscal tyranny. I don't care if you marginalize folks
by governmental edict or by corporate fiat, you're no less
a thief of their independence and I wanted to bring that
into the fray and get down and dirty."
One distinct downside is that centrists like Nathan don't tend to have support
groups. "When you look at any issue long enough, it's the centrists
who bring home some semblance of order," he maintains. "The left
and right keep each other in check, but I like to prove that a centrist
can dish the dirt with the best of them; be just as provocative; and -
dare I say - be logical. It's a different world, but I'm having fun."
When it comes to a patient's bill of rights or augmenting veterans' benefits,
Nathan is side-by-side with the Democrats, but embraces Republicans, when it
comes to Second Amendment rights and reforming Social Security. "There
are genuinely credible properties that each side brings to the table; most
Americans get that," he remarks. "Many Americans aren't at the mercy
of boilerplate rhetoric coming from one extreme or the other. They'll usually
find something of merit from both sides and make their final decision on a
person who best represents those traits in the aggregate."
aren't to be confused with independents, who Nathan claims, "can
falsely give the impression that they're in the middle -
often, however, they're not. An independent is usually a
disenfranchised leftie who feels the Democrats deserted them
or a disenfranchised right-winger who feels the same about
the Republicans. They're usually to the greater extreme of
their party, feeling as if their party has lost its way.
A centrist is generally someone who believes there's something
of credit from both sides, but clearly neither side has the
market cornered when it comes to convictions, ideas and policies."
Predating Nathan's weekday Radio America show was a weekend show. The leap
to syndicated host was made from his stint as a weekend personality on WZHF/Alexandria,
VA. "I was self-produced and generated my own dollars," he states. "People
backed up this little local show. I was doing fine and making money with this
thing I created."
he gained in radio and hosting a public access, cable television
show helped lead to a big break. "I adapted my radio
show to that public access show," Nathan says. "I
wanted to be part of Jack Anderson's show. I thought I'd
have him on my show and he'd be so impressed that he'd invite
me to work with him."
As it turns
out, that's exactly what happened. "I had him on my
little radio show a number of times. I went from being a
small town talk host to national TV correspondent in very
quick order. I did that for seven months, until the [FNN
sale] fiasco happened."
air at WZHF for several months, Nathan fired off a tape to
Radio America President Jim Roberts. "He liked the centrist
angle and brought me in; it worked out very quickly. They
brought me in to do the weekend show."
condition was that the title of Nathan's show be "Battling
The Left And Right." When Nathan transitioned to weekdays,
the title of his show was further reduced to "Battle
Line" and it's been that way since June 2000. "When
I first started [on weekends], I had zero stations - I didn't
get to inherit anything," he says. "It grew pretty
quickly and it was based on that growth that Radio America
rewarded me with the [weekday] show."
- More Interaction
Discussion on the show centers on just about everything that relates to social,
cultural and political issues. "We'll [deal with subjects like] the uselessness
of the United Nations; gay marriages; what kind of television we let our children
watch, and if we're going overboard; as well as some funny things."
inception, "Battle Line" has aired Monday-Friday
between 10am-12 Noon (ET).
significant developments occurred this past President's Day
(Monday, February 16th).
expanded to 1pm (ET) and, for the first time in its nearly
four-year-history, the program began airing listener calls. "The
show has always been guest-generated, panel-driven, dialogue
and debate with no callers," Nathan points out. "The
callers we allow to join us become temporary panelists. It
will be a bit different for them. Instead of having `drive-by'
callers, we give them a seat at the table for a few minutes.
They have exchanges with the other guests."
Up With The Host
Reflective of the highly energetic host, it's quite common for the program
to go at about 120 miles-per-hour. "The Friday show is unique, because
we go through the weekly wrap-up," Nathan explains. "It's not the
conventional callers. I have no time for `drive-by' callers. There are plenty
of people out there who have some sharps. We let them join the panel over the
phone; they have some back and forth with us; and then, we move to the next
one. It's been the most dramatic shift in the show."
had been frustrated because the show hadn't taken calls.
The inclusion of that element has made the show a bit busier. "People
now have a chance to yell at me," Nathan says jokingly. "In
this business, you have to develop a thick skin, or you'll
develop a thick skull. After going back and forth with these
national leaders, it's a welcome change to include some callers
who simply put forward what Americans go through every day.
I just have to make sure that they keep pace with the show."
shows usually entice a small percentage of their total listenership.
It's therefore advisable, Nathan says, "to market your
show with an appreciation to the [vast majority who don't
call]. You don't want to just play to your callers - you
have to play to your audience. Most of your audience is perfectly
content to sit back and enjoy a dialogue that keeps them
engaged. Most aren't interested in calling in. Those are
the people I try to remember when I do my show."
One requirement a caller must satisfy before becoming a "Battle Line" participant
is they must add something meaty to the show. "We want them to bring their
anger and passion, but bring an opinion that's filled with conviction and can
heighten the program's entertainment value," Nathan states. "While
we're talking about many substantive issues, if we're not entertaining, we're
not staying on the dial."
who clearly loves rapid-fire dialogue and hardcore debate,
Nathan was quite comfortable doing the show without callers. "I
chose the right guests," remarks Nathan, who took a
stand in favor of the war against Iraq. "If you get
the right ones, you can have a blast. I've interviewed well
over half of Congress and about 30 U.S. Senators. Mine is
the only radio show that's had Cher on arguing politics for
a full hour."
singer proved to be quite capable in that forum. "She
was pretty darn good," Nathan says with conviction. "She
was only going to be on for five minutes or so, but I got
her so angry [that she decided to stay]. She was a big Al
Gore supporter, but was open for her dislike of [former 2004
Democratic presidential candidate and Gore's 2000 running
mate] Joseph Lieberman, based on his First Amendment issues.
But she was having fun with the anger. That's the thing we
try to do. We like it when people are spirited, but they're
having fun with it."
Most members of Congress Nathan has interviewed have come across quite well.
Some others, however, have proven to be surprisingly disappointing. "Several
of them didn't have the edge and zeal you'd expect and aren't as researched
as you'd hoped," he explains. "It's incumbent upon the host to keep
them entertaining in their presentation - not to protect the host, but to protect
the audience's pleasure."
hoping that his audience gets to hear some spirited dialogue,
Nathan states, "I love it when we get someone with a
chip on his or her shoulder and a bit of a bite. It's not
always about me being right - that would kill the audience.
You want the opposition to land a few punches and to be humanized.
I like it if I have a good strong guest who can engage in
some rough and tumble rhetoric. What I find unfortunate is,
more often than should be the case, you have representatives
who are not all that swift of thought. Those are the ones
who are whittled out. The ones I have on [regularly] don't
fall into that category."
When Nathan covered the New Hampshire primary, he had the opportunity to meet
with executives at Northeast Broadcasting's WKBR-AM/Manchester. "They
take Bill O'Reilly's show and my show and I'm outselling O'Reilly," Nathan
boasts. "It's doing very well there and at a number of other stations.
It was a lot of fun being [with them]."
hosts sometimes overlook that their show is only as strong
as their affiliates. "They forget that you need to touch
base with these GMs and PDs to [tell them] you appreciate
the fact that they're carrying your program," Nathan
says. "They're allocating hours of their clock to do
that and you can't forget about them. It's a professional
courtesy and, in the case of WKBR, they've actually become
friends. It was a lot of fun seeing them during the primaries."
Someone who could combine Johnny Carson's humor alongside David Frost's seriousness
would, in Nathan's estimation, make a great radio host. "It would have
to be someone who the audience sees as having a good strong grasp of the issues,
but also doesn't mind sharing a lot of laughs along the way."
and high regard for people who've done very well in this
business, he remarks, "Maybe they've attained a degree
of legendary texture to their status and I'm not taking anything
away from them. But I've essentially believed that, looking
at what I'm trying to do, there's really no one I'm going
to emulate. I can't think of anyone [else] who's done this
before. There aren't many angry centrists on the air, who
want to completely privatize social security, but perhaps
socializing medicine. For the most part, I want smaller government
and really see how sensible it is, while at the same time,
I'll fight passionately for social safety issues. This is
a very different kind of tack to take."
In His Sights
Regarding the future, Nathan states, "I love radio and will always do
it. Radio is more layered and allows you to be more in-depth. It's theater
of the mind. You have to keep the cadence and pace going a little bit more.
People in television don't always have to keep the rhetoric going. When they
do, they have the teleprompter for assistance. But I'd like to look at television
again, but not as a reporter. It would be in the capacity as a commentator
or hosting a talk program."
What people are saying about Alan