Broadcasting a nexus point: late night radio.

“Good evening everyone, you’re in the right place at the right time. This is Coast to Coast AM. Coming at you, blasting out of the Mojave Desert like a sirocco, blazing across the land, into your town, into your home, slamming into your radio like a supercharged nano particle of dark energy. You’ve arrived at a nexus point, a crossroads of shadow and light, a phantasmic oracle  market place of ideas and blasphemies, grand melting pot of cultures and subcultures, from the benign to the bizarre, all on the same path searching for breadcrumbs of cosmic understanding and hoping we’ll be able to follow the trail back to where we started. Greetings from the boldest, bawdiest most outrageous city in the world, the planetary capital of sun, fun, sin, sex and secrets, my not so humble hometown, Las Vegas, Nevada. My name is George Knapp, your occasional host, your designated driver of the airwaves, and moderator of tonight’s upcoming cacophony of conversation. Glad to be with you once again.” (Sunday, August 23rd, 2009)

This is a live, spoken introduction to a radio program I listen to when sleep eludes me and I lay awake late at night. Back in Canada, I would tune in to a local channel on my clock radio and allow myself to be carried away by words.  This live American late night talk radio program, Coast to Coast AM  is picked up by affiliates in the US, Canada, Guam and the Virgin Islands, airing nightly. It covers a vast array of topics including the paranormal, unusual science and technology, unexplained phenomena, and conspiracy theories. The format features bizarre news, interviews with guests followed by calls from listeners with questions and stories related to the featured topic.

I never cease to be amazed by the way in which the nightly hosts navigate the fine line between belief and disbelief, and the way in which they manage interactions constructed around producing credibility. Looking at one of these interactions will be topic of my next blog entry. But for now, I just wanted to share this introduction and think about the way this language creates a safe space for disclosure of what most people would find unbelievable. The show positions itself outside of what it refers to as “mainstream media” and in doing so, needs to create a separate space. This introduction also creates a very vivid image of what radio is, but particularly, of what radio once was.

The language, imagery and delivery of this introduction pushes this bit of speech into the realm of performance. Each time Art Knapp delivers this introduction it varies; in pitch, in rhythm, some parts are left out, some parts are altered, and the last line is always personalized. While addressing a vast and varied audience spread across a continent, the broadcaster explicitly and directly singles out “you” the listener in a familiar manner. The audience is personified as one being – united by a desire to seek “cosmic understanding”.  There are two authors here as marked by an early reference to the institutional host (Coast to Coast AM) but there is also the later and more personal introduction to the broadcaster and the place of broadcast (this program is broadcast with several hosts who reside in different parts of the U.S. and the original host occasionally broadcasts from Manila, Philippines). The program is described as “blasting out of the Mojave desert” (of Nevada) “like a sirocco” (a wind of great speed originating in the Sahara desert of Northern Africa). While this program enters the homes across a continent, the introduction both personalizes it and localizes it.

There is so much I could say about this example, however classroom interaction is my area of research,  not broadcast talk, so I will leave this for the experts. I would like to draw one comparison however, to a better known program which also employed a similar kind of introduction: The Twilight Zone. While the opening to this classic television series changed from season to season, according to Jeffrey Sconce,  it “evoke[d] a sense of suspension, a ‘betwixt and between’ liminality that cast the program (and its viewers) as occupying an ‘elsewhere’ or even a ‘nowhere’”(Sconce 2000, 133). This objective is echoed in this introduction to Coast to Coast AM. Instead of “moving into a land of shadow and substance” one is arriving “at a crossroads of shadow and light,” an “oracle market place of ideas and blasphemies”. The language used here indexes the topic matter of the program, from “dark energy,” a hypothetical kind of energy, to “phantasmic oracles”. What will follow in the hours to come will be distinctive from other talk radio programs and will employ unique terminology and discursive strategies for constructing convincing and realistic accounts. While The Twilight Zone took over the senses in a way that only early television purported to, this present day radio program is an updated attempt at this; a live program reaching those who are nocturnal, a voice in the darkness where the realm of the possible expands. 

In fact, the introduction to the Twilight Zone was so effective, that it hasn’t been forgotten although the original series ended in 1964. To this day, “twilight zone” is a term used to describe a state of being where one is lost or not present in reality or a particular place or situation which is considered bizarre.

“You unlock this door with the key of imagination, beyond it is another dimension, a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You are moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You’ve just crossed over into The Twilight Zone”. (Rod Serling, 1964, 4th season)

Reference:

Sconce, J. 2000. Haunted media: Electronic presence from telegraphy to television. London: Duke University Press.

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