Radio played a pivotal role in some of our country's most historic events of '92 and '93 - including the deadly ones. Most of the time the medium served the public - even saved lives - but as with all instruments of power, some newsmakers abused its power. During March and April, the Waco wacko, David Koresh, who holed up with 100 cult followers promised to release some kids and even surrender if radio stations agreed to broadcast his religious message. Although some criticized stations for giving him airtime, he set free some children. At one point Koresh grew tired of the expert hostage negotiators and asked for a new mediator: a radio host!
During the '92 elections many listeners charged that a few local candidates abused the power of airwaves. "Radio democracy" emerged in November. Negative ads and candidates stumping on talk shows flooded the airwaves. Some ads devastated candidates. As an L.A. Times reporter wrote in December '92: "... if there was one campaign phenomenon that promises to resonate beyond 1992, it's the candidates' discovery of radio and TV talk and phone-in shows as a means of bypassing media pests and communicating directly with the public."
The winner of the highest office has discovered the medium's power. To sell his economic plan to the public, Clinton chose radio. But Roosevelt was the first president to use radio when he touted his New Deal in his "fireside chats." During emergencies, radio not only serves the public, it becomes a lifesaver. Florida's horrific hurricane last year spawned a new radio show: "Radio Recovery" in Homestead. As the storm knocked out all the power, radio was the victims' sole source of information. When a natural disaster comes closer to home - the "Big One"- radio will once again be our survival tool. We've all heard the buzz that breaks into regular programming to practice for emergencies.
During unnatural disasters, such as the L.A. riot of '92, radio news determined the fate of listeners. Undoubtedly, thousands of motorists avoided the troubled area because they heard the headlines on the air.
Beating victim Reginald Denny was not among those thousands.
"I didn't have a clue what what going on," Denny told an Associated Press reporter. "I hadn't paid any attention to the news. I usually don't. When traffic's heavy, I tend to listen to all-music stations because it calms me down." TV host Arsenio Hall, who thought of radio as a means to curb the violence, simulcast his TV show on radio, according to Los Angeles magazine. "I put together a simulcast on several radio stations," Hall said. "My thing was, I gotta get to people in cars. There were young guys in cars saying, 'Im gonna (expletive) somebody up.' "
Many Angelenos claimed that the visual images of violence incited further mayhem. Some rioters admitted they joined the disturbance after watching the action on TV. The lack of police presence proved irresistible to those prone to pillaging. Perhaps if there had been a TV news blackout, the citizenry would have relied on radio. The casualty list would have been shorter, and more buildings and businesses would have been saved.
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