Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Best Radio Tag Lines: Bernie Ward, Ralph Barbieri, Edward R. Murrow and more...

Here's the next column running in the Oakland Tribune and Contra Costa Times. You get it here early and if you add some comments about your favorite radio slogans and tag lines, I'll include them in a future column.:::

(Photos: Grace Hopper; GK Chesterton; Bernie Ward; Ralph Barbieri)

Every night KGO-AM (810) liberal, anti-war talk show host Bernie Ward ends his show with a quote from the Navy’s first female admiral.

“It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than it is permission,” he says, quoting Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, who died in 1962 and was also a noted computer programmer.

Ward, who has used the quote since 1989, says he read it in her biography and thought it defined his philosophy. A liberal in a medium dominated by conservatives and moderates, Ward has often been in trouble with management and listeners.

Six years ago,on September 11, when the rest of the country seemed to be one unified Kumba-ya, he did a show arguing that bad U.S. foreign policy caused the massacre of 9/11, as his managers screamed that this was career suicide.

“I do everything without ever asking anyone and wait to see what trouble I’ll be in after,” says Ward, 56, a former priest and school teacher who has flourished on the Bay Area airwaves.

Catch phrases are one way that radio personalities try to stand out from the pack and forge their way into your consciousness as you are driving, gardening, jogging or whatever it is you do while listening to the audio medium.

Ward says he’s gotten more mail about his phrase than anything else he’s done, with writers claiming he is promoting anarchy and setting a bad example for children.

I’ve always loved KNBR-AM (680) sportscaster Ralph Barbieri’s: “Angels fly because they take themselves lightly,” which seems like the perfect antidote to hours of callers’ painfully serious debates about the latest pitching change. The quote comes not from Babe Ruth or Joe Montana, but from the English philosopher and journalist Gilbert Keith Chesterton, who died in 1936.

Chesterton had another great quote in 1924, so fitting today: “The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected."

Barbieri says he heard the angels quote from the Zen Buddhism philosopher Alan Watts, which lets you know that there is more to this guy than who's on first.

"It's a way of saying that on a bigger plane of existence, all this means nothing," says the sports talker, who sounds like Joe Pesci on the air, but more like Robert Redford off of it. You almost wonder why he doesn't try some other kind of talk.

Radio pioneer Edward R. Murrow had his own trove of sign offs. In 1939, during the London blitz, he began his news broadcasts from the field with “This...is London,” with a brief pause after the this. (You can hear the same pause today on CNN (This...is CNN) and Amy Goodman’s radio show “Democracy Now.”)

After 1940, Murrow borrowed his closing from Queen Elizabeth, who ended a speech saying “Good night and good luck to you all.” Murrow shortened his nightly ending to “Good night and good luck.”

Some attempts fail miserably for me. Monterey/Santa Cruz newscaster Susan Simon ends every broadcast on KSCO-AM (1080) with a long pause between her names. “This is Susan (pause... pause.... pause) Simon.”

If I were her boss, I would have fired her after the first pause. Isn’t a news broadcast too important to waste so much dead air, just for the sake of a cute ploy to make people remember the broadcaster’s name?

I guess you could argue that it works, because I remember her name and wrote it here. She likes it so much that her biography page on the KSCO Website (www.ksco.com) lists her as Susan............Simon.

Even before he got into radio, KGO’s Ward imagined having a catch phrase like one of his heroes, Gene Nelson, who ended shows with “Put on the coffee, Bubbles, I’m coming home.”

Later the emperor of the KYA-AM airwaves switched to “Tuskataha,” the meaning of which escapes Ward, but I bet one of you loyal listeners knows.

Jim Lange ended broadcasts with “Yeth Sir.” Brian Copeland, on KGO, ends with the cute: “Be kind to your neighbor, he knows where you live.”

I know there are many more out there. What are your favorites? Send them to me at bradkava@bradkava.com and I’ll include them in a future column.

TALK NEWS at NEWS TALK: The Bay’s top-rated station for three decades, KGO, announced a new 2 p.m. host, replacing the much-missed Pete Wilson, who died in July. Veteran ABC newsman Gil Gross gets the spot.

It’s a good pick. Gross, who often fills in for Ronn Owens in the mornings, is a balanced, intelligent newsman, who does a sharp, quick show that is equally adept at news and entertainment. His voice of moderation will stand out from the field of factless yellers and Bush lackies on other spots on the dial.

I can remember one moment when Gross was filling in last December with the author of a book about losing loved ones, “Always Too Soon,” when a distraught woman called and spilled her guts to the host, like he was a friend. Gross adeptly walked the line between paid entertainer and compassionate soul, and made radio feel like what it should be: a community.

Read and comment on Brad Kava’s daily radio blog at www.radio-soup.com.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I liked Pete Wilson's tag line, "Don't believe everything you think."