Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Top Ironic News of the Day: Traffic-Stuck Drivers Hear Radio Host Blast Signing of Rail Contract; What If Honolulu Had a DeeJay Who Liked Rail?

What would the tone of the so-called “rail debate” in our community be like if Honolulu had a radio talk show host who supported the Honolulu rail project five mornings a week?

There’d be a certain logic for a radio station to adopt a pro-rail viewpoint during morning drive, especially one that carries traffic reports four or five times an hour.

Honolulu rail will give scores of thousands of drivers complete freedom from traffic tyranny. By being elevated above all surface-street congestion, the system will deliver fast, frequent, reliable and safe transportation to patrons who board anywhere along its 20-mile route.

You have to believe the local buzz would be decidedly different if a Honolulu station provided an outlet for the pent-up frustration commuters feel in their twice-a-day grind along the H-1 freeway and other east-west routes.

Airwave Irony
As it is, the conservative anti-government-spending host on the formerly all-news Honolulu station uses the public airwaves to attack rail day in and day out. Rail opponents, including a handful of high-profile activists, are always welcomed onto his air.

This host does invite pro-rail listeners to call, but few if any ever do thanks to the reception they receive. Personal habits being what they are, rail supporters are more likely to have found another station to entertain them in their daily commutes.

But it does seem ironic for a radio personality to be so dead-set against rail while complaining so much about traffic. Two weeks ago today, as President Obama shut down the freeway to travel from the Ko`olina resort in west Oahu to the Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam for his flight to Australia, the host wailed about the plight of commuters affected by the highway’s closure.

They were caught in “a very difficult situation…. What you’re enduring right now has to be just unbelievable…. We have limited routes to get around. We have the H-1, H-2, H-3, and it all filters into downtown, and you have to get there!”
All his pro-commuter hyperbole doesn’t extend to supporting the rail alternative to traffic, of course. Rail is the costliest government project in the state’s history and therefore must be condemned as a matter of principle.

What If?
We heard more of the host’s anti-rail rhetoric this morning as he reported HART’s signing of a contract with Ansaldo Honolulu JV to provide rail cars, train controls and to operate and maintain Honolulu’s future system. It got us to wondering how listeners would react if a morning drive host supported Honolulu rail consistently and sympathized with commuters’ traffic woes.

Honolulu traffic is among the nation’s worst, according to the Texas Transportation Institute, and it takes a toll on commuters who must deal with it twice a day. Wouldn’t a radio host who both complains about traffic and supports the rail alternative find an audience among those commuters?

Listeners gravitate to programs and hosts with whom they agree – or at least, to hosts who manage to avoid being disagreeable. That’s one way the Perry and Price show has dominated Honolulu radio rankings for nearly three decades – agreeable music, agreeable opinions, agreeable format. (Agreeability isn’t always the winning formula. P&P took over KGMB radio’s morning program after the death of host Hal Lewis – aka "J. Akuhead Pupule." Owner Cec Heftel had made the disagreeable Aku the highest-rated, highest-paid radio host in the nation.)

A station that “played the rail card” might find an audience among long-suffering commuters who look forward to having a rail travel option but find no support for it on a radio dial mostly dominated by conservative talkers -- the exception being (mildly conservative but likeable) Perry and Price.

The rail card play probably isn't going to happen, but it sure would be a refreshing counter-point to the knee-jerk anti-rail opinions we hear Monday through Friday.

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