Today is a sad day for Connecticut media. At 10:00, Diane Smith will be signing off WTIC for the last time; at 6:00, Colin McEnroe will do the same (who knows – by the time you read this we may be short several more dailies and scores more weeklies as well). Both shows are as much a part of my daily routine as getting in the car and driving to and from work every day. I want to take a moment, before getting into the nuts and bolts of these moves by WTIC (more nuts than bolts, believe me), to pay tribute to Diane and Colin. There will be plenty of time to analyze this from a business perspective tomorrow.
Ray is a pro and I’m sure his show will still be good as a (briefer) solo show. But it won’t be as good. Diane is smart and funny, and was a perfect foil to Ray. Neither one of them was in danger of being elected to the sports broadcaster’s hall of fame, but listening to them interview UCONN’s Randy Edsall was always fun. The show, being in the morning, wasn’t overtly political, but politics clearly was present – something will be lost when it comes up on Monday and Diane isn’t there to counter Ray’s “don’t tax me ever, but I still want good schools and services” sensibility. I also don’t know if there is truth to the rumor that the show will be renamed, “Die, polar bear, die.” Diane will be missed.
Speaking of people who won’t be inducted in to the sports broadcaster’s hall of fame, Connecticut will lose a gem at 6:00 when Colin goes off the air. Yes, I agreed with him far more than I disagreed with him, and yes, he had me on the show a couple or three times; this isn’t about that. The show was good. You didn’t have to agree with him or be a guest to think that. But while we are on the topic, one thing that I loved was his willingness to support bloggers. He had many of us on his show multiple times, he credits us when he cites our work (it sounds like a small thing, but its not, it is very rare), he pretends to not notice the Cheetos-stains when we venture out of our moms’ basements. And more than that, he supports all kinds of local – if a local poetry festival fails, he’ll start his own! And he used his show to do it – many people will miss Colin’s show for reasons not political – from the Mark Twain House, to bloggers with and without nose hair issues, to me, who picked up a new favorite mystery author when Colin interviewed George Pelecanos last summer.
What was best about the show, contrary to a lot of talk radio hosts on both sides of the political spectrum, was his willingness to take on callers who disagreed with him. Their views got an airing, Colin listened, and then often took them apart. Others have written about his chops as a gadfly – pressuring the Rowland administration, falling asleep on the air after making Senator Lieberman’s head explode, being a tempering voice in the days after 9-11 when seemed as if anyone’s blood would do, and pushing back publicly against the case for the Iraq War. I won’t repeat that here except to say that, agree or disagree, someone like that is needed for a healthy political discourse. Something fundamental to our Connecticut democracy is lost without a person on a (digital or analog) soapbox shouting at power.
For me, two other examples of excellence in broadcasting stand out. First, transportation – months ago, before any budget issues, I heard Colin take Governor Press Release to task for not using her inflated approval ratings (political capitol) for something bold. He challenged her to create a Manhattan Project for transportation in Connecticut, both to alleviate the job-stifling traffic conditions across the state and to deal with skyrocketing gas prices. A few weeks ago, he returned to the subject again after the Governor was unable to name the few projects (think like 6) that actually were shovel ready on an NPR interview about shovel ready infrastructure projects. And he made a great point, one that we are sure to return to at CTLP – that the federal government saying, “give us your projects and we will pay for them” is a once in a lifetime opportunity, that she needed to show some actual leadership and pressure everyone possible to get projects like the NewHaven-Hartford-Springfield train (and dare I dream, SUPERTRAIN?) ready, that it will be on the Governor if projects like that do not get built. I don’t know if I will ever be able to commute to Hartford, but I know it is less likely without Colin there to provide pressure.
The second example is one that all the statewide and national radio and television hosts of all the ideologies in the world can’t do and we will find it near impossible to replace. He held the Hartford Police Department’s feet to the fire, both in the Krayeske arrest and in the murder of the two Hartford/West Hartford teenagers. I won’t go into all the details here (this is getting long – use the google), but this is the thing that we will miss the most about his particular soapbox, and the thing that Colin should be proudest about – speaking for people who didn’t have the means, the guts, or even the breath to stand up to government when it is wrong. I have no doubt that I will be listening to Colin again soon on some station – a part of me hopes it is local, but the unselfish part is pulling for national, because he deserves it.
So, you know where I will be this morning, and again from 3-6; excuse me in advance for not answering my phone.