The following is a guest post from Tim Ambler. He's the founder of MightyPromos, a marketing firm that offers promotional footballs that can be be printed with a custom logo or message. The views expressed here are solely the author's, and not those of Syracuse University, the Campbell Institute, or the WRVO stations. One quick thought: If the accusations are true, it all makes perfect sense and seems non-controversial--IF the show's value is seen purely as entertainment. It gets murkier for a show that purports to provide publicly useful political information.
Recently, reports have circulated through the Internet and other media sources that say popular talk show host Rush Limbaugh, among others, has been using paid actors on his radio show. According to the reports, which claim an "inside executive" as their source, an actor or actress would be hired by the show to call in during regular show hours, and to work from a script. The production agency behind Limbaugh's show, Premiere Radio Networks, has denied the allegations. Premiere Radio Networks also produces the shows of well-known television and radio personality Glenn Beck, who has also been alleged to have used the "fake caller" service provided by Premiere known as "Premiere on Call."
The Premiere On Call service is a talent agency for actors and actresses. Jobs range from movies, to television as well as the occasional voice over, or voice recorded spot. These spots are usually recorded working with a script. The accusation states that Premiere Radio Networks hired talent from On Call and had them call in to the various radio shows while they were playing on the air.
The agency's website stated that Premiere On Call Service provides voice talent to take or make on-air calls, improvise on a scene or conversation that was going on, as well as read from prepared scripts when asked to do so. The site guaranteed to have the voice you needed only a quick online form away. The site also guaranteed that no repeat actors or actresses would be used, so callers aren't hearing the same voices over and over again for a six month period. Then the actor or actress would pretend to be a caller, reading from a prepared script. While this may seem dishonest or illegal, actually it is neither. This is a practice that has been going on in radio and television since the earliest days of broadcast media.
The radio network claims that the On Call Service was basically used to connect voice talent with prospective employers in the business. Since then someone has removed virtually all reference to the On Call service from the Premiere Radio Network's website.
Limbaugh steadfastly denies any involvement in the matter, and for what it is worth it almost sounds believable. It is easy to picture station management going over Limbaugh's head to make a decision like this. In times past the sometimes volatile Limbaugh has been less than receptive to new ideas. Though it is interesting to point out that later in the same show Limbaugh claimed the restrictive rules and regulations of the FCC made it necessary for companies such as Premiere to hire voice talent.
Premiere continues to deny that any voice overs were used on any shows. There was no comment from Glenn Beck regarding the accusations.
A spokesperson for Premiere Radio states that while the hiring of On Call was done by executives, how the talent is utilized is up to the managers, staff and hosts of the individual shows. The company went on to say that this service is basically used for managers, staff and companies who are looking for on-air talent to supplement their programming. Some of the usage examples put forth were radio commercials and public service announcements.
That's all very well and good, but to me there doesn't seem to be much difference in what the accusations say they are doing, and what the company says they are doing. It's not a big step from commercial to call in, and amongst the various reports that have begun to trickle in on this subject was one from one such actor. This actor states that for his audition, he was given the scene of being a caller on a popular radio show. And when he was hired he was told that he would be part of a rotating available staff, and that his job would be to call into popular radio shows. And he is not the only one.
There have been actors and actresses doing voice overs since the invention of sound in picture. Do you really think that person always sounds that great? Just like movie and television actors have stunt doubles and stand-ins, the same thing goes for radio and voice talent. Some days your voice isn't with you. Radio stations typically hire talented voice actors for commercial spots. These people don't work for the radio station either. So why doesn't someone care about that? If a company hires people to call into a radio show, that should not be a problem. If this practice is used however, it should be done in a clear and equitable manner, so as to not falsify ratings or audience opinions.
This practice is not illegal. It's not even clear which radio shows may or may not have used paid actors. Rush Limbaugh is probably right in this case--he was probably singled out because of his notoriety. But while Limbaugh may try to badger and bully around to his point of view, he doesn't really seem like the type to stoop to cheating to gain a leg up.
If anything at all was done, it was probably done at the behest of the radio station executives. The actual people working on the actual shows probably had little to do with it. While Hannity may seem a likely culprit based on his actions in the past, there is no proof of this whatsoever. This story gained most of its momentum thanks to the ability of the Internet to spread news faster and farther. Not because it was true or even newsworthy, but because people just like to spread bad news.
Note: This blog draws in part on my experiences and observations interviewing political figures, writers, and analysts for "The Campbell Conversations" on WRVO. To hear past interviews I refer to in these posts, please go to the show's website. The views expressed here are solely my own, and do not represent Syracuse University, the Campbell Institute, or the WRVO Stations.
In addition to comments, I'd love to have guest posts. Please send ideas or full-blown posts to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.