(By Rob Dumke) William O’Shaughnessy knows a lot of people — the famous, not so famous, and infamous. His fifth book, Radio Active, is filled with those people. His interviews with them, thoughts about them, and letters from them. Altogether, the book is a mosaic of moments from his storied career.
“I guess my writings and ravings reflect my great interest in the issues of the day,” said the President and Editorial Director of Whitney Global Media, parent company of radio stations WVOX-AM and WVIP-FM in New Rochelle,
“My portfolio as a community broadcaster in the heart of the Eastern Establishment has given me access to a lot of influential, interesting, and attractive people. My interest has not been rock and roll, I don’t deal with that. I’ve always been interested in the great issues of the day, and in politics, poker, civic and community issues.”
Talking with Radio Ink, O’Shaughnessy gave us his unfiltered view of radio today — what it has turned into and, in his mind, what it should be.
“I’ve always thought that a radio station achieves its highest calling when it resembles a platform, a forum, for the expression of many different viewpoints,” he said. “Radio needs to go beyond being a jukebox. A lot of colleagues in this business preside over jukeboxes. They feel very good about it — God love them. I wouldn’t feel very good about it.
“I think a radio station can do more than entertain. Mario Cuomo used to say you can build up a community with a radio station. You can make it stronger. And his favorite word was you can even make it sweeter.”
Radio can remain viable, according to O’Shaughnessy, if it embraces where it lives. “You have to reflect the community. You have to do a lot of open-line programs. You gotta be a platform, a forum where many different voices can be heard. Not merely a jukebox.” He added, “It depends how you look at a radio station. Is it going to be an instrument of communication where you can raise em’ up, inspire them, and make them think. Or do you just want to be a xylophone?”
Part one of Radio Active reflects O’Shaughnessy at his passionate best, talking about the importance of freedom of speech.
O’Shaughnessy writes, “I’ve devoted a great deal of my professional life to advocacy for the First Amendment and free speech matters. So much so that I’ve been referred to over the years as a First Amendment voluptuary. I wear the designation as a badge of honor.”
He thinks free speech has often been ignored in radio, telling Radio Ink, “The language of America is sometimes vulgar, sometimes insensitive, sometimes crude; but all of it needs to be defended. You gotta let the people decide. I would think that our colleagues, instead of worrying about the top 40, 50 or 100, should start worrying about this stuff.”
Ever the promoter, O’Shaughnessy suggests his 600-plus page tome would be perfect in a radio station promotions closet.
“This book is a great promotional item. It’s a lot better than coffee mugs or tee-shirts. These books not only get people to think, but they do good by the radio station. These books register and resonate with people.”