[Cross-posted at OpEd News]
An online leak has emerged which reveals a questionable practice used by the employer of the biggest names in radio.
America's #1 and #2 radio broadcast hosts today and for decades have been Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, whose ratings and profits have dominated once thriving local markets. After industry deregulation paved the way, their boss, Premiere Radio Networks and parent company Clear Channel Communications have used a Wal-Mart model of steamrolling or acquiring small, independent original radio businesses, syndicating everything from robotized genre music stations to a political talk show hosts selling snake oil.
But according to an online account, Premiere is hiring actors to fake on-air calls to radio shows who do not divulge the scam. Before being abruptly removed, their website read:
"Premiere On Call is our new custom caller service... We supply voice talent to take/make your on-air calls, improvise your scenes or deliver your scripts. Using our simple online booking tool, specify the kind of voice you need, and we'll get your the right person fast. Unless you request it, you won't hear that same voice again for at least two months, ensuring the authenticity of your programming for avid listeners".
As reported, once the actor "passed the audition, he would be invited periodically to call in to various talk shows and recite various scenarios that made for interesting radio." In addition, the source was specifically told there would be no on-air disclosure of the fabricated nature of the call. He subsequently landed the job, at $40 per hour and a minimum one hour of work per day.
This suggests a wide network of radio clients is broadcasting bogus calls by actors, categorized by their accents or vocal qualities. Next time you hear a "gruff", "clean", "crisp", "deep", or "textured" voice, you might just be hearing a Premiere On Call actor secretively playing a real person.
But they can never go public because they are gagged from talking about it. Note their iron-clad confidentiality clause, also removed from their site, but cached here:
"Confidentially agreement: By requesting an audition you are also agreeing to keep the details of the audition and the type of work that you may perform confidential. This applies to information acquired while working for Premiere or any of its affiliates. Disclosure to any third party, sharing project information or publicizing what you do (including via social media) may be considered grounds for dismissal or further action."
"I was surprised that it seemed so open. There was really no pretense of covering it up", the actor told the TabletMag.com interviewer.
Why is this leaker not in trouble? According to the account, Premiere had this prospective employee audition for work by actually calling in live to a show and reading one of their scripts for free. This is worse by a magnitude - offering people a financial incentive to lie about who they are is promoting a disturbing moral message to people in need of money, an awfully sinful practice that monetizes and rewards unethical behavior.
Ironically, another clause in the fine print of the one-sided contract for use of their web services makes users sign away their "moral rights" and hypocritically claims to frown upon just this type of fraud and deception, banning activities which:
"[i]mpersonate another person or entity or falsely state or otherwise misrepresent your affiliation with a person or entity, or adopt a false identity if the purpose of doing so is to mislead, deceive, or defraud another."
Industry watchers claim they would not be surprised to find any number of goofy DJ shows using plants for their various pranks and exploits, but it would be a different story if used for political shows and "astroturfing". A Premiere Radio Networks spokesperson Rachel Nelson did not deny the service was being abused, saying instead that it is the stations that are responsible for how the calls are "integrated into programs".
In 2008, we heard about an industry insider who worked at Milwaukee's WTMJ when they denied air time to sitting U.S. Senator Russ Feingold who was trying to refute slanted claims made to the Wisconsin public. Since no one filed any FCC complaints, the stations routinely turned away callers with opposing views, a former program director at the station revealed.
While this news does not specifically prove hosts like Hannity used the planted caller services his parent company sells, Hannity's record of being caught manipulating public opinion, deceptively editing tapes, suppressing opposing views, and lopsided call ratios through the decades speaks for itself. The show doesn't sound like America and never has.
It is documented and time-stamped on Twitter for years now, how "average" Hannity callers are denied public rebuttal time. Dissenters describe Hannity's screeners practice intimidation, requiring they produce a return phone number in exchange for air time.
But if Hannity's on-air calls were faked without disclosure, fines or license revocation are well within the jurisdiction of the FCC or Attorney General's office. Although it might be hard to prove the host was in on it, it's the FCC license holder that would be accountable anyway.
Hannity has always maintained it's the listeners and sponsors who decide if they want deliberately distorted programming, but this would be deception of a higher order, if he had actors pretending for example to be soldiers, or military families, doctors, health care workers, etc.
Hannity's tricks, out-of-context smears and questionable charity "expenses" demand he deny on the record his knowledge of this practice. Otherwise, it is reasonable to assume he has been doing this throughout his 20 year career, especially using his brand of logic.
Updated - see important follow ups:
Limbaugh, Hannity, Beck Respond To Report That Parent Company Hires Actors for Call-ins
Report: Glenn Beck Staged Calls as Wacky DJ, More Questions Abound
How Hannity's "Fair and Open" Screeners Censor Liberals