There is a small but growing band of progressives who donate their time, equipment and talents to airing home-based progressive political talk shows on the Internet. One of the stars of this movement is Cleveland-based Ken Picklesimer, Jr. a/k/a Kenny Pick, host of the Turn Up the Night with Kenny Pick show which airs on Tuesdays and Fridays from 7-10 p.m. ET on the USTREAM Radio or Not channel on the web, and on Talk Radio One and Progressive Blend Radio (disclosure: the author is one of the co-hosts of Turn Up the Night).
Ken is a southeastern Ohio native who has always been enthralled with media and pop culture. Over the years, he has produced numerous illustrations and paintings, written and performed hundreds of songs, created independent comic books, worked on dozens of short films, contributed comedy bits to several radio programs and eventually started his own Internet talk show.
This week, Ken answered some exclusive interview questions regarding Turn Up the Night, progressive radio, and the state of the political media today:
Your bio mentions that you are into music, comics and illustrating. Can you tell us more about these passions of yours?
I've been drawing since I was a little kid. I illustrated my own comics and board games until I got to high school. I became the president of my art club in 10th grade and expanded my abilities to painting, sculpture and figure drawing. In my 20's I began to do flyer and album art and self-published fanzines. I branched out in my 30's to small press comics and illustrated and wrote for several comic books. Afterward, I almost exclusively became a painter. I still provide occasional promotional art for bands and organizations, and design the occasional tattoo.
I also started playing keyboard and recording songs with in the mid-80's. Then I got a hot pink electric guitar and amp for my 16th birthday. In my late teens I started playing punk rock with other local novices. Eventually I moved from the Youngstown area to Kent, Ohio to join my best friend's band, Kill the Hippies. I played with them for about 6 years until I married my wife Susan in 1998. Susan and I moved to Cleveland that same year. While in Cleveland I played guitar/bass and/or sang in a bunch of local bands. I've also recorded, produced and performed with many other bands largely for my former record label, Paternity Records.
Obviously, progressive politics is a great passion of yours as well. How did you become an active participant, and, in particular, an active listener and commenter on other radio shows?
My parents were my biggest political influence. My father has been a UAW member and GM employee since before I was born. My mom wrote for local newspapers and owned and operated several small businesses. Both of my parents were heavily involved in local Democratic campaigns, working for the likes of Jim Traficant and Sherrod Brown. I tagged along for several fundraisers and helped out at the Columbiana County Democratic headquarters on occasion.
You're known for producing funny audio clips, backed with music, that satirize conservatives and/or promote progressives. Your "Used Foods Emporium" clips in response to remarks by Herman Cain come to mind. When did you discover this talent?
When I was a kid I was notorious for mishearing lyrics in songs. It became a running joke, and I began intentionally making up wrong or goofy lyrics for popular songs. That eventually evolved into making bad spoof songs in the mid-80's and continued when I started writing and recording audio plays. The comedy of "spoofing" songs grew into my own style of comedy. I'd always been enamored with music and old time radio, so the two began to merge. When I started playing in "real" bands and recording albums, I'd always push for audio clips from TV & movies to be sampled or put between songs. Eventually I began writing and producing more polished spoken word material to use on albums.
I hadn't produced any audio solely on a computer until 2009, when Glenn Beck got his show on Fox News. I made an audio montage of Beck set to Heart's "Crazy on You," sent it to the Stephanie Miller Show, and as luck would have it, they played it on the air. I continued making similar montages regarding Sarah Palin, Ann Coulter, Orly Taitz and so on. Then I began making my own comedy bits without setting pop culture clips to pop music. I enjoyed writing bits like that and continue to write and record phony ads when absurd topics arise. "Used Foods Emporium" is the crown jewel of bits like that. I've enjoyed making jingles for my co-hosts on my talk show and always look for an opening to produce a real ad or a fake one for the sake of promoting the Liberal cause.
Can you tell us a bit about the USTREAM Radio or Not channel, and how you made the jump to doing your own radio show there?
Before I had a show on Radio or Not, I started my own podcast of Turn Up the Night. I had no idea what I was doing, but I figured it out pretty quickly. I started booking guests and was cranking out shows on a regular basis. I also started experimenting with co-hosts that eventually led me to the crew I have now. At one point, I asked Nicole Sandler to be a guest on my show and in turn, she checked out TUTN and had a different idea. Nicole told me she really enjoyed my show and asked if I could fill in for her live program while she subbed for Randi Rhodes. Shortly after filling in for Nicole, I transitioned TUTN to a live show on the Radio Or Not USTREAM channel. I've been doing shows on Tuesday and Friday for about 2 years now.
How would you describe the Turn Up the Night with Kenny Pick show?
First and foremost, TUTN is a labor of love. I'm also very fortunate that my co-hosts Tom Shafer, Debbha Kel, P.s. Mueller and a certain Matt Emmer have dedicated themselves to the program and contributed to its quality, fun and success.
Generally, TUTN puts a "liberal laser focus" on current news and politics, with an abundance of snark and sarcasm. As the producer and host, I try to work in a comedy bit of my own making or audio clips to support or enhance the topics du jour. If I don't have something wacky lined up, I can always count on my co-hosts to remind me of something in my audio library. There are also several listeners (Rocky Mountain Mike, BrokeHammer, Creeto, etc.) who contribute comedy bits on a regular basis. Overall, when you listen to TUTN, you're going to learn something while laughing.
Since this is the Messaging Matters blog, what have you learned about political communications since starting Turn Up the Night? Are there any examples, people or techniques on either side that stand out as especially good -- or especially ineffective?
I used to be an "evangelical atheist" until I realized that not all religious people were out to get me. I'd developed a real chip on my shoulder from personal experiences with Fundamentalist Christians and one day directed my anger at a good friend who was a liberal Catholic, by saying something really cruel about the Pope. I saw the look on my friend's face and realized that I had hurt her feelings. From then on, I decided it'd be best to engage in empathy, rather than start unwarranted flame wars. I still enjoy pointing out hypocrisy, but I've learned how to pick a fight.
As for examples of who is good and bad at messaging? The Good: John Fugelsang. He's brilliant, succinct and poignant without being scathing or petty. I've often referred to John as the George Carlin of my generation. The Bad: Sarah Palin. Where to begin? Palin uses words like farmers use manure. Spread it everywhere and hope something grows.
We know how good Republicans and conservatives are at political communications, generally speaking. They fall into line and follow directions from the top, so they can all say the same talking points at the same time. What do you think of the current political communications by Democrats and progressives in comparison?
I've noticed a couple of things: Republicans THRIVE on talking points. However, unlike Bush in 2000 and 2004, this time around in 2012 the GOP talking points seem to be their downfall. It seems the Right has a more difficult time adapting their message as time passes and society evolves.
I think Democrats have a hard time focusing on talking points because their message is more broad and nuanced. But President Obama has the luxury of several major accomplishments and the scatter-shot approach of the Romney campaign in which to build his message.
What would you like Turn Up the Night to accomplish?
I want anyone who listens to the show to come away with a laugh and hopefully a new perspective on the political spectrum. I would also like several hundreds of millions of dollars. And a really awesome cheeseburger.
Humor, politics and awesome cheeseburgers. That sounds like a prescription for success.
[Originally published at Messaging Matters]