Mark Shannon and I worked together at the station formerly known as "SuperTalk 930, WKY." He was the morning drive guru; I handled the back of the bus in the afternoon slot. Shannon's death as a result of his long and arduous fight against leukemia May 8 most assuredly taught all of us that life is precious, that our time on this earth is limited and is quite fragile.
Shannon's career and successes are irrefutable. Whether you agreed with his politics or not, no one can question his talent or the fact that wherever he went, success was soon to follow. What people need to understand, particularly his detractors, is that talk radio is largely entertainment-driven. While it isn't entertainment in the Stevie Ray Vaughan or Lady Gaga strain, it must be entertaining in order to survive. And talk radio is not only surviving, but is thriving.
For some, political dialogue is entertainment. For Mark, it was his life.
Mark taught me about "bits," putting together one- to two-minute vignettes that were humorous, designed to shock and often just make people laugh. Many of you remember "Stephen from the Paseo." Well, he was inspired by Mark Shannon. Stephen was a "bit." He was a set-up caller who owned two dogs, "Powder" and "Blue," whom he loved dearly. There were times I did that bit and absolutely almost wet myself. It was one of the funniest and most hilarious moments I have ever experienced on radio, and it was all because of Shannon's inspiration.
There are many tricks of the radio trade, and Mark was master of them all. Oklahoma City radio fans remember "Shannon and the Eggman," then "Shannon and Spinozi," where stunts and gimmicks played a significant role in the development of the programming. But what people need to remember is that a lot of the hyperbole is designed to solicit a response from listeners, and this is uniquely true for local talk radio. Listener participation is part and parcel of its success. If the phones aren't ringing, it means that the talent is losing his/her audience. Unless you have a two-to-three-hour monologue prepared, losing callers is talk-radio kryptonite.
And Mark always wore his lead vest. He did his job, and he did it exactly the way he needed to. While there were statements he made that even a conservative like myself found abrasive, somehow, Shannon always survived and used the anger and vitriol against him to his advantage.
The dirty little secret about talk radio is that hosts thrive on conflict on the air. When a detractor calls the show and begins to speak in a disparaging manner about the host or the position of the host, it fires up the base and creates host and station loyalty. So when Shannon's enemies went after him, they achieved the opposite desired result.
Before Shannon went to the great Tea Party in the sky, he was called by some in the movement the "voice of Oklahoma conservatives." Let there be no doubt: Mark Shannon knew his target audience and kept them entertained, fired up and listening. Mark Shannon will be missed greatly by many radio fans in Oklahoma, myself included.
Black is a media consultant and political analyst living in Edmond.