August 31, 2010

THE RAINMAKER:

Beck on Top: The talk-show host's 'Restoring Honor' rally was about one thing: him. (Alexander Zaitchik, August 29, 2010, New Republic)

To understand what Glenn Beck accomplished with “Restoring Honor,” it’s useful to look back at the methods Beck has always used to promote himself and further his career. His path to last Saturday’s success began, appropriately, while working in Washington, D.C., as a WPGC morning jock during the early ‘80s. It was there that Beck met another young DJ named Bruce Kelly, who became his first mentor in the art of publicity. For the next two decades, Beck labored in the fiercely competitive world of zoo-style Top 40 morning radio, where DJs fought dirty for attention—from local media coverage to top billing at charity events. “It’s hard for people who never worked in FM radio during the 1980s to really understand how deep publicity-hunger runs in Beck’s blood,” says Kelly, a radio veteran who worked with and against Beck in two markets. “Morning radio DJ’s were the Navy Seals of getting your name out there and keeping it out there. It was all about finding the biggest stage to promote yourself and your shows. Take away the high rhetoric, and Saturday is just a masterful lesson in the art of the publicity stunt. Old DJ’s like me can only stand in awe.”

Years before Beck made it as the maudlin hype man of the paranoid style, he was famous for high-dive publicity splashes following a masterful long-tease. In Baltimore in the early ’90s, while working with his current radio co-host Pat Gray, Beck turned straw into gold by building up the grand opening of an underground theme park, Magicland, which did not exist. He did it all with a few audio clips and an understanding of his audience’s psychology—the very tools he later used to create the political Magicland known as the Van Jones Scandal.

The closest analog to Saturday in Beck’s past was his 2003 traveling “Rally for America” road show. As with last weekend’s “Restoring Honor,” Beck falsely billed those controversial rallies as “nonpolitical,” used charitable donations to defray logistics costs, piggybacked, when possible, on other events such as Memorial Day parades, and barely bothered to hide the fact that the whole thing was a shameless brand-building exercise, stamped with his corporate logo.


It's one sweet racket.


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Posted by Orrin Judd at August 31, 2010 8:44 PM
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