The Myth of the Glass Ceiling

"Although we weren’t able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you, it’s got about 18 million cracks in it." — Hillary Clinton, June 7, 2008

You might wonder what Hillary and Race in Radio have to do with each other.  It’s pure Clinton.  Saturday, Hillary Clinton gave her pseudo concession speech and it was adequate.  However, the reference to the “glass ceiling” and the “18 million cracks in it,” was a veiled accusation of sexism rolled up in the popular vote debate. Ah, to parse is to be a Clinton. But, please:  Hillary Clinton has an Ivy League education and has made millions of dollars. Maybe she feels guilty that she obtained her success the old fashioned way — she married it.

Across town, at The Lighthouse, Talkers Magazine was having its annual New Media Seminar.  It is the premiere gathering of Talk Radio hosts and executives in the nation.  I’ve attended this meeting about 5 times and this was the best.  There is more balance now: we are not all conservative talk hosts and programmers.  There are political independents (liberals), progressives (liberals) and liberal talk hosts as well as the glut of conservatives of all stripes from Michael Medved to Sean Hannity to yours truly.

There were a couple of interesting dynamics going on there. First, Sean Hannity hosted the Friday Night Hannity After Dark Ice Cream Social and gave the keynote address the following morning.  Of course, Hannity is the star of this event.  Absent Rush Limbaugh, Hannity is the king in waiting of talk radio.  His charm, kindness and willingness to talk to and acknowledge every person there no matter how small or how large the station is the hallmark of the Hannity mystique.  He truly loves these folks and remembers when he was that unknown guy getting advice from Michael Harrison, the publisher of Talkers Magazine. 

Hannity left the convention after his keynote speech and in the subsequent panels there were more than a few negative references to Hannity and his star power. It was especially evident in the “Talk Radio and Race” panel on Saturday afternoon.  The panel was supposed to include Rev. Al Sharpton and Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson.  In addition, Coz Carson of WWRL in New York, Charles Etheridge of KISS-FM in New York, Lincoln Ware of WDBZ in Cincinnati and Larry Young of WOLB in Baltimore rounded out the panel.  Rev. Sharpton did not show up — which is a pattern for him with this group — and Sunny James of The Sunny James Show podcast took his place on stage. 

Michael Harrison did his usual brilliant job of keeping this group in check but it wasn’t easy. In the introductions, Harrison mentioned that Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson was recommended by Sean Hannity to balance the panel.  It is a given that in a panel about race and radio in a country where blacks vote 90% Democrat, balance is hard to find.  So, 5 liberals and 1 conservative is balance. Larry Young and Coz Carson vouched for Rev. Sharpton’s absence with Young saying that Sharpton must be answering the call to some injustice in the country.  Peterson said that Sharpton wasn’t there because he was afraid to face him — and then the fireworks began.

Lincoln Ware said that any suggestion by Sean Hannity for a panel should be suspect.  Peterson said that Sharpton was a race monger and said that we have to stop dividing the country by race. Charles Etheridge said that we shouldn’t criticize Sharpton because he wasn’t there.  Then, the audience got involved when one man shouted, “like Sean Hannity.”  This went on for a few minutes and then the topic got back on track.

Sunny James shared her experiences in the NBC newsroom and the racism that she experienced there.  Michael Harrison asked thoughtful questions and then Sunny commented that she only saw white faces in the hall where sponsors presented their organizations.  This was an unfair shot at Talkers and The New Media Seminar.  They take all organizations that want to support the seminar and they don’t ask what race the people are but Talkers is a business and sponsorships cost money.

The vitriol towards Rev. Peterson was palpable on the panel but not in the audience.  The other panelists did not believe he belonged there although he hosts a radio show live and on podcast. During the time leading up to the panel, there was a buzz because with the anticipation of Sharpton and Peterson together, a rumble was expected.  Even though Sharpton didn’t show, the panel did not disappoint.

Once the dust settled, Coz Carson of WWRL in New York won the day.  He pointed out that you can’t be a “black” broadcaster.  You have to be good at the craft of broadcasting, you have to provide content that works and if you do that you meet the needs of the black community and you are providing good radio anyone would want to listen to everyday.  While Coz is probably left of center, he’s an entrepreneur who has been tested in the marketplace and knows how to succeed.  He’s got it right.  He wants to meet the needs of his listeners with good content that gets ratings. He gets it.

What does Race in Radio have to do with Hillary Clinton and Sexism?  It’s the attitude. The message, or in radio the content, has to be right and then you might get a chance to be heard.  But it’s not a mathematical equation and opportunity has to meet preparation for success to occur.  Hillary might want to allude to the glass ceiling, but it isn’t there.  Politics isn’t a mathematical equation either.  Hillary peaked too soon and then didn’t get her mojo back until it was too late.  Unlike the Republican opponent, McCain peaked too soon, bottomed out but then got it back in time to get the nomination. So it’s not Clinton/Guiliani; it’s Obama/McCain and this is just the beginning.

There are a million stories in the Naked City, NYC, and here are a few of them. Hillary Clinton is planning for the future, Sean Hannity is still on top of the media world and radio is a business that has to make a profit.  The color is not white or black, it is dollar bill green.