CHARLIE MITCHELL: Media dynamic changing for state government fans

By Charlie Mitchell

OXFORD – This may sound like a commercial for a radio network. It’s not meant to be.
It’s just that how and where state government junkies get information has changed. Jackson-based SuperTalk Mississippi is in the driver’s seat. That’s worth talking about.
And talk, of course, is what they do.
The nine FM radio stations in the network blanket the state. For those who can’t pick up a signal – or who want to see the show in addition to hearing it – SuperTalk is on the Internet.
The talk starts at 6 a.m. with “The Gallo Show.” Paul Gallo’s interview and call-in program wasn’t the first in Mississippi, but has been the first to gain traction over the past few years, and it has gained serious traction.
Gallo signs off at 9 a.m. and “The JT Show,” a bit more light-hearted, starts an hour later. J.T., who apparently has no last name, signs off at noon with the show motto, “Never Trust Nobody.” “The Marshall Ramsey Show” is the third show each weekday, starting at 3 p.m. and continuing until 6.
That’s nine hours – nine hours! – of discussion and debate about whatever is on the minds of Mississippians or what the hosts think should be on the minds of Mississippians.
In terms of their politics, Gallo and J.T. make no pretext of balance. They are conservatives’ conservatives. Yet unlike national radio icons of the right, they don’t bate or mock callers who don’t agree with them – nor do they merely spout out-of-context jibberish about, say, President Obama. They get rowdy, but rarely mean.
Ramsey has been better known, perhaps, as the exceptionally talented editorial cartoonist for The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson. His predecessor in the afternoon time slot was Sid Salter, journalist and column-writing colleague who is now teaching and part of the executive team at Mississippi State University. Both are longtime and cherished friends. Their roots in print journalism make them more balanced – more issue-oriented and less agenda-oriented.
For listeners, the best asset of SuperTalk Mississippi is the guests. Want to know what’s going on with suggested changes in Public Employee Retirement System benefits? Tune in and the chairman of the study commission is likely to be on air explaining the findings.
Want to know what’s going on with prisons, pardons, Medicaid funding, traffic cameras – you name it? The people in the key decision-making positions are likely to be on the air, taking questions.
This type of exchange has not existed previously in Mississippi. MPB television has a longstanding show, “Quorum,” with a panel of legislators, but it’s usually so boring and self-serving even the lawmakers’ mothers find a reason not to watch. MPB radio, which also has a statewide network, has really good programs in the morning, but “Mississippi Edition” is brief. The state’s newspapers do the best they can, but fewer than ever have reporters assigned to the state capital. There are some really good websites, blogs and alternative papers reporting and jawboning state topics. SuperTalk also uses multiple platforms, including social media. Most in its audience, however, probably just listen.
The obvious must be pointed out: Newsmakers who make themselves on SuperTalk are opportunistic. Haley Barbour has been a frequent guest. He called in after cutting the ribbon to the Toyota plant. He didn’t dial up Gallo, J.T., or Marshall the let them know he was pardoning a couple of hundred folks on his way out of town.
Similarly, many of the new state officials – Gov. Phil Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and House Speaker Philip Gunn – made use of the free air time while candidates. Notably, however, they are continuing to call in or go to the studios to explain or discuss the state’s news. It would be better if the hosts challenged their guests more, but the hosts are not sycophants. They ask pretty good questions and usually get to the nut of the issues.
More than anything, SuperTalk offers a forum for nine hours – nine hours! – a day.
Gauging by the number of public service announcements aired free during the shows, SuperTalk Mississippi, as with other commercial media, doesn’t have as many advertising customers as it would like to have. Maybe the “state news junkie” demographic is too small.
But for those who care to keep up – or to try to keep up – it’s a new and different asset in a time when civil discourse is harder and harder to find.
Charlie Mitchell is a Mississippi journalist. Write to him at Box 1, University, MS 38677, or email cmitchell43@yahoo.com.