Death Bed Radio

TD Mischke for City Pages

The promotional piece was placed on the back page of the January issue of Talkers Magazine, a national industry rag for 50,000-watt fanatics. Anyone working in talk radio knew it well. But this particular ad, announcing a new radio format, was something no one in the business had ever encountered before. The quarter-page ad read as follows:

"A startling new offering in a medium desperate for innovation.

Death Bed Radio. Coming in February.

Our talk hosts are days (in some cases mere hours) away from the end.

Hear a different type of talk radio:

Death Bed Talk. Noon to 4:00 weekdays on KRYY-AM 1240.

KRYY is a daring and authentic radio venture. Each one of our talk hosts are deep into hospice care. Even the most cynical among us would acknowledge that broadcast discussions conveyed during this time in one's existence are going to be alive with a spirit of honesty and insight difficult to find elsewhere on the dial.

Our talk hosts no longer feel the need to spin, embellish, or clutter their talk. These are their last words, and they make each one count.

Some are angry, some are wistful, but most are accepting and able to deliver raw, heartbreaking wisdom.

Tune in to the most original talk radio format on the dial today: Death Bed Talk. Coming soon courtesy of KRYY-AM, Portland, Oregon. Part of the Condair Media Group."

I was able to tune in the following month while visiting my father-in-law in a suburb north of Portland. What I heard that afternoon was a weak, infirm old man rasping the following words (which I afterward ordered from the station and received via emailed transcript):

"My God, people, my God. Do you not know what you look like from this end, from this primal vantage point? You look so terribly lost. What the hell are you all doing? Do you know? If you do nothing else today, ask yourself that question. Is this it? Is this the game? Is this the way you truly want it? Can you turn it off? Can you spin it around? Can you stare it in the face and see its twisted qualities, its mind-numbing house of horrors? Are you going to just take it? Please, ask yourself now, what the hell are you going to do with the remaining sacred shards of your life? Look in the mirror and ask it! Scream it! Only step away when you're at peace with your answer!"

With that the talk host fell into a crippling coughing jag that sounded like the death rattle itself. A nurse shut down the show temporarily and sent it to commercial while she cared for him.

I sat in my car, in the parking lot of the motel, stunned. I had come across nothing like it in my life. In the days that followed I came to see it as the type of transformation this industry so urgently needs—an awakened media shaking others awake with bold, unvarnished candor. I came to see that the medium had yet to deeply tap the possibilities of the microphone. Suddenly, sitting in Oregon on a rainy February afternoon, I longed to be back in the game. Somewhere, people were still rolling the diamond dice of risk and reward. I remembered what that felt like. I wanted to know it again. 

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