Labor and the media
On air with labor radio host Steve Crockett
Interview by Ron Ennis, Lehigh Valley Postal Workers
Editor, Lehigh Valley Labor Council
Steve Crockett is a busy guy. The radio talk show host had just traveled through a January storm the night before his Thursday morning program when he sat down with the News & Views. His weekly show, Democratic Talk Radio, is a Steve Crockett magnet for labor activists, progressives and Democrats.
The success of Crockett’s show is largely attributable to his friendly manner and his passionate interest in labor issues and civil liberties. He is a member of the National Writers Union (United Autoworkers, Local #1981) and the Office and Professional Employees International Union, Local #277.
The News & Views caught up with Crockett in his hotel lobby to talk to him about labor and the media.
News & Views: What makes your program different than the other talk radio shows?
Primarily, it’s the message and who we represent. Right wing talk radio represents corporate forces. Their message is that labor unions are bad, workers should not be able to act collectively and there should be neither consumer nor environmental protection laws. Everything I don’t believe in, they believe in.
How did you get into the business as a radio talk show host?
I started Democratic Talk Radio because of the role right-wing radio played in stopping the recount vote in Florida during the 2000 presidential campaign between Al Gore and George Bush. As you know, it was a judicial coup d’ etat orchestrated by the U.S. Supreme Court that stopped the recount.
I asked myself after the ruling was handed down, what’s it worth to me as a working class guy to live in a free country? And the answer was everything.
So, I started out in Fayetteville, Tenn., Al Gore’s old House district, and over the next five years spent $30,000 of my own money to get the message out about the corporate forces taking over America.
Eventually, I had a show that was nationally syndicated on i.e. America Network, which was backed by the United Autoworkers. It folded at about the same time as Air America went into production.
My current show, Democratic Talk Radio, started on April 3, 2008. It’s broadcast from Bethlehem every Thursday morning at 8:05 am on WGPA-1100AM.
You could have taken your talents anywhere. Why did you set up “shop” in the Lehigh Valley?
Politically, it is a very exciting area. It’s a swing congressional district in a swing state.
You’ve had quite a few guests on your current program.
I’ve had Gregg Potter, Labor Council president, Jerry Green and Leo Gerard from the steelworkers, Pennsylvania AFL-CIO president Bill George, Wendell Young IV, president of the Food & Commercial Workers Local #1776, Fran Friel, president of the Penna. Postal Workers, Dennis Hower, vice-president of the Teamsters Local #773, congressional candidates Ed O’Brien, Charles Dertinger and Sam Bennett, Allentown City mayor Ed Pawlowski, Northampton County Democratic chair Joe Long and many other local and statewide political officials.
I’ve also had some bloggers, book authors and political figures from outside our listening area on the show. You can be sure that I’ll keep the program interesting. The problem that we have is that we have only one hour per week.
I should also mention my co-host on the program, Dana Garrett. He writes for the blog Delaware Watch and is a co-host on another radio program called Progressive Voices, which is aired from the campus of the University of Delaware on WVUD. Very intelligent guy.
What makes an interesting guest on a radio show?
Primarily, an interesting person with a story to tell. It certainly helps if they can articulate a passion and a commitment to a cause greater than themselves
Since you’ve talked to quite a few labor leaders, what are some of the concerns they have in common?
Of course, the Employee Free Choice Act stands out as the number one issue. With the decline of unions has come the decline of the middle class and weakened our democracy.
Free trade is a topic discussed frequently on our show. Finally, the healthcare crisis rounds out the top three themes that engage our guests and callers.
How is your show funded?
It was the Laborers’, Local #1174 that gave us the start up money to put Democratic Talk Radio on the air. They have been great sponsors from the beginning.
The other sponsor that has been so critical to the success of the program is the Mail Room, the Lehigh Valley’s only unionized printer.
We’ve also received support from other union locals, Democratic Party organizations and law firms.
Financing was a struggle in the beginning. I paid for almost half of the air time, not to mention my two hour drive from my home in Maryland.
Sponsorship is always welcomed and I ask anyone interested in supporting our program to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 443-907-2367.
Do you think labor organizations do enough to get their message out?
No! Quite simply, no.
But I do think they are trying more, especially here in Pennsylvania. Rick Smith, a Teamster, has a phenomenal weekend show entitled United for Progress, which is broadcast out of Carlisle, Pennsylvania. And Charles Showalter, a member of the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists, hosts a great show in the Pittsburgh area called The Union Edge.
What should union leaders be doing, though? Rick Smith, Charles Showalter and you are getting the message out.
Union leaders should not be afraid to talk to journalists. Part of it is that the internationals should give their local leaders some leeway to talk to the media.
Everyone should realize that they may be misquoted sometimes. And learn to live with that to some degree. We also need to train our guys on message control and how to talk to the media.
Some union leaders have told me that they’d never talk to the papers.
Absolutely. And the reason is because they are frequently misquoted.
Unfortunately, if you don’t talk to them, then the only side the public will hear is the other side. I believe it is better to get a slightly distorted version of your side than nothing at all.
I have found that reporters are fairly friendly, although that may not be the case with the owners of the paper. In today’s print media, reporters are not as aware of working class issues as they use to be because of the increased professionalism of journalists and journalism schools.
Years ago, most of your reporters came from working class families and working class backgrounds. And every major urban area had a labor newspaper.
Today, they are almost all gone. I think it is fantastic that you have in the Lehigh Valley The Union News published by Paul Tucker. It’s amazing that Tucker’s publication exists because very few places have a labor press. Contemporary journalists don’t understand blue-collar concerns, although they might be sympathetic to white-collar issues.
Of course, I think we should go on radio more. We need to finance our own media in order to do a permanent campaign just like the other side does. Whether it’s Tucker’s Union News or Democratic Talk Radio, unions need to support labor media.
What new media projects are you working on?
Oh, there are so many! (chuckles)
Well, just give me two or three.
My most immediate project is helping to pass the Employee Free Choice Act. For example, I’ve used Facebook to network with other activists. I think the legislation is so important.
Longer term, I’d like to create a national advertising agency for the benefit of labor organizations and progressive groups with the goal of building our own media.
We are also working on getting Democratic Talk Radio into the Philadelphia market. You have some phenomenal pro-labor candidates coming out of the Lehigh Valley who need greater exposure outside of the area if they are to be successful statewide. And the Labor Council does some great work that should be recognized beyond the Lehigh Valley.
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EDITOR’S NOTE: Article reprinted from the February 2009 edition of the NEWS & VIEWS (Lehigh Valley Labor Council AFL-CIO newsletter).