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Russ officially spills the beans on the radio contest

I just got off the phone with Russ — he’s preparing his set for tomorrow’s big event as a finalist in the search for America’s Next Great Progressive Talk Star! It’s down to the final two and it will all be decided on the air — live — tomorrow.

In his zeal to jet to DC, he forgot his cell phone charger, so he asked me to call in and give his hotel phone number to his wife because his cell went dead, tee-hee.

Since Russ was too modest in his earlier non-sequitur posts — and too cryptic — to post the details of great news, I’m putting up emails that he sent the other night and today — he gave permission to “pass it on to anyone who might care” — so Blenders clearly qualify.

Here I am in a $500/night hotel room on K Street in Washington DC, asking myself, “How the hell did I end up here?”

It’s all my wife’s fault.

See, one day my wife comes running up the stairs to our apartment, breathlessly telling me about a contest on our local Air America radio station. It’s some “American Idol” thing where they are looking for “The Next Great Progressive Talk Radio Star”. I had heard the commercial and figured, “Eh.” Not so with my wife. She nagged, cajoled, begged, demanded, and insisted that I enter the contest. “This is so YOU,” she explained, “I just know you’ll win this thing. You’ve got to do it. It’s an opportunity of a lifetime! You’ve prepared your whole life for this. I’m not going to let you put this off. I’m going to remind you every day…” ALL RIGHT, ALREADY, I’LL DO THE DAMN CONTEST!

So I go in the day before the contest entry was due and laid down two minutes of an audition – little riff on the stupid “War on Christmas” meme. I e-mailed it in and figured, “Eh.”

Well, to my surprise, out of over fifty entrants I was chosen to represent Portland in the national contest. Two weeks ago I went head-to-head, live across the nation, against the other seven quarterfinalists. Some were good, some were bad, I figured I was somewhere in the middle. “Eh.”

Last week they called to tell me I made the semi-finals. I went in again to face off against the three remaining contestants. The judge on the broadcast said, “Radical Russ just had the show of his life. He nailed it.” I was beginning to get a bit nervous about this whole thing. If I win, this would be disastrous – my wife could legitimately say “I told you so!” for the rest of my life!

That leads me to now. I made the Finals. Out of over five-hundred entrants nationwide, myself and Curtis Hannum of Denver are the last two. Clay and Reuben, as it were. This Thursday we go on at 10am Eastern live on The Bill Press Show (check local listings) and on http://talkprogress.org. (I think it will be on Saturday at Noon in Portland on AM 620, and perhaps some live “look-ins” on Thom Hartmann’s show Thursday morning). The winner gets a contract with Clear Channel Broadcasting and The Center for American Progress (CAP) for a one-year, nationally-syndicated, weekend progressive talk radio show.

“Eh?… Eh!”

Today I flew from Portland to Minneapolis to DC. I met Curtis – he’s a great guy and very funny, and an independent filmmaker. We had dinner with Bill Press, his engineer, and Theo from CAP in Georgetown at a Italian cafe where an entree is twice my entire per-diem and desserts cost $14 and arrive on plates three times larger than the dessert. (Fortunately, dinner was on CAP). Tomorrow morning it’s breakfast with Clinton’s former Chief of Staff John Podesta, then some studio time, then lunch with Christie Harvey from CAP, then a tour of the Capitol (and perhaps some meetings with freshman congressmen), then dinner with the ThinkProgress.org team. Thursday it’s go-time, then press interviews, then a flight home.

And maybe the title of “America’s Next Great Progressive Talk Star.”

Please pass this on to anyone who might care — I don’t have everyone’s e-mail addresses out on the road. And mucho thanks to everyone who encouraged me, supported me, and congratulated me — you’ve all been the self-confidence I sometimes lack.

–“Radical” Russ Belville

***

Here’s today’s update, now that the cat is out of the bag. Russ revealed more details about his adventures in Washington.

Washington is just awesome, and that’s a word I try not to misuse. Today we had breakfast with John Podesta (Clinton’s former chief of staff and head of Center for American Progress [CAP]). I got to learn some interesting things about the President and a great story about one of his trips to Pakistan.

Then it was off to the studio to record some bits for the show tomorrow. I managed to get a Radical Russ show intro done, a commercial skit about anti-gay Republican hypocrisy, a menacing soundbite about the War on Drugs, and an opening for a spot I’m calling “The God Squad”. The engineer was a genius; we managed to lay all of that down in one hour.

While the other contestant, Curtis Hannum from Denver, recorded his hour, I walked four blocks down K street to the offices of NORML. I got to meet Erin, the coordinator for all the state branches (read: our champion and cheerleader at National), which was fun since she wrote the paragraphs about me for High Times magazine this month (page 32, on your newsstands now).

Then it was off to lunch with Christie Harvey (from CAP; you’ve heard her on Franken’s show), Theo (our host), and Grant from MicCheckRadio.org (a daily news source for talk radio pros) to discuss more about the show and talk Washington politics — it’s much more interesting when you know they know these people personally (interesting fact: Robert Novak is, indeed, a douchebag).

Afterwards we went to the Capitol for a tour – wow, what an amazing experience. I stood where John Adams’ desk was. Great story: the original House chamber is an elliptical parabola. Adams’ party’s desks were on one side, the opposition on the other side of the room. Adams, understanding the acoustics, used to sit nonchalantly at his desk while his opposition stood on the other side of the room discussing strategy. The echo in a parabola is such that if a speaker is at one point and a listener is at the other, the listener can hear the speaker as if he were standing right next to him (the tour guide demonstrated this effect). So guess who was in charge of positioning the desks just exactly so Adams could eavesdrop on all their conversations? The opposition never even realized this until Adams had a stroke at his desk. When a few of them rushed over to help, they couldn’t help but hear their buddies still across the room… and the secret was out.

We had three hours to kill until dinner, so I walked down the Capitol Mall. Do you realize it is three miles from the Capitol to the Washington Memorial to the Reflecting Pool to the Lincoln Memorial? Neither did I, but now me and my feet will never forget. I took all the touristy pictures, thought about Dr. King’s epic speech, and just stood in awe of Lincoln.

Then I headed to the Vietnam Memorial. I was too young to even remember Vietnam. No one in my family, to my knowledge, ever served there. Other than the medical marijuana patients I work with, I really don’t know any Nam vets. And yet, as I walked down that wall, watching the black slabs grow taller and taller, representing the years of the war, seeing all those names of husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons who never came back, I began to sob. Not misty; I mean full-on Old-Yeller-just-shot tears streaming down my face. I grew angry as I thought about how 58,000 names looked back at me, asking “What for?” I grew sad as I thought about how we’d create the next memorial for the Iraquagmire. How tall will it grow? How many names are going to scream out for eter
nity “What for?”

My walk back to the hotel took me past the south lawn of the White House. Still angry, I defiantly raised my hand, made half of a peace sign, and screamed, “Fuck you, George Bush!” Free speech always makes me feel better.

We just got back from an Indian restaurant and dinner with five of the twenty-somethings who work for CAP, writing the ThinkProgress blog, and so forth. Once again, any item on the menu was priced higher than my wife and I’s budget for dining out for a month and the food was tiny little portions on plates bigger than my head… and I gots a big head! Curtis and I then walked back up D street, took pictures at Ford’s Theater and the House Where Lincoln Died, and returned to our rooms, where I’m now writing this.

Tomorrow I’m on the show. I’m 2nd, so my segments will be on between 11:08am – 11:38am Eastern. You can listen live at TalkProgress.org. The show is rebroadcast in the Portland area at Noon Saturday on AM 620 KPOJ. And, if luck holds and there are no breaking stories on The Hill, C-SPAN may be broadcasting the show live.

Marrying that persistent redhead was the best thing I ever did in my life.

***

Besides being entertaining and well-informed on the air, Russ, you have a great sense of timing and pacing, which is critical on radio. From the perspective of the judges, it’s clear you have the chops that they can work with to develop into a new progressive talent on the air. We’re pulling for you here in the coffeehouse!

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding