*Updated Below* - An online leak has emerged, revealing a questionable practice used by the employer of the biggest names in radio.
America's #1 and #2 radio broadcast hosts today and for decades have been Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, whose ratings and profits have dominated once thriving local markets. After industry deregulation paved the way, their boss, Premiere Radio Networks and parent company Clear Channel Communications have used a Wal-Mart model of steamrolling or acquiring small, independent original radio businesses, syndicating everything from robotized genre music stations to talk show hosts selling political snake oil.
But according to an online account, Premiere is hiring actors to fake on-air calls to radio shows who do not divulge the scam. Before being abruptly removed, their website read:
"Premiere On Call is our new custom caller service... We supply voice talent to take/make your on-air calls, improvise your scenes or deliver your scripts. Using our simple online booking tool, specify the kind of voice you need, and we'll get your the right person fast. Unless you request it, you won't hear that same voice again for at least two months, ensuring the authenticity of your programming for avid listeners".
As reported, once the actor "passed the audition, he would be invited periodically to call in to various talk shows and recite various scenarios that made for interesting radio." In addition, the source was specifically told there would be no on-air disclosure of the fabricated nature of the call. He subsequently landed the job, at $40 per hour and a minimum one hour of work per day.
This suggests an array of radio clients is broadcasting bogus calls by actors, categorized by their accents or vocal qualities. Next time you hear a "gruff", "clean", "crisp", "deep", or "textured" voice, you might just be hearing a Premiere On Call actor secretively playing a real person.
But they can never go public because they are gagged from talking about it. Note their iron-clad confidentiality clause, also removed from the site, but cached here as reported:
"I was surprised that it seemed so open. There was really no pretense of covering it up", the actor told the TabletMag.com interviewer.
Why is this leaker not in trouble? According to the account, Premiere had this prospective employee audition for work by actually calling in live to a show and reading one of their scripts for free. This is worse by a magnitude - offering people a financial incentive to deceive promotes a disturbing moral message to people in need of work, a practice that monetizes and rewards unethical behavior.
Ironically, another clause in the fine print of the one-sided contract for use of their web service makes users sign away their "moral rights" and hypocritically claims to frown upon just this type of fraud and deception, banning activities which:
"[i]mpersonate another person or entity or falsely state or otherwise misrepresent your affiliation with a person or entity, or adopt a false identity if the purpose of doing so is to mislead, deceive, or defraud another."
Industry watchers claim they would not be surprised to find any number of goofy DJ shows using plants for their various pranks and exploits, but it would be a different story if used for political shows and "astroturfing". A Premiere Radio Networks spokesperson Rachel Nelson did not deny the service was being abused, saying instead that it is the stations that are responsible for how the calls are "integrated into programs".
In 2008, we reported on an industry insider who worked at Milwaukee's WTMJ when they denied air time to sitting U.S. Senator Russ Feingold who was trying to refute slanted claims made to the Wisconsin public. Since no one filed any FCC complaints, the stations routinely turned away callers with opposing views, a former program director at the station revealed.
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