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Michael Baisden on What Media is Missing

    Who’s Next? Interview with Michael Baisden on What Current Media is Missing

    Michael Baisden has been one of the most successfully engaging and informative radio personalities and show hosts recent media has seen. For many years, he occupied the premium and popular radio time slot between 3pm-7pm. While so many people struggled to wind down after the workday, even while stuck in traffic or on their commutes back home from work, The Michael Baisden Show offered more than just sheer entertainment.  Michael Baisden enlightened, educated and mobilized his listeners on a daily basis. Baisden hosted topics that sparked intellectual debate, and informed his audience of wiser decisions toward physical and emotional health, relationships, and overall well-being. Baisden played meaningful music from artists who weren’t normally heard on the radio. And, most importantly, he engaged his audience in social issues, and helped organize and mobilize listeners who wanted social justice. No other recent radio personality has served his/her listening community so thoughtfully and comprehensively and reached such a wide audience.

    The Michael Baisden Show was syndicated nationwide and heard in over 78 different media markets. Daily, Baisden received approximately 8 million listeners. While Michael had a great run, spanning over nearly a decade, his show was abruptly cancelled, leaving the public with no alternative and no other show that offered even a vague attempt at what The Michael Baisden Show provided. While some may say all good things must come to an end, I beg the question, where is his replacement? Can there be one?

    Radio shows come and go all the time. Yet, we are currently in a media culture that primarily offers shallow content to a demographic that wants more than what is currently provided. After

    The Michael Baisden show was canceled, his audience was left with nothing. When media lacks diversity so much that cancelling a single show can bring a listening community to a screeching halt, that is a problem.

    In a recent interview with Michael Baisden, I was interested in finding out how he felt about current media. But I was more curious to find out from him, exactly what elements made his show so successful, unique and valuable, and what it would take to see another like it. Michael and I discussed how media has changed over the last decade and how his own life as changed post radio show. Here is some of the valuable insight resulting from that converation.

    Michael began our conversation candidly, lamenting media’s current state. He said, “media has changed drastically within the last ten years. There has been a photo flip in terms of the direction I thought we were going in, compared to the direction we ended up going in. [Media] used to be progressive – Spike Lee and John Singleton served very important purposes. But now, it’s like a flip was switched, and we just went dumb. And here we are.”

    It seems Michael agrees that media needs improvement and more of the type of engaging and meaningful content his show once offered. I asked Michael what he misses most about having his show and his response highlighted what’s lacking in current media even further. When asked, Michael responded,

    “I miss the social activism and being able to sound the alarm when things happen in our community, and need to be brought to a larger audience. Whether it’s Jordan Davis, voting suppression, public schools being taken over by charter schools, [or] ridiculous amounts of incarcerated Black men. Things like that are very important. There are a number of issues that I miss being able to champion.

    I also miss talking about relationship in a way that nobody else has or will – molestation, rape, marriage – in a way that’s unconventional. How being single is nothing to [regret]. I miss promoting artists that don’t get heard on radio because of programming – that’s a very important thing. And I miss promoting businesses and I miss engaging children, because we did that often on the show. Engaging them on things that related to them, be it about education or inappropriate touching.

    We dealt with relationships in depth. We promoted artists heavily, and there were no strings attached, no required favors or money payments, just ‘hey, I like this song and I want to make sure the rest of the country hears it.’”

    Michael Baisden’s support for many non-mainstream artists is rare. The fact of the matter is, “payola” and pay-for-play is prevalent and all over the media industry these days. In fact, in most cases, the only way an artist can get radio play is if the artist pays a pretty penny to the programmers. Anyone with enough money will get played, regardless of the quality of music. This is one of the reasons the media is currently saturated with garbage and content that is, in all honesty, detrimental. Media companies are big businesses that often sell their listeners’ interests out for profit.

    Michael Baisden’s comment about how he played and promoted artists with no strings attached is a rarity and something to be honored and coveted. The Michael Baisden Show exercised integrity and offered its listeners content and music that they wanted to hear, not music Baisden got paid to play, whether its listeners liked it or not and even if the quality was poor. In many ways, Baisden figured out how to defy popular media in a way we’ve yet to see from any other contemporary radio host and personality.

    Michael Baisden’s show was also a testament to what happens when a radio personality doesn’t simply talk at his audience, but instead, he LISTENS to listeners. They support. While Michael Baisden deserves credit and accolades for the platform he fostered, his audience and supporters deserve credit too. Because Michael engaged his audience and offered them earnest programming, Baisden’s audience organized and mobilized. Baisden’s listeners helped him go from radio personality to activist.

    I asked Michael Baisden, what is needed from the audience for a radio show or any media to be successful in the way his was? I also asked what about his audience made his show work the way he wanted it to? He responded:

    “The audience was engaged.  Many times, we say people don’t care. [We say] people don’t care about voting. Well, yes, they do. People went out and voted in record numbers. It’s said people don’t care about social issues. Well, they showed up for the march for Jenna 6, they showed up for One Million Mentors. When I travelled around the country for mentoring, they showed up almost from every city and overflowed the venues. They showed up for Trayvon. They showed up for free health clinics we provided around the country.

    People show up. It’s about the leadership. It’s about providing them a voice, and leadership, and passion to make them active. People are not going to just wake up and be active, you have to lead them to things. I thought I was very effective at getting the message out and, not surprising to me, I thought people were very responsive to things they should care about.”

    Baisden’s show and great success with the Jena 6 march he organized and executed shows what can happen when the public is offered quality media content. The Michael Baisden Show’s success in bringing people together from all over the world in support of raising awareness for and standing up against injustice is reminiscent of media of an earlier era, in which radio and media was used to promote positive social change, social justice and societal improvement. Currently, there are far too few media outlets that do this. There are virtually no radio shows that do this on a large, syndicated scale.

    The truth of the matter is, many of the things Michael Baisden was able to achieve is very difficult, if not impossible to do, on a radio show owned by a large network. I asked Michael Baisden what made his particular situation unique enough that he was able to do things many other haven’t and, perhaps, can’t. Baisden spoke about his contractual independence, explaining,

    “I was never tied to a network because I had total independence. I played what I wanted, I talked about what I wanted, and I hired whom I wanted, so the only thing I was tied to was the clock. I wasn’t tied to policies because my show was independent from the network in the sense that I owned my show. [I had] contractual control.

    I asked Michael who he trusts for news that serves people of color? Michael’s response is interesting. He says,

    “I don’t know. I get news from a lot of different sources. And I run it against other sources. So I can’t say that I trust any one person or network to give me news that I absolutely trust. I trust my judgment. I trust my producers. That’s a very difficult question because you never know what any network’s motivation is, or [what] any journalist’s motivation is.  And everybody’s been wrong. There hasn’t been a situation in which a network or a journalist has never been wrong, myself included, in reporting on a particular story. So I think you have to check your sources against everything these days.”

    The conversation I had with Michael Baisden ended on a much lighter note. I asked him about some of the positive changes he has experienced since leaving radio. He gave a quick chuckle and quickly responded,

    “That’s easy. Sleep. Being able to work full-time on my mentoring program, recruiting mentors. Being able to work on other projects, whether it’s screenplays or books or just working on myself. A lot of times, we don’t invest enough time into ourselves. Those things have been very important. They are crucial. You have to remain creative, get some rest, and now I get to invest more time into the community.”

    Michael Baisden’s radio show and work as a radio personality is obviously missed. Fortunately, though, his efforts in the community continue and he is now able to work on several projects including his nationwide mentoring program for young boys.

    Overall, however, The Michael Baisden Show has set a precedent for recent media. The show’s absence is an even bigger testimony that radio and media, in general, needs desperate change and improvement. The Michael Baisden show should not have been one of the precious few beacons of light in the industry. And now that the show is gone, where’s the alternative? Where is the replacement? A very large, loyal, patient and thinking audience is waiting for the answer.