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News flash 

Editorial by Bruce Wark

“OK, what about banning cigarettes totally?” asked radio talk jock Andrew Krystal last Friday as he tried to pick a fight with a caller named James. Krystal, host of Maritime Morning on the new Rogers News 95.7, added, “I can’t go out and buy morphine. It’s bad for me, right?” “Yeah, no, absolutely,” James blurted out before Krystal cut him off. “I can’t go and buy blotter acid at the Shoppers Drug Mart because it’s bad for me, right?” When James tried to say that banning cigarettes would be difficult, Krystal interrupted again: “What is this two sides of their mouth that the government’s doing, like if the product is harmful, why do you even sell it?”

“For fuck’s sake, Andy,” I shouted at my radio. “Banning booze was a flop in the ’20s and the war on drugs is a total mess now. So why even talk about banning tobacco?” Krystal was arguing that Nova Scotia’s proposed ban on smoking in public places was “Iranian, an absolutely theocratic edict.” If smoking’s that bad for you, why not ban it altogether? After all, you can’t buy morphine or acid at the drugstore because they’re bad for you, right? Wrong! Krystal’s cockeyed logic was not meant to shed light on the controversial issues surrounding Nova Scotia’s smoking ban. It was designed to get listeners riled up enough to give him a ring. And that’s why radio programs like Krystal’s piss me off. They’re all about yelling (and selling). If you really care about public issues, shows like his are as appealing as raw turkey. OK, I know that Krystal occasionally brings in experts such as investigative reporter Andrew Mitrovica, author of an extremely critical book about Canada’s spy agency. Yes, there’s value in that, but to get to Mitrovica, you have to put up with Krystal.

And to get to Krystal, who comes on at 9am, you have to endure the endless racket of the morning “news wheel,” a hyperactive gush of headline news, weather, traffic, celebrity gossip, business briefs, sports and commercials. “News fast. No, we’re serious. In fact, any sooner and we’d be psychic,” a station promo brags. Yet, in News 95.7’s first week on air, I can’t recall a single, significant story that wasn’t already in the papers or on the other stations. Keeping up a fast pace matters more to Rogers than breaking real news.

And then, there’s the jock talk that dominates the airwaves every evening, every night and every weekend. Americans jabbering endlessly about the National Football League. On Sunday at noon after three minutes of news including one regional story about a New Brunswick man who died in a trailer fire and a wind warning for Halifax, on comes TJ’s Take to tell us why the Jets beat the Bills. “Look, we always talk about the quarterback position,” Tom Jackson declared, “but I don’t think you can play without that position. Coach Edwards and I talked this week and what Vinny gave them almost from play one was the ability to force the ball to any part of the football field.” Gee thanks!

I had high hopes for the new Rogers station. Except for CJCH’s Rick Howe, Halifax private radio is dead between the ears. Not a single news reporter at any of the old stations. Lots of room for something better, but all I’m hearing from Rogers is a lickety-split news wheel, a tidal bore of American sports and the likes of Andy Krystal.

Early last week, I heard Krystal saying he overheard two divorced straight guys in a bar talking about marrying each other, simply for the tax breaks! A gay rights activist calls to warn that the guys’ combined incomes could actually put them in a higher tax bracket. Krystal answers that he doesn’t know about that, but he finds it intriguing that two guys would marry for tax breaks. Then, he asks the gay activist if he’s available! As they say on 95.7, “It’s a new era of newsradio in the HRM!”

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