Tuned In

Vacation Robo-Post: A Face for Radio

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One of the tasks I had to shuffle off my desk before vacation was a mercifully brief review of PBS’s first—and very possibly last—primetime animated series, Click & Clack’s As the Wrench Turns. It was one of the few times that my stony critic’s heart actually felt remorse about having to call it as I saw it, because I’ve been a fan of Tom and Ray Magliozzi’s automotive call-in show for years, including several in which I didn’t own a car at all. But it turns out that the appeal of the show—Tom and Ray cracking corny one-liners and cornier name puns (“Dewey, Cheatham and Howe”) and laughing loudly at their own jokes—doesn’t translate to a TV sitcom. Who’d’a thought?

Which made me think that it’s actually surprising how many radio programs have successfully translated to TV: recently, for instance, This American Life on Showtime. Obviously, many early TV hits were originally radio shows and serials, but the two media have diverged a lot since then, and it’s much trickier to convert a format from one to the other now. Talk shows are an obvious example: one point that came up when I did a feature on the art of hosting a couple years ago is that radio is a good testing ground for live-tv hosts, because you have to be able to talk about anything at the drop of a hat. If nothing else, Jimmy Kimmel and Ryan Seacrest have that in common. On the other hand, I never saw the value-add in watching the simulcast of, say, a Howard Stern show, much less Don Imus.

Which makes me think that there must be radio formats out there that are ripe for TV adaption, but I don’t listen to enough radio to know what they are. Do you have any favorite shows or hosts that you could see jumping to TV? Any TV personalities you think would be better suited to radio? Are any kids out there wondering what a “radio” is right now?