Veteran radio personality Rick Vanderslice returns to the broadcast airwaves with a new young partner and the same old passions
ON THE AIR
THE RICK & R.J. RADIO SHOW airs locally on 1360 AM Sundays, 11 a.m.â€“1 p.m. and streams on RationalRadio.org.
It may be no accident that The Rick & R.J. Radio Show airs at 11 a.m. on Sundays — a traditional time in the U.S. for church services that provide you with comfort at the end of a long week, and strength to continue for another. Because for Rick Vanderslice and R.J. Jackson, the liberal-minded gay hosts of the program, their show is a sermon of sorts, both about looking back on the week that was and proselytizing about how to make the future better.
"I really like talk radio," says Vanderslice, a 30-year veteran on the radio scene. "I like conversation; I like live experiences. Jack Jett [whose show follows his] comes from performance art and he takes cues from an audience to know where he’s going. I wish we had audiences we could see, but radio is really theater of the imagination."
It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to parse Vanderslice’s point of view. He’s old school progressive, an aging hippy (he used to be in a folk band) who cut his teeth on radio because "I didn’t know I couldn’t do it." He floated between being a morning DJ on a soft rock station to hosting The Evening Talk Show on KERA, but never got to do exactly what he drove him.
"I was a morning drive personality, but I love to talk about healthcare policy or gay rights. At public radio, I did not get to be an opinion person. But politics is not a dirty word, though it has been dirtied. We let the elite class run things, whereas I just want to engage people to think rationally. We are not thinking rationally but emotionally. That’s why we vote for people like Sarah Palin."
You just know it won’t take too long before Vanderslice gets around to Palin.
But if he sounds slightly like the Angry Young Man grown older and crotchetier, he insists he’s not. He uses his new radio program, in fact, to explore new avenues.
Vanderslice left KERA in 2002, and began doing a weekly Podcast from Buli CafÃ©. Then this spring, Jack Bishop, the station manager at Rational Radio and an old friend of Vanderslice, asked if he would do a weekend show.
"I said, "How can I make it different?’ R.J. had been a regular member of my Vanderslice Salon, and it seemed to fit. He’s young and not afraid of debate or disagreeing with me," Vanderslice says.
For his part, co-host R.J. Jackson is less inclined to sound doctrinaire about politics. Jackson arrives in the studio — about 30 seconds before going on air — in a white button-down with floral tie, his topcoat flouncing like a cape, unlit cigarette dangling between his fingers. He looks all of 17 years old (he’s 28); he might be Harry Potter without his wand, preparing to lecture the Muggles about their world with cynical incisiveness. He’s sharp and witty, and more than holds his own against his more experienced old-dog airwave mate.
"It’s difficult to pigeonhole his generation," Vanderslice concedes. "He’s not a political person. I don’t think most people his age give a twit about that. The Obama election was an emotional thing for them, but they are not as idealistic as my ’60s generation. Because they are presented with all the platforms to see the chaos of the world, they are skeptical of people who are sure of the solutions. But some of his skepticism is healthy for me."
The dynamic has fed the dialogue and helped Vanderslice shape his views.
"I sometimes change my beliefs on air. R.J. comes up with a point I might not have considered. I like sometimes to say, ‘I give up, you’re right.’ You’re not there to be right; the main thing is to entertain people."
Not that it’s all about entertainment for Vanderslice. His curiosity, and his opinionated way of conveying some of his passions, are genuine. He proudly identifies himself a liberal (although, he smirks, "somebody took a vote and we’re supposed to call it progressive radio"), though he admits to frustration with labels. Vanderslice lived in Amsterdam for a while, and came to believe socialized medicine shouldn’t be such a divisive political issue.
"Cradle-to-grave healthcare is a liberal idea, but it should be a conservative idea. If you want to be a rich hyper-capitalist, having all the basic needs of a people met is a better environment," he opines. "Consideration usually leads to experimentation. Trying something out should never be held up as a negative. The open marketplace of ideas you’d think conservatives would rally around. That is their Achilles heel: The Palin wing of the Republican Party doesn’t want to have to defend their beliefs."
What Vanderslice calls the "bumper sticker political class" of Palin and friends is what most offends him; he wants people to be engaged, and wants his show to do it — even if it’s at his expense.
"I’m the old fart with Queer Liberaction, either Svengali pulling strings or a confirmed pedophile. I don’t give a shit. I invite people to call me a son of a bitch if I have to," he says. Just so long as people respond.
"The price of apathy is to be ruled by evil men," Vanderslice likes to quote. And he’s not yet ready to concede the evil men have won.
RADIO ILUME BEGINS
The Jack E Jett Show, which airs weekends on 1360 AM is movin’ on up … to Uptown. For the month of December, the talk show has created Radio ilume, which will air live from the new ilume mixed-used development along Cedar Springs.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 11, 2009.