Multi-media artist Dann Vazquez recently released a bunch of pics from the January 2, 1992 episode of The Dan Yorke TV Show. Yorke was probably better known for his top rated local radio show, but the TV show was still a hoot and a revelation considering the poor quality of most of the local programming of that era. As I wrote some years ago:
Before Yorke it was extremely rare for local politicians to face any critical commentary in the local media. What coverage they received was either fawning or spinelessly neutral in that the politician was allowed to say whatever they wanted on the air without any meaningful challenge from the host. Political coverage also reflected the very strong bias towards the Democrat Party in the Valley, so it was rare to hear conservative or Republican views. When Yorke took over WSPR and began attacking local Democrats while simultaneously bringing in the Rush Limbaugh Show it was like a blast of fresh air blowing away the cobwebs of years of political and ideological stagnation in the local media.
The show, which aired five nights a week on WGGB-TV40, usually opened with a fiery editorial.
The donning of funny hats to make a point was not unheard of.
Yorke's guest that night was Senator Brian Lees.
What made the show a joy to watch was Yorke's often confrontational attitude towards his guests.
Here's an excerpt from a 1994 interview with me in the now defunct City Limits magazine in which I was asked about Yorke's show.
How did you first meet Yorke?
Again, I think it was Jay Libardi that suggested that I send copies of the paper to local media outlets. So I did and as it turned out I never received a reply from anyone. I'd sent one to Channel 40, but I'd addressed it to the general manager. Frankly, at the time I'd never heard of Dan Yorke. I discovered later that he'd been on the radio for years, but in those days I paid little attention to talk radio. This was just after Yorke's radio station had died, so he came out with his TV show, where I happened to catch him when I was channel surfing one night. For a number of reasons, he intrigued me.
I remember the first night I saw his program. He had as his guest Betsy Wright, a local tax protester who had her car confiscated by the IRS because she refused to pay taxes to support the military. Somehow, Yorke discovered that she worked for some social service agency that was dependent on taxpayer funds. Yet when Yorke tried to confront her on that fact, Wright refused to publicly reveal where she worked.
Yorke showed her no mercy. He was determined to make her face the issue of whether it was hypocritical for her to insist that people should be forced to pay taxes for social programs of the kind that paid her salary, but that somehow she had the right to withhold taxes for the military policies she disagreed with. What would her attitude be if conservatives started withholding taxes that support welfare programs? The rest of the media had given Wright a free pass with their glowing coverage of her activism, but Yorke insisted that she confront this inconsistency in her position. Wright repeatedly tried to dodge the question, and in the end Yorke completely destroyed her credibility. You could tell that she was very, very, sorry that she had gone on that show.
I had never seen local programming like that. The only thing remotely comparable was a local interview show that ran for a hundred years on Channel 22 called At Home with Kitty. It was hosted by Kitty Broman, a likeable enough gal but frankly her only known qualification for hosting the show was the fact that she was part owner of the station. The soundstage was set up to look like a living room, with a couch and cups and saucers set up on a coffee table. She even wore an apron. The illusion they strove for was as if the guests had stopped in for a cup of tea with Kitty. It was an unintentionally hilarious program, which showed the lamest puff pieces about local politicians. It almost seemed to be a rule that no controversial topics were allowed. I think many people used to watch the show just to make fun of it.
What impressed me about Yorke was that he didn't seem to be interested in a topic unless it was controversial. He didn't try to avoid confrontation or debate, instead he embraced and encouraged it. He wasn't afraid to put a guest on the spot and he did not try to make them feel that they were attending a tea party. I recognized that in a journalistic sense Yorke's show was breaking new ground, and that maybe it would be a forum that would be open to reporting about what I was doing. So once again I sent off copies of the Objectivist to Channel 40, only this time I addressed it to Dan Yorke himself.
So how did Yorke respond?
Within a week, I got a handwritten letter from him saying that he was interested in what I was doing, but wanted more information. The letter made no commitment that he would ask me on his show. I don't think he was sure what to make of my paper at first. Anyway, I sent him a letter describing the history of the project thus far, and the very day that he received it he called and invited me to come over to the station and tape a show with him that afternoon.
Me as a guest.
Sometimes Yorke's guests gave back as much as they got. Yorke liked that too.
Lees later became a reappearing fill-in host for Yorke and so did I. Here I am hosting the TV show in 1997.
The Dan Yorke Show went off the air in 1999. Today Yorke is a big success out in Rhode Island on WPRO.
Nowadays I have little to do with the mainstream media. I prefer to hangout in coffee shops like Raos in Amherst. Did you know there is a Raos in Thornes in Northampton? Check it out.
Here it is from the other end.
Now this is what I call an attitude of customer service!
Ireland I love you.