In the United States, media critics bemoan the homogenization of FM radio, which has become dominated by a handful of corporations dictating what music is played. Meanwhile, AM radio is considered the exclusive domain of the right wing, filled with talk shows that badger so-called Middle America into hating anyone who would deny them the right to eat beef, drive SUVs and own firearms to protect them from swarthy foreigners.
In Japan, it’s little different. Music content on FM radio is principally controlled by programming directors who are beholden to record companies, and AM is all-talk, all the time. Thankfully, the talk is less inflammatory than it is in the U.S., but it’s also a lot less interesting.
The main reason it’s less interesting is that radio is dominated by the same personalities you see on television, whether they’re spinning CDs or chatting to callers, and these people are incapable of giving anything but the most bland opinions. However, a ratings war recently broke out on Saturday afternoon AM radio that pits three of the most opinionated men in broadcasting against each other.
Since 1987, announcer Monta Mino has hosted an AM radio program called “Weekend Tsukamaero (Weekend Catch)” on Bunka Hoso from 1 to 3 p.m. How he can find the time to host a live radio talk show when he’s busy on TV with a daily morning wide show, a daily afternoon talk show, and 10 prime-time variety shows is a question that only the angels can answer.
Mino is such a pervasive media presence, he’s virtually monolithic. However, two of Bunka Hoso’s AM-radio rivals decided to take on the monolith earlier this month. TBS Radio has brought veteran announcer Hiroshi Kume out of retirement for “Radio Nan Desu-kedo (This Is Radio)” (1-3 p.m.), and Nippon Hoso has hired longtime wide show host Tomoaki Ogura to helm “Radio Circuit” (1-4 p.m.).
According to an article in the Oct. 19 Yomiuri Shimbun, neither TBS Radio nor Nippon Hoso knew about each other’s plan to launch new talk shows when they were planning them, suggesting their sole target was Mino. Kume’s challenge has received the most media attention. The motor-mouthed emcee, who made his reputation as the anchor for TV Asahi’s “News Station” for almost 20 years, started his career on TBS Radio, where his exuberant style gained him a loyal following. Though Mino is one of the most influential figures in Japan right now, it took him many years to reach that position. He started out at about the same time as Kume did and, in fact, applied for a job at TBS, but failed the test given to prospective employees.
TBS is hoping that people who remember Kume’s old radio show or his stint on “News Station” will tune out “Weekend Tsukamaero” and tune in “Radio Nan Desu-kedo.” However, as the Yomiuri pointed out, Mino has a distinct advantage in that his current show has been on the air for almost 20 years. In other words, while his TV popularity has increased exponentially over the past decade, the bedrock of his announcing career is his radio show, which he has never abandoned. Kume, on the other hand, is basically starting over.
Ogura is a relative neophyte, since he’s always been a TV man. Though he offers interesting comments in his role as host of Fuji TV’s popular morning wide show “Toku-Dane,” on “Radio Circuit” he will be mostly exploiting what the Yomiuri calls his “broad knowledge” of music, which means it will be more like a DJ show with guests. Mino also plays music on his program. On July 14, the day “Radio Circuit” premiered, his guest was superstar songwriter Yoshio Tabata, but he also talked about the North Korea problem.
Kume’s off-the-cuff insights were what made “News Station” the innovative show it was, and the centerpiece of “Radio Nan Desu-kedo” is a segment called “This Week’s Entertainment,” which is supposedly a candid discussion of a specific pop-culture topic.
One week it was Nihon TV’s new nightly news show “News Zero” and another it was TV fortune teller Kazuko Hosoki. In neither case did Kume say anything particularly enlightening or exciting. His main criticism of “News Zero” was that it featured too many people, and as for the imperious Hosoki, one waited in vain for the kind of juicy, near-scandalous remarks Kume often lobbed at politicians on “News Station.”
It almost seems as if Kume is avoiding giving opinions. At the end of the Oct. 21 broadcast he previewed the next week’s special segment about current movies with an anecdote about seeing “The Da Vinci Code.” After saying he enjoyed the book, his female co-announcer asked how the movie stacked up. “Oh, it looks like we’re out of time,” Kume said, making it sound as if he didn’t like the movie but didn’t want to say he didn’t like it.
This sort of winking subterfuge drew criticism in Shukan Shincho, which ran an article last week picking apart Kume’s new show, claiming that the famously opinionated announcer has no opinions. The weeklies have never liked Kume, who they think is a prima donna, and will use any excuse to bash him, but Shincho was right. He seems much tamer on radio than he was on TV.
It may be deliberate. As those conservative talk-show hosts in America understand so well, opinions tend to come across more forcefully on radio, where a listener’s attention is more directly engaged through a single sense — hearing. As a professional announcer who has worked extensively in both radio and TV, Kume instinctively knows the cognitive difference between the two, and he may be deliberately avoiding anything that might sound provocative on his radio show.
The Yomiuri predicted that the three-way rivalry will “revive radio,” but is it really a rivalry when the three principals play it so safe? The same article quoted Kume as saying he was worried about possibly offending Mino. For his part, Mino said he’s not concerned about the competition. Spoken like a true monolith.