2 out of 4 stars
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Radio Active, written by William O’Shaughnessy, is a collection of essays, speeches, and interviews from the author’s half-century in the industry of radio broadcasting.
As one of America’s preeminent broadcast journalists, it is no surprise that O’Shaughnessy would choose to open the book with an ode to free speech, discussing what the term really means in the modern world. He touches on several past American scandals in which entertainers and politicians have been censored or fired due to “offensive speech” and then explains why these speakers, although unpopular in the moment, had a constitutional right to be heard.
Following these opening remarks, the remainder of the book is a hodgepodge collection of thoughts from a variety of sources. Many chapters are transcripts of O’Shaughnessy’s on-air interviews with experts in a vast range of fields, including politics, history, religion, and current affairs. Other chapters air the author’s own opinions in the form of humorous and light-hearted monologues. Still others consist of odes to particular personages, both living and dead; Part V, in particular, features eulogies commemorating the lives of prominent figures such as John McCain, Jimmy Breslin, and Nelson Rockefeller.
With content drawn from as recently as 2018 and as long ago as 1979, Radio Active proves O’Shaughnessy to be a long-standing and distinguished member of the journalism community. Having been unfamiliar with the author prior to reading this book, I found myself doing substantial research on the man himself and on his many guests in order to fully appreciate their exchanges.
I appreciated that the book felt polished and had clearly been well-edited. However, I found it difficult to really invest thought and emotion in the book, primarily because there was no central theme. After the initial argument in favor of the First Amendment, the rest of the book broke apart into discrete, disjointed conversations that didn’t form an argument for any position or a narrative about any subject. Each chapter was interesting in itself, but because there was no connection between chapters, the book was easy to put down at chapter breaks and difficult to pick back up.
Several sections consisted entirely of lists, such as lists of: O’Shaughnessy’s favorite songs; notable restaurants in New York City; the names of people who have been kind to the author at least once in his life; and so on. It was difficult to relate to these sections, except to reflect with admiration that the author certainly took a lot of time coming up with dozens of entries for each list.
Although I do not agree with some of the author’s views, I found nothing offensive or tasteless throughout the entirety of the book. The author does, however, pointedly express both his Christian faith and his conservative political and social views. Particularly sensitive readers of a left-leaning stance should be wary, as the book does not hesitate to demean the “liberal sharks and other windbags” that constantly “harass” notable conservative figures.
Radio Active earns a score of 2 out of 4 for its thoughtful, interesting, and eloquent discussions with a plethora of individuals on a large variety of topics. It loses one point due to its lack of any kind of theme or unifying message, and loses another point for its tendency toward listing, which holds little value for a typical reader. The book would most appeal to conservative readers that enjoy talk radio, particularly those that are already familiar with a large number of noteworthy figures in American politics and high society.
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