Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Freethought Radio Review

Freethought Radio Podcast

Of the non-theist podcasts I listen to, Freethought Radio, probably the only atheism themed radio program in existence, is my least favorite. Freethought Radio is produced by the Freedom From Religion Foundation and broadcast live every Saturday on WXXM, The Mic 92.1, in Madison, Wisconsin. WXXM is a progressive talk radio station and is affiliated with the Air America Radio network. Freethought Radio is also available via Air America, on line streaming, and by podcast. The podcasts lengths are generally between forty to fifty minutes duration and episodes dating from April 2006 to the present are available on iTunes and the Freethought Radio website. This review is of the podcasts downloaded from iTunes. The podcasts are jointly hosted by Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor, accomplished authors and co-presidents of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The format of the show varies somewhat from episode to episode but opens with John Lennon’s “Imagine,” normally includes a guest interview or interviews, the segments “Theocracy Alert” and “Freethinker Almanac,” and music written and played by Barker.

Barker and Gaylor fall into the category of “angry” atheists and they display little tolerance for people of faith. As the “Theocracy Alert” segment deals with theocratic intrusions on the church and state doctrine, some indignation is necessary but the hosts tend to be needlessly emotional, exaggeratory, and snide. A less inflammatory approach would serve Freethought Radio's audience better. Barker and Gaylor are, pardon the irony, “preaching to the choir” with these podcasts, but many freethinkers will find their antagonism toward the religious repugnant. Not all atheists see religion as an enemy, some are content just not to believe.

Freethought Radio is the only non-theist podcast that relies on music every episode to convey its message, but it is more of an annoyance than an asset to the program. Since Freethought Radio is radio broadcasted, the music might have some entertainment value, but other radio talk shows do well without it. In particular, the use of the song “Imagine,” as an opener frankly, lacks imagination. Lennon’s anthem has been played to death by every leftist cause for the last thirty years. I know there are not many freethought themed songs out there but something more distinctive is needed.

The strength of the podcasts are the people chosen for the program by Baker and Gaylor. Although they have had some notable guests the ones I enjoyed most are with the less well-known people and the difficulties they have encountered because of their beliefs. As a Birmingham resident, I found the interview with Emily Lyons fascinating. Birmingham Police Officer Robert Sanderson was killed and Lyons was seriously injured in the woman’s clinic bombing perpetrated by Eric Rudolph in 1998. At the time, I was working as a police officer in a town near Birmingham so the case holds an interest for me. Some other interviews worth listening to are the ones with Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, and Michelle Goldberg, author of Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism. Gaylor sometimes asks leading questions during the interviews, but I think it is a result of editing prerecorded interviews rather than trying to force the guests to make specific points. All of the guests present some aspect of freethought, the interviews are not confrontational, and during this segment Barker and Gaylor are at their best.

In many ways Freethought Radio feels like it was produced by amateurs. The inclusion of Barker’s music makes the presentation uneven and the hosts attitude might alienate members of their audience.

1 comment:

Gareth said...

Maybe XTC - "Dear God". "Imagine" does kind of get weaker with years and years of replay.