By Renee Kohanski, MD
NORWICH, CT — Each year the TALKERS conference promises to be the most relevant ever. Each year the conference fulfills this promise. The convention is constructed to identify risks both known and to be known. It can’t help but be the most relevant each year. What is most meaningful and unique work of all talk media hosts is realized in the Freedom of Speech award. How prescient then is it, for Sean Hannity, a name synonymous with talk media to find himself the direct target of forces seeking to silence free speech? I comment on this from a professional perspective as a practicing psychiatrist who dabbles with talk radio as a guest and occasional fill-in host.
What thoughts must be going through everyone’s minds these days? And more importantly, what to do?
“I can’t believe they’re going after Sean!”
“First O’Reilly, now Sean!”
“If they can take down Sean, they can take down anyone.”
“What chance do I have?”
The talk show industry may be one of the most unforgiving of all talent-based industries. Talk show hosts work and struggle, sometimes for decades, to build their reputations and audiences. The financial compensation doesn’t necessarily match the hours, See Bernadette Duncan’s great book, Yappy Days: Behind the Scenes with Newsers, Schmoozers, Boozers and Losers (Talkers Books, 2016).
When you are young, life seems infinite. You don’t yet have a family or a divorce or two. It hasn’t occurred to you that your drinking may be a problem. At this point, the money-to-hours ratio doesn’t seem like such a problem. Also, there is the misconception that once you’re successful in “radio,” you have it made. By the time you realize this isn’t quite true, you’ve likely achieved enough success to stay in the business, but not enough to be secure. The success of a talker, quite naturally, is grounded in the First Amendment. The first casualty of this impingement could be your conventional job. Losing your position now is not simply a theoretical or academic question of interest. It is possible this entity you have spent your entire adult life developing could just disappear. More concerning still, you do not have the financial resources to do without a job.
The instinctual response to such an environment is fear and anxiety. How then to manage this? First and foremost, as I’ve discussed in other columns, do exactly what you’re doing. Attend the TALKERS conference and obtain advice from the industry experts and inspiration from its rising stars. This already sets you apart from 99% of the other people employed in your industry, who likely want your job and who are NOT at the conference. In medical code blue emergencies they say, the first pulse you should take is your own. Being at this conference is taking your own pulse. You are grounding yourself in knowledge, skills, and connections. Collecting, assessing, acquiring as you get ready to do battle.
Next is back to basics. What likely attracted you to this business and what has served you has been your intellect and wit. These are transferrable assets. What may get in the way is your ego – but that can be tamed ever so slightly, if necessary. This job that you have is challenging and you have likely gained many unique skills; some of which even you don’t appreciate. Fortunately too, we are now in a period with an increasing “labor participation rate,” to quote an actually useful metric. That is to say, it’s easier to find a job. So you can take care of basics like paying the bills while you’re regrouping and resynthesizing. We live in a time where media is limited only by your imagination
Circling back to Sean Hannity. I heard him on-air talking about his plight. He humbly acknowledged he is blessed by not having to worry about money. Most importantly he took stock in what is of value and true importance to him. He has his family and their love and support. He is in good health and thankful he does not have a cancer or some other illness stealing parts of his life. He is a fighter and he believes in Freedom of Speech and so he will continue to broadcast what he feels is ethical and right. I will add that while it may feel challenging, money is replaceable. Time and health are not.
Lifeboat manuals have all kinds of practical and useful survival strategies. Can you imagine being in a lifeboat, in the middle of the ocean? In the face of what seems like all is lost. This is a place where courage shows up in a most simple way. It seems so utterly incredible that in such dire circumstance the only difference between those who survived and those who didn’t was three basic words of belief from that manual.
Don’t give up.
Dr. Renee Kohanski is a forensic psychiatrist in private practice in New London, CT. She regularly appears as a radio and TV talk show guest discussing the psychological connections and ramifications of major stories in the news. She can be phoned at 860-334-4576 or emailed at RKohanski@psgroupnl.com.