I once worked with a guy who told me he sometimes made money as a radio talk show caller. I asked how that worked and he said he was given the basic direction or talking points and then it was his job to call in, get on the air and support whatever position he was paid to support. He was very articulate and creative so I’m sure he did a great job. This was over ten years ago, I believe, but the story stuck with me. I loved talk radio around that time and I had never imagined that there were paid actors as callers.
I knew they had call screeners and assumed that’s how they kept it interesting, but there were always occasional prank callers who would slip through and vex hosts. Why leave it to chance? Here are some related articles from 7 years ago supporting my friend’s claim:
Last year, a young man called in to a radio station with a problem. He’d recently attended a bachelor party, he said, and a friend of the groom-to-be, clueless of the unwritten etiquette of maledom, brought his girlfriend along, derailing what was supposed to be a weekend of gambling, girls, and general debauchery. The caller told his story with passion and verve, and then asked the station’s listeners for their advice on how to treat his clueless pal.
Or at least he would have, had this been a real conversation. The young man—who asked to remain nameless in order to protect his chances for future employment—was an actor, and the staged call an audition. A short while later, he received the following email: “Thank you for auditioning for Premiere On Call,” it said. “Your audition was great! We’d like to invite you to join our official roster of ‘ready-to-work’ actors.” The job, the email indicated, paid $40 an hour, with one hour guaranteed per day.
But what exactly was the work? The question popped up during the audition and was explained, the actor said, clearly and simply: If he passed the audition, he would be invited periodically to call in to various talk shows and recite various scenarios that made for interesting radio. He would never be identified as an actor, and his scenarios would never be identified as fabricated—which they always were. …
Curious, the actor did some snooping and learned that Premiere On Call was a service offered by Premiere Radio Networks, the largest syndication company in the United States and a subsidiary of Clear Channel Communications, the entertainment and advertising giant. Premiere syndicates some of the more sterling names in radio, including Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Sean Hannity. But a great radio show depends as much on great callers as it does on great hosts: Enter Premiere On Call.
“Premiere On Call is our new custom caller service,” read the service’s website, which disappeared as this story was being reported (for a cached version of the site click here [now removed -Xeno]). “We supply voice talent to take/make your on-air calls, improvise your scenes or deliver your scripts. Using our simple online booking tool, specify the kind of voice you need, and we’ll get your the right person fast. Unless you request it, you won’t hear that same voice again for at least two months, ensuring the authenticity of your programming for avid listeners.”
The company responsible for syndicating big conservative radio names like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity has been using paid actors to call in to their radio shows. According to a recent report in Tablet Magazine, Premiere Radio Networks, a subsidiary of Clear Channel Communications, hired actors to call in as guests.
Here’s how Premiere On Call describes their services on their now-defunct website:
Premiere On Call is our new custom caller service. We supply voice talent to take/make your on-air calls, improvise your scenes or deliver your scripts. Using our simple online booking tool, specify the kind of voice you need, and we’ll get your the right person fast. Unless you request it, you won’t hear that same voice again for at least two months, ensuring the authenticity of your programming for avid listeners.”
On Sunday, the article, Limbaugh/Hannity Parent Company Admits Hiring Actors to Call Radio Shows, by Gustav Wynn, generated an explosive response on Twitter, in the blogosphere and subsequently, from Limbaugh, Hannity and Beck on their radio shows.
Hannity attacked the messenger, Limbaugh attacked his bosses, Beck attacked “currency manipulator” George Soros and the blogosphere went abuzz as the the public considered whether Limbaugh, Hannity or Beck might have used their parent company’s dial-a-fraud radio call-in service.
… Though Premiere may have been hiring actors since 2009 or even 2008, their casting service flew under the radar until last month when Tablet writer Liel Liebovitz met an actor who had auditioned for the job. “Once I learned about that, I reached out to other actors until I found enough sources who could corroborate the veracity of the story. I definitely talked to a number of actors who were paid to call in to radio shows. The people I talked to showed me communications from Premiere proving they were hired as freelance actors,” Liebovitz said.
… This suggests an array of radio clients is broadcasting bogus calls by actors, categorized by their accents or vocal qualities. Next time you hear a “gruff”, “clean”, “crisp”, “deep”, or “textured” voice, you might just be hearing a Premiere On Call actor secretively playing a real person.
But they can never go public because they are gagged from talking about it. Note their iron-clad confidentiality clause, also removed from the site, but cached here as reported:
“Confidentially agreement: By requesting an audition you are also agreeing to keep the details of the audition and the type of work that you may perform confidential. This applies to information acquired while working for Premiere or any of its affiliates. Disclosure to any third party, sharing project information or publicizing what you do (including via social media) may be considered grounds for dismissal or further action.”
“I was surprised that it seemed so open. There was really no pretense of covering it up”, the actor told the TabletMag.com interviewer.
Why is this leaker not in trouble? According to the account, Premiere had this prospective employee audition for work by actually calling in live to a show and reading one of their scripts for free. This is worse by a magnitude – offering people a financial incentive to deceive promotes a disturbing moral message to people in need of work, a practice that monetizes and rewards unethical behavior
Ironically, another clause in the fine print of the one-sided contract for use of their web service makes users sign away their “moral rights” and hypocritically claims to frown upon just this type of fraud and deception, banning activities which
“[i]mpersonate another person or entity or falsely state or otherwise misrepresent your affiliation with a person or entity, or adopt a false identity if the purpose of doing so is to mislead, deceive, or defraud another.”
Industry watchers claim they would not be surprised to find any number of goofy DJ shows using plants for their various pranks and exploits, but it would be a different story if used for political shows and “astroturfing”. A Premiere Radio Networks spokesperson Rachel Nelson did not deny the service was being abused, saying instead that it is the stations that are responsible for how the calls are “integrated into programs”.
Interesting claim, isn’t it?
Here are the current top radio talk shows:
Are they still hiring paid callers 7 years after the scandal? I’m not interested enough in them or in the topic to want to find out.
You may recall that “Loss of Reality” is number 7 on the top 10 current threats to the survival of the human race. This is a threat because it can cause us to ignore genuine issues. Public gullibility and susceptibility to false information supports bad decisions by those who manipulate the media.
It gets harder every day to tell what’s real with regard to the news. Some stop trying, which is a scenario in George Orwell’s classic “1984” story. If I was a character in this story, you could tell me today Oceania is our friend and always has been, and I would agree. It would not matter to me that you told me yesterday Oceania was our enemy and always had been. I quickly ignore contradictions that might cause a disruption in the current peace. I accept whatever you tell me, at least on the outside. On the inside, I believe nothing.
The solution? Simple, chase out liars. Except then you soon get liars chasing out truthful people to maintain their lies. It’s a mess. Any suggestions?