Radio Hall of Fame suspends public voting to admit Reagan


There’s still no place for Howard Stern or Steve Dahl, but the National Radio Hall of Fame is about to make room for Ronald Reagan in the shrine to the medium’s greatest performers and programs.

The 40th president of the United States, whose radio career spanned only five years as a sportscaster in Iowa in the 1930s, will be inducted this fall into the Chicago-based pantheon administered by the Museum of Broadcast Communications.

In selecting Reagan and six other inductees this year, the Radio Hall of Fame steering committee suspended its published regulations, bypassing the public nominating and voting process outlined on its website. The others chosen were sportscaster Graham McNamee, commentator H.V. Kaltenborn, and four programs from radio’s so-called Golden Age — The WLS National Barn Dance, The Great Gildersleeve, Gang Busters, and Suspense.

 Billed as a salute to early radio pioneers, the induction ceremony will be nationally broadcast November 5 from the Museum of Broadcast Communications, 360 North State Street. The ceremony will be the first held in the new museum building, which also will house the Radio Hall of Fame gallery.

In announcing the inductees Thursday, Bruce DuMont, chairman of the Radio Hall of Fame, said: “Many of the stars and shows that defined the medium in its infancy have been unfortunately overlooked in public balloting. This year, as we move into our new home, the committee wanted to be sure to recognize the pioneers that time passed by but whose accomplishments must not be forgotten. The Radio Hall of Fame Class of 2011 gives us a solid foundation upon which to build.”

The only other president in the Radio Hall of Fame is Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was recognized for the crucial role his radio “fireside chats” played in reassuring the country during the Great Depression and World War II. At his induction in 2007, he was hailed as “the first great American radio voice.” 

Considering Reagan’s modest career in radio before he went on to Hollywood and politics, his induction is likely to generate controversy. This year marked the 100th anniversary of Reagan’s birth. He died in 2004.

During his presidency, his most memorable use of radio may have been just before a Saturday morning broadcast in August 1984 when Reagan joked during a microphone check: “My fellow Americans, I’m pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.”

According to the Radio Hall of Fame’s official selection process, the steering committee is required to consider recommendations from the public and the announce multiple nominees in four categories. Once the nominees are designated, public voting is supposed to take place online throughout June and July. Inductees are then announced in August. None of that is happening this year.

Since ballotting has been opened to the public, the process came under fire from critics who’ve said it encouraged special interests to mobilize voters, resulting in such controversial picks as James Dobson, the anti-gay founder of Focus on the Family.

More than 170 broadcasters and broadcasts have been inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame since its inception as a shrine dedicated to “recognizing and showcasing contemporary talent from today’s diverse programming formats, as well as the pioneers who shaped the medium during its infancy.” But the exclusion of such influential figures as Stern and Dahl rankles their fans and undermines the credibility of the institution.

Stern, who has appeared on the ballot four times, has been most outspoken in condemning the Radio Hall of Fame as a sham. Although he discouraged listeners from voting for him over the years, Stern said after last year’s snub: “Even if you hate what I do, you couldn’t discount what I’ve accomplished. It’s laughable. The idea of having a Radio Hall of Fame is ridiculous because there aren’t enough guys in radio that are good enough to even have one. The radio dial is just an abomination. There’s such a lack of talent it’s sickening. It’s just that everybody else sucks.”

Dahl, who’s been on the ballot three times, has been more ambivalent over the years. After his third defeat last year, he wrote: “I really don’t care about being in a [Hall of Fame] that doesn’t even exist. Even if it did exist, I wouldn’t really care. I don’t like losing, but I am even more pissed off that I allowed myself to get caught up in even the slightest bit of campaigning for it. I shouldn’t have put the voting slide up at, and I shouldn’t have let that fan start a Facebook fan page for it either.”


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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)