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The air is thick and weird as I follow conservative talk radio personality Bruce St. James down the hallway past KTAR-AM 620's studio toward his office. When we reach the lair of the white worm, we settle in across his desk from one another, exchanging small talk until I ask the question I've come to ask: What the hell is a right-wing cracker doing running Power 92, the number one bitches-and-blunts Top 40 hip-hop station in town? (Full disclosure: I, too, am a cracker, although on the other end of the political spectrum, with an immense fondness for bitches and blunts.)
Let me rewind for a moment. When I'm not listening to the piles of CDs that come in the mail, I'm a talk radio junkie -- 620 AM specifically. Around mid-August, Bruce St. James was added as the early afternoon host, and he quickly staked his ground as the most conservative of KTAR's weekday personalities -- from my view, a total apologist for the Bush administration. I listened, enraptured and disgusted by his vehement right wingery for a couple of weeks, entranced by his squeaky eruptions of rhetoric (he even admits on a radio promo that his voice soars into the upper reaches when he's excited -- "I've gotta work on that," he says in the ad).
Then I learned that St. James already had a job down the hall, having been program director of Power 92, KTAR's sister station, for the past six years, a post he continues to hold.
Hip-hop is inherently political music. St. James says it himself: "Many of these artists, they're speaking for a group that doesn't have a venue themselves. Hip-hop is their 60 Minutes." However, hip-hop rarely, if at all, leans to the right politically. In general, I share hip-hop's values. Having been raised in an apolitical but socially conservative household, I veered to the opposite socially, believing profoundly in civil liberties, diplomacy over preemptive war, and the notion that there's no such thing as consensual crime.
Hell, that's why I listen to conservative talk radio, and watch programs like The O'Reilly Factor. I need to know what the enemy's thinking. I tried listening to Air America when it arrived recently in the 'Nix, but found it dull -- they don't need to convince me with their lefty propaganda.
St. James, though not much older than me at 34, is just as passionate about his conservatism as I am about my liberalism (yeah, I know, "progressive" is the P.C. thing to call it, but fuck it, I'm a liberal). He chalks up his stance to growing older and his values maturing, but you get the feeling the guy's never bled anything but Republican red in his life. "I'm not a nuance person," he told me. "I'm a little more knock-you-over-the-head. I believe in what I believe in, and I believe I'm right."
When I realized the dichotomy of St. James' jobs, I had to find out how such an oxymoron comes to pass.
After a few e-mail exchanges (in the first I wondered if he had to pay Matt Drudge of the conservative Web site The Drudge Report residuals for biting his content daily), I asked St. James if he would be willing to sit down and bullshit with me. He admitted he bit ideas not just from Drudge but from a variety of media sources, and graciously agreed to meet up with me, so I threw on a graffiti tee shirt with a painting of a scowling spray paint can -- to show him I represent the streets -- and ventured to the Emmis Communications building on Central Avenue, which houses KTAR, Power 92, KMVP and KKLT.
St. James toured me through the facility, past the various studios upstairs, including Power 92's where the Nuts were holding down their afternoon slot, before we ended up squaring off in his corner office. Shortly after we sat down, I noticed the time on a clock on his desk. "Hey, it's 4:20. Doesn't Power 92 have to stop for a blunt break?" I asked. St. James laughed, and I pulled out the gift I'd brought for him, a paper sticker with a picture of Bush and the caption "NEWKILLER," a reference to the Prez's pronunciation of "nuclear," given to me by a graf writer friend. He said he loved it, but I doubt I'll see it on the back of his truck anytime soon.
We talked about the second presidential debate for a few minutes, agreeing that it was nothing more than a Mr. America pageant, as St. James has referred to the matches on his radio program, appropriately named Bruce St. James Has Issues. He told me that he didn't agree completely with the president on everything, but came a hell of a lot closer to siding with Bush than he did with John Kerry.
That just wasn't confrontational enough, so I explained that I was on the opposite end of the political spectrum from him, and I'd come to play Al Franken to his Ann Coulter. But first I wanted to hear how, with his emphatically conservative philosophy, he'd ended up running Power 92, where only the night before I'd been bumping "Me So Horny."