Note: Due to the high volume of people who somehow thought that the argument that follows was in any way germane to the topic at hand, we have printed below an enhanced transcript version of the reply I gave to this subject live on-air last week:
On Monday, November 30, I ranted. Boy did I rant. I have often said that this radio show is a form of therapy for me. I don’t need regular sessions, but occasionally, certain topics elicit such a powerfully emotional response within me that I find myself unable to move past them without bloviating and getting it out of my system.
In a nutshell the rant was as follows; winning matters, especially in a competitive field such as professional sports and most forms of the entertainment industry. Any workplace in which you are quite literally ranked or rated demands that you strive to be #1 and nothing less. No one should respect an athlete content with losing the Super Bowl.
Yet, in a stunning turn of events last week, Stephen Colbert, who has only been hosting the Late Show on CBS since September, took a scheduled week off, while his main competitor, and the undisputed #1 Late Night Talk Show Host by a 2-to-1 margin, Jimmy Fallon, worked new shows. One thing I know is that you never win by not showing up, yet there was Colbert, not even trying. In two weeks, he’ll take another two weeks off for the holidays as will Fallon.
The point of my rant, I thought was quite simple; there is no acceptable explanation for this other than complacency, a quality I find to be reprehensible, and I expect others to as well. Sadly, I was reminded instead that “good enough is good enough,” and if he’s happy being #2 that’s OK and, after all, “what’s the big deal?” On and on the statements of shoulder shrugs and support for Colbert went and, eventually, I just gave up and resigned myself to being reminded why I find today’s society, especially the way it views any sort of work ethic or pursuit of greatness, to be so pathetic.
In came the emails. Without fail, one line of questioning was repeated more than any other. In fact, during my rant, someone called in to make the point and when I saw it on my computer screen, I laughed thinking “well that clearly has nothing to do what I’m talking about. I’m going to ignore that since it’s so far off subject.” But as more emails and Facebook posts arrived, I finally addressed it using an email from listener Sam. His was chosen because it was one of the few that was nicely and politely phrased, indicating a general curiosity as opposed to a personal attack, as most others. His genera point, paraphrased, was as follows:
I don’t understand all of this talk about being #1…if t’s such a big deal, why aren’t you the next Howard Stern?”
As I said at the time, this is so stunningly off topic and sad to me. While the tone of his question was pleasant, most who asked this were doing so because they were incapable of attacking the argument so instead they wanted to attack the arguer, a classic modern day trick. Discrediting me, however, would not discredit my argument. At least not in a sane world. I’d prefer that you just say you’re fine with people who settle and are happy being 2nd and leave it at that because you are not comparing apples to apples with your attack; not even close.
Before we get to that I submit the following for the record: Howard Stern is an antiquated comparison, let alone a non-sequitur which I’ll explain in a moment. Stern today has a fraction of the audience he once had when he was on terrestrial radio, because he chose to sell out, which he earned the right to do. I have zero argument with Stern’s decision because he worked his way to the top of his field (something Colbert has yet to do) and then decided to take the money and run. No harm, no foul. But if you’re going to (wrongly) set the bar as competing against the radio host who has the most national listeners, which is not at all how radio ratings work, unlike TV, then like it or not, Rush Limbaugh would be the comparison.
Incidentally, when Stern was on terrestrial radio and we went head to head with him in Reno and later Sacramento, we killed him. Not even close, in any demographic, by any measure. It was a ratings blood bath. One that was so powerful it ironically led CBS Radio to talk with us at the time about replacing Howard Stern when he left for satellite radio. Once it came time to talk terms, it became clear to me that the opportunity was a poorly designed one and not something I was going to allow the RAD show to be a victim of. Please take note of what time the David Lee Roth and/or Adam Corolla radio shows air this week…oh wait…
With that said, here are the mistakes in your premise: First, to clarify…if a firefighter decides he wants to be the best firefighter he can be, but has no ambition, desire, or drive to become a captain or battalion chief, God bless him. This hypothetical firefighter is passionate about the craft of fighting fires and doesn’t want to deal with the politics, classes, paperwork, and lack of firefighting that comes with climbing the ladder because he loves fighting fires and has others passions in life like his family, hobbies, whatever…good for him.
But when you choose to enter a field of competition, where you are literally ranked and your value is determined solely by where you finish and you, in any way, say that anything less than first is OK, I have zero respect for you, and that is what Colbert’s behavior demonstrates.
I have complete respect for the #1 radio show in Bozeman Montana, the smallest rated market in America. Big Willie and the Bear (or whoever they are) decided to lay down roots and make a life for themselves, God bless ‘em, especially since they have been #1 for 20 years against the 7 other shows in town. I don’t, for one second, demean them for doing it in market #300 while we do it in market 25 so I dismiss your premise.
In a competitive field, you are measured in your success by who you’re competing against, not by only becoming the greatest ever. That’s a very dangerous precedent that would demand that the best firefighter in Reno is pathetic…in fact, all firefighters in America are pathetic because they aren’t the battalion chief of the FDNY. Every businessman is a failure other than Bill gates. Using your barometer, there are no successful TV shows on the air. We can no longer celebrate Big Bang for being the #1 comedy or Empire for being the #1 drama because nothing on TV is the NFL… I compared Colbert to Fallon, period. Using your bar, I should have demanded that Colbert beat Fallon, then win in prime time, and then get into movies and become the top grossing actor of all time. That’s not remotely close to what I said.
Using your premise, when your son wins the High School Football Championship you must tell him “nothing matters until you win the Super Bowl in the NFL.” That’s not what I said. What I said was that if my son ever celebrated being second or said to me “I don’t need to work harder because I am the second best football player in the high school league,” I’d be gravely disappointed in him.
Realizing that I am banging my head against a proverbial wall, might I submit a peace offering via Dawn’s late father? He once tried to make Dawn feel better about the existence of bad people in our world and her inability to understand how they could behave the way they do by saying (paraphrasing) “if you could understand them, it would mean that you were capable of being one of them.” In other words, take solace in the idea that you can’t wrap you brain around a way of thinking that it so foreign to you that it makes you crazy. Fortunately for us, such a formula works both ways. You can make yourself feel better by simply dismissing me as a workaholic, narrow minded, success driven 1-percenter who is letting life pass him by in the name of numbers, rankings, and ratings, while missing out on anything that remotely resembles living. Coverley, I find solace in the fact that I can, in no way, relate to the idea that second place is ever acceptable. Accepting less that the best is a thought I can’t wrap my brain around, despite being surrounded by a culture that embraces “participation,” rather than winning and attendance over accomplishment. I’ve never understood it and I hope to God I never will, because I never, ever want to be like that.