Thursday, September 27, 2007

Ramsey the Radio Shill: Cashing in for Christ on Sports Talk Radio

Nashville sports radio is where Nashville sports radio talent make money—and not necessarily talking about sports. No, the real ultimate bonanza, once you can break into the local radio game, is doing voiceovers for commercials. George Plaster, Mike Keith, Frank Wycheck, Jeff Diamond—the list goes on. Once they are voices on the radio, they convert their insider position into additional bucks by shilling for anything that comes down the pike. It’s a typical gambit for radio “personalities.” Heck, Dan Patrick, former ESPN star radio performer, used to do national spots on his program, but then he also started doing voiceovers for the commercials for local businesses. Let’s see, how many markets was Dan in? Multiply that times the thousands local companies were paying him and you’ve probably got a serious chunk o’ change. No wonder Dan could recently “retire” from the sports radio game.

But there’s another guy who’s all over the Nashville sports radio landscape doing commercials. He’s incessant. He’s everywhere. You can’t turn your dial from 104.5 FM to 106.7 FM to 560 AM without hearing the obnoxious intonations of that financial force of nature, Dave Ramsey.

Ramsey, the holier-than-thou radio financial advisor to regional millions, subject of a ”60 Minutes” segment not that long ago, has become radio shill par excellence. Also not too long ago, Nashville Scene did a cover story on Ramsey. It wasn’t an incisive piece, exactly, rather more like a positive catch-up profile on his busy life and his continued success berating and cajoling the mass of woebegone radio listeners who don’t know how to handle their money very well. Ramsey, making no bones about his “Christian” leanings—born again through the troubled waters of his own past financial problems—is the high priest of Financial Peace University, a program of money-management seminars, which, as epitomized by the name itself, sells it all: money (“financial”), religion (“peace”), and the idea of credentialed legitimacy (“university”).

So Ramsey’s a big success in his own right. Which makes his constant appearance on sports talk radio commercials really disturbing. We understand that it’s all about striking when the iron is hot in show biz. Would that we all had even a fraction of such opportunities. But Ramsey’s cash-in ethos comes off really weird, especially for a guy who poses as this Christian-based, benevolent but also hard-assed taskmaster and guru for the financially challenged.

One of Ramsey’s on-air clients is Pilkinton Eye Surgery, which he promotes by claiming that his own wife availed herself of their services. (Always exploit the idea of family, if you can.) He also shills for an insurance company that promises that, when you call them, you won’t be talking to—as Dave says with particular venom—“some kid in a cubicle 500 miles away,” which is a rather nasty reverse-ageist characterization for a spokesperson who claims to be a big Christian. Ramsey also promotes a realtor named Terry DeSelms, a situation that seems particularly interesting given that Ramsey’s made his fortune advising regular folks on how to best spend and save their money. Anyone with a little experience in real estate knows that, in this day and age, one should do all that is possible to avoid the services of a realtor. Doing so can save thousands when it comes to closing time, and you’d think ol’ Dave would be all for that. He’s not, apparently, when it comes to his pal Terry DeSelms.

But the real problem comes when we sports radio listeners have to hear Ramsey’s voice in salesman mode, which has to be one of the most unnerving aural experiences in the world. He grates and cackles his way through his ad copy with unctuous insistence and at maximum volume, and I’m not sure if it’s the copy or the Ramsey delivery that most convinces me not to patronize the clients.

It’s terrible radio, and knowing what we know about the Christian Ramsey, it also smacks a bit of hypocrisy, him being so verbally cruel to young people in cubicles and essentially endorsing realtor fees. (Though what he’s doing is certainly in tune with getting one’s financial house in order. Dave’s house, that is.)

Like a modern-day Elmer Gantry, Ramsey alights his podium of financial righteousness with absolute confidence and cashes in on regular folks’ weaknesses. That’s okay. This is America, and if you can make a buck, then so be it.

But why must he take all the fun out of listening to the radio?

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