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RADIO : How to Get a Direct Line to Talk Shows : Here’s the way callers ought to be: Be brief, be prepared and be persistent if you want to get through to Limbaugh or other on-air hosts.

<i> Sandy Sandfort is a free-lance writer based in San Francisco and other parts of cyberspace. He can be reached at sandfort@crl.com. </i>

Maybe you’ve thought about calling Rush Limbaugh or some other talk show host but gave up before you started. Did you stop because you thought you would never get through? Did you fear you’d put your foot in your mouth if you did?

Well, I’ve talked to Limbaugh and his millions of listeners. Though untold numbers of people attempt to call him, I managed to get past the busy signals and Bo, one of his off-air screeners, three times. Though I disagreed with the host, I still got plenty of air time to put in my two cents’ worth. In the process, I didn’t get cut off, I didn’t make a fool of myself, and Limbaugh even thanked me for my “insightful call.”

It was remarkably easy. You can do it too, if you’re patient and follow a few simple rules.

Though the tips listed below are primarily concerned with calling the Limbaugh show, (800) 282-2882, they are applicable to any talk show:

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Rule 1: Scout Your Target

Before you call any talk show, listen long enough to understand its unique culture and language. If you don’t know what you are talking about in the context of the show’s history, it will be painfully obvious to regular listeners. Your otherwise good arguments will be discounted or ignored.

Rule 2: Write It Down

Talk show hosts like Limbaugh are professionals. They are used to ad-libbing on the air. You are not. Your chances of successfully “shooting from the hip” are slim. It is much better to organize yourself by writing down your key points. This does not mean writing yourself a little speech and reading it on the air--it would be stilted and boring.

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Limbaugh hates that, and so does his audience. Just write enough notes, key words or whatever to remind yourself of what you want to say. And remember, brevity is the soul of broadcasting. Keep your message as short as possible. The smoother and more concise your presentation, the more air time you will get.

Rule 3: Keep Trying

Talk shows have a limited number of phone lines--Limbaugh has only 10--and they quickly fill up with callers. Whenever a line clears, whoever happens to be calling just then will get it.

To maximize your chances of being that caller, you have to redial the instant you get a busy signal. If your phone has a redial button, you’re in luck. If you have a so-called war dialer, all the better. It took me 20 minutes of redialing to get through to one of Limbaugh’s lines the first time. The second time took me about half an hour, the third time even longer. You have to be persistent.

Once you hear ringing, don’t hang up. Limbaugh’s screener will work his way through the lit lines until he gets to you. If you hear ringing, you are three-quarters of the way to getting on the air.

Rule 4: Stand Up

As you wait for your call to be answered, you may begin to think about the millions who will be listening to you. That thought can be daunting. I got a little stage fright; you probably will too. Its worst symptoms are shortness of breath or a feeling of tightness in the chest, which can cause your voice to be weak or to quaver.

Standing--or at least sitting up straight--gives your diaphragm more freedom of movement. It also facilitates deeper breathing before you speak. (But don’t hyperventilate; you don’t want to pass out.) Standing may feel strange, but it works.

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Rule 5: Engage the Screener

The screener is Limbaugh’s “dragon at the gate.” When the screener answers your line, you have only five to 10 seconds to make your pitch. Within that time the screener must decide if you are interesting enough to be on the show. This is where Rules No. 1 and No. 2 first go into action. If you clearly--and politely--give the screener an interesting sound bite, you move up to 90% of the way to getting on the air. If you are also passionate--without frothing at the mouth--it rises to 95%.

What qualifies as “interesting”? Limbaugh takes only 10 to 12 calls per three-hour show. He does not want to hear the same thing everyone else is saying. Talk shows are dying for fresh, well-thought-out approaches to the topics they discuss. “Me too” calls get taken last--or not at all (“Hi, Rush, I called to say I agree completely with the last caller”).

By the same token, “me too-- not " calls are out. If you want to comment on a subject, have some new facts or lines of reasoning that support your view. A quirky or even kinky way of looking at an issue gives you a definite advantage--as long as it isn’t too obviously contrived.

When dozens of listeners called to tell Limbaugh what they thought should be done in response to the Oklahoma City bombing, I told the screener I wanted to talk about what should not be done (further restrictions on our Bill of Rights freedoms). I got on posthaste.

Rule 6: Get to the Point

One of the most annoying things a caller can do is beat around the bush. You do not need to exchange pleasantries with the host. In the broadcast media--as nowhere else--time is money. Similarly, don’t preface your comments with introductory material or ask if it’s all right to ask about some topic. Just do it .

Don’t hem and haw with something like “What I’d like to comment on, Rush, if I may, is about how, in my opinion, you have been saying bad things about the President and Mrs. Clinton.” Instead, use a short declarative sentence: “Rush, I don’t like the way you treat the Clintons.” Then follow that with evidence in support of your view.

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Rule 7: Don’t Be Intimidated

You talk to God in church, not on the radio. In the final analysis, talk show hosts are just folks. Being a celebrity doesn’t make Limbaugh any more knowledgeable than you. Always be polite, but don’t roll over just because the host is a star. If you think you are in the right, speak up. Firmly--and politely--defend your position. What the listeners think is far more important than what the host thinks.

Paradoxically, callers who civilly--but vigorously--support views that disagree with Limbaugh get on the air more often and get much more air time than do rude or obsequious callers.

Rule 8: Keep Your Humor and Perspective

The Rush Limbaugh show isn’t the Supreme Court. Nobody’s life is hanging in the balance. It’s entertainment. Do it because you enjoy it, not because you expect to change the world. If you have a good time, that’s terrific. But even if you make a total fool of yourself, you’ll still have a great story to tell your friends.

Remember, it’s just a talk show .

Are We Having Fun Yet?

So, did I have a good time talking to Limbaugh? You bet your life. Did I change the world? Maybe a millimeter; probably not. What does it all mean? I don’t know; what do you think? Rush Limbaugh and his fellow talk show hosts are waiting to hear your opinion. Give them a call.


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