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Talk radio voices bailout anguish

The Wall Street crisis has raised the volume on talk radio as listeners from the heartland to Manhattan weigh in, suspicious and clearly vexed.

It's a free-for-all. Around the proverbial dial, listeners have wept, grumbled, vented, whined and condemned both political parties, seeking solace as well as something - anything - that could help explain the convoluted economics and vicious politics now gripping the nation. The bailout bust and the plunging stock market Monday only fed the sense of urgency.

"It's you. It's you who help us get through this," said one female listener from Wisconsin to Sean Hannity, heard on ABC Radio daily.

"I'm going to try to stay calm because I'm having a nervous breakdown over this," said another emotional woman from New Jersey to syndicated host Rush Limbaugh.

"I'm not going off the air today until everyone understands," he told his audience solemnly. "The so-called bailout has now officially failed."

"This is so sobering. I hate to see us descend into the abyss of socialism," one caller told Salem Radio Network host Michael Medved.

"Conservative free-market principles apply in the good times and the bad times. Conservative free-market principles will get us out of this if we allow them to," Laura Ingraham advised her syndicated audience.

"There are two topics that generate a full bank of ringing phone lines. One is anything to do with this financial crisis and the other is anything to do with Sarah Palin. If there's any way we can link those two, we'll be on the air forever," said Fred Grandy, morning host at WMAL 630 AM in Washington.

"We're getting a lot of hostility on both sides from those who favored the bailout - even if they're holding their noses - and those that don't," Mr. Grandy continued. "And a lot of people don't believe it's a crisis of the magnitude lawmakers and President Bush are claiming. People distrust what they're hearing."

"This has humbled talk-show hosts, because none of them really have the answer to it all, just like the rest of the media. They're trying to get their heads wrapped around it, looking for information, bringing on the experts," said Michael Harrison, editor of Talkers Magazine, an industry publication.

"This crisis has shuffled the deck between left and right. Both sides feel that everyone is to blame," Mr. Harrison added.

The fear of the unknown indeed lends an added dimension to listener reaction.

"People are collectively freaked out. They don't understand. There are maybe four people in the universe who actually do understand, and not one of them is on Capitol Hill. Plus listeners are wondering why they have to suck it up while Washington gives Christmas to a bunch of crooks," said Taylor Marsh, a progressive talk-radio host and blogger.

"What do you do when the sky's falling? Or is it really falling at all? This huge reaction is happening on all sides - liberal, conservative, Democrat, Republican. The country is at least united on this," she added.

"This is one of those events that comes along that brings people together, at least temporarily," agreed Mr. Harrison, who compared the outpouring with the days following Sept. 11, 2001, when the news media was billed "the national campfire" during unsettling times.

"Ultimately, we'll get a grip on this. Until then, the average person and the talk-show host alike don't know immediately what's best for them, their families, for America," he said. "Thus, you see blame spread on both sides of the aisle."

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