Given that I talk on the radio for a living, you might imagine I get my fair share of emails. Boy oh boy, do I get some doozies. Some good. Some bad. Some just end up in the trash bin without consideration at all.
You may not know, but there is ample desire to be on a 100,000-watt statewide radio station. In addition to emails from listeners, politicians, shysters, trolls, bots, newsletters (and everything in between), radio hosts get hit up with professional interview pitches all the time. Everything you can possibly imagine. Food bits, political bits, travel segments, beauty tips. Twenty to thirty a day.
One particular type of pitch offers a press release (or interview, if interested) on a ‘survey.’ These surveys are concocted and conducted by for-profit companies. They are designed to draw you back to their website or product. I suppose there is nothing inherently wrong with it, and often they are seen as easy pieces regurgitated by reporters eager to churn content, what is known as “lazy filler.”
Earlier this week, I read (with detached amusement) several Alabama media outlets regurgitating one of these obviously manufactured ‘surveys’.
“Alabama 4th unhappiest state in the US, survey says”
“Is Alabama one of the unhappiest states in the country?”
This new report comes from what I will assume is a fine, upstanding business looking for a few clicks. In the email, they walk us through the multiple metrics of “happiness” and rank the states based on them, but only after a pitch to their website. This survey had Alabama ranked 4th on the “Unhappy” scale. I mean, according to this group, Bama is downright SAD. Now, I have no idea if this survey is legit or not. I suppose I could find out. They use readily accessible data. I guess I could spend time to verify the numbers.
Thing is, I don’t want to.
I don’t really have any issue with these groups anyway. Get that publicity and grow that free market. Have at it. You see, I don’t need a survey to tell me about the happiness of Alabama.
I live here. For 22 years.
I talk to Alabama every day. Not just on the radio either. I see you in the market and the park and the hardware store and the liquor store (unless you are a Baptist … then eyes front) and the doctor’s office and the gas station. I love this state and her people. I look you in the eyes and ask you “how you doin’?”
Why would I need a survey from a company headquartered in the UK to tell me how you feel? I already know.
In June 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, my parent company, Cumulus Media, made the difficult decision to furlough all full-time employees for three one-week stints. Like many companies, the concept was to avoid long-term layoffs or major downsizing.
During one of my weeks ‘off,’ I decided to take a little bike ride.
You might remember, not only were we in the midst of lockdown fever and rampant COVID, there was racial unrest headlining all major media outlets. The George Floyd case had broken open a new national narrative on police and black America. Created with it was a cavalcade of commentary on this being “the final straw” to break our societal back. Viewers would be forgiven to have become convinced we were days away from a veritable new civil war.
I was thinking differently. I knew the media hyper-focuses on our margins and intentionally needles our differences. I also knew in my gut the heart of our state and country was not represented in the breathless, relentless reporting of those in media, seemingly taking advantage of raw emotion for ratings gain.
So, I took a ride to visit Alabama. A Harley, a week, backroads and forgotten places. It was incredible.
I remember the down on his luck fella in Sylacauga, who finally had a place to stay after a few months of homelessness. He said he kept falling off the wagon, but this time he thinks he’s licked his demons and had a job starting Monday.
South of Roanoke in Five Points I stopped for a bottle of Coke and a visit with a couple of guys sitting outside the Five Points Music House. They both looked as old as the hills, grew up within 30 miles of where we sat, and loved telling jokes just like my Pa. Neither of them mentioned being sad. In fact, they were having such a fun time I hated to move along.
After locating the bird dog statue in Union Springs, I sat with a lovely woman named Ms. Peggy on a bench across the street from the old courthouse. Despite the June heat, for 30 minutes I listened as she told me stories of her childhood. I asked her if she thought things were better nowadays. She said they were, but “the children best get back to the Lord.”
Hatchechubee and Smut Eye. Brundidge and Georgiana. Camden to Selma.
I made a point to talk to as many folks as I could and took it all in.
Funny. We never talked about our bank accounts (except for the occasional panhandling). We didn’t talk about the news or race or climate change. Nobody asked for the transgender bathroom and everyone looked… well…
Pretty happy. Tired. But happy.
An unfortunate mindset exists among many elitists in Alabama media to remind us all how awful a place Alabama is. It is no mistake when this leads to some of them passing off a weak, throw-away “survey” as news when it serves as an echo chamber for this belief. If only they’d just walk outside and talk to our people, maybe they would learn for themselves.
Don’t buy it. Alabama is good. Do we have issues? You bet. Can we be better? Of course. Are we all that happy? I might need to do some more bike riding to answer that.
I’ll say this: I’m committed to talking with Alabama folks a little more and listening to media types who get their news from email surveys a little less.
As Ms. Peggy and I said our goodbye in front of Union Springs Pharmacy, she smiled at me and said, “I think if we show people we love them, some of that love will come back home to us.” She then walked inside.
Call me Pollyanna.
But thinking of Ms. Peggy sure makes me happy.
Matt Murphy is co-host of ‘Matt and Val’, heard in Alabama each weekday morning from 6-10 on Talk 99.5. Everywhere at Talk995.com His column appears every Tuesday and Friday in 1819 News. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819News.com