So many men, so many opinions, sighed the old Roman poet Terence - and he had never imagined Twitter, Facebook or talk-back radio.
Night-time radio is the refuge and the consolation of the sleepless in Seattle or almost anywhere else on Earth. My preference is for Radio New Zealand National, but after eleven p.m. they play far too much music. And the trouble with music selected for an audience with a wide range of tastes is that most of it is not to anyone's taste. I turn to talk-back radio until either it sends me to sleep or the BBC World Service kicks in at midnight on Plains FM and I can switch over.
Talk-back is people having their say. It is mostly harmless enough. Callers may be inarticulate, and their thoughts awkwardly expressed. but it is a forum for those who an ex-host once described as lost, lonely, loony or liquored - and awake. They have "a rage for saying something, when there's nothing to be said" as Dr Johnson remarked in his wise old way.
By eleven p.m. a few have clearly been on the sauce for a while. Others have been asleep, but woken to hear the tail-end of the discussion and want to add their two cents' worth. Some don't listen at all but want to talk. People um, you know, like and yeah their way through half-sentences that meander hopelessly until they peter out. To paraphrase P. J. O'Rourke, one thing talk-back can't seem to accomplish is communicate, because everybody's talking too much to pay attention to what anyone else is saying.
Night-time talk-back radio is not notable for information or wit - two qualities that Stephen Leacock said ordinary people dislike in conversation. Articulate and well-informed callers are rare, but I remember one night when the topic was Israel and Palestine. One woman had recently lived on the West Bank for two years and knew first-hand about the situation there. The host had never been near the place but had read a bit and knew which side he was on. Another caller had strong opinions on the subject but admitted she never watched the news or read newspapers. Guess which two people congratulated each other on knowing best about the tensions on the West Bank and poured scorn on the third after she had been summarily cut off?
Public opinion is a messy thing - fickle, sweeping, amorphous and based on attitudes, mis-information and sentiment. But anybody, these days, can express an opinion on talk-back radio. Or for that matter in a blog.