Dobrow Finds the Wind Beneath His Wings

Media Reviews for Media People: 'Delilah After Dark'

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If there's anything in which I take pride as a New Yorker, it's my ability to subsist without a car. Express buses that stop every two blocks, trains packed like laundry hampers -- every joyous mass-transit journey affirms my hardscrabble moxie. Plus there's the added sense of moral superiority that comes with having the carbon footprint of a wee man with itty-bitty toes -- assuming, of course, that the aforementioned enviro-midget also sucks several hundred thousand kilowatts of juice out of the wall for his laptop, big-screen TV, stereo, two A/C units, phone, Cuisinart, guitar amp and 36 portable electronic devices.
'Delilah After Dark'
'Delilah After Dark'

This week, however, I'd made plans to convalesce at an undisclosed location inaccessible by any means of transportation except automobile and sled. And so it was that I borrowed a family car and set off on my walka -- er, drive-about.

Careening through the wilds of southeastern Pennsylvania and not in any particular rush to get to my destination, I flicked on the radio -- which is one of the many, many things I miss about driving, because the only time I listen to the radio is in the car. As great fortune would have it, REO Speedwagon's "Keep on Loving You" happened to be playing. I unapologetically dig this song, to the extent that I can phonetically translate the coda to its double-ninja-awesome guitar solo: Neeeer! Neh-neh-neh-neh neeer! Neh-neh-neh-neh NEEER! NEEER! NEEER! Rock is dead, they say? Long live rock.

So clearly I wasn't changing stations anytime soon. But after the REO blast, I was treated not to another classic-rock staple ("Hocus Pocus"?) but instead to a honey-voiced woman offering advice, compassion and spiritual guidance. She commiserated with her mopey callers. She bantered with her yippy ones. She didn't seem to be all that into Skynyrd.

Thus was I introduced to syndicated radio mainstay "Delilah After Dark." The show, which airs between 7 p.m. and midnight in 200-plus markets (alas, not Los Angeles, Chicago or Detroit), is the aural equivalent of a warm cup of cocoa. Where most other on-air personalities go out of their way to bait, irritate and tantalize -- is there anything sadder than a midmarket radio "morning zoo"? -- Delilah's mission is to soothe. When she asks a caller, "How are you today?" you get the sense that she actually cares about the response. Hers is not a show for the cynical.

Delilah might have the cushiest gig in radio. While Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern occupy the airwaves for about 35 minutes per hour, Delilah chats with callers for 75 seconds before plowing into a block of gauzy, cloying adult-contemporary classics -- which, of course, will prompt the frownypants-angrynoses among us to break things. Delilah's selections tend to be obvious ones: Enrique Iglesias' "Hero" for a woman whose husband just returned from Iraq, Bette Midler's "Wind Beneath My Wings" for a gal who sure does love that man o' hers, Don Henley's "The Heart of the Matter" for a dude who, for some reason, chooses to proclaim on a nationally broadcast radio show that he's totally, completely, truly happy for an ex who found true love with another fella.

Then there are Delilah's heartfelt, dreamy monologues, which are one part story and one part sermon. They talk about a "world filled with tension and stress," where an innocent, line-toeing woman of motives pure can just be minding her own business when "Bam! Life happens!" I mean, imagine her surprise. She didn't even have time to put on makeup.

Indeed, the Delilah 'tude and mind-set -- and, by extension, those of her listeners -- hearken back to a simpler era. "Delilah After Dark" is a sex-, substance- and sarcasm-free zone in which emotion is the sole currency. For those who exist within it, no greater glory exists than a man-woman relationship from which children spring forth abundantly. There is only love, unrequited love and re-requited love, all lovingly monitored by the benevolent Big Guy/Gal Upstairs.

While this may strike many listeners as narrowly drawn and unsophisticated, it's that simplicity and absence of anything remotely controversial that makes "Delilah After Dark" ground zero for mainstream marketers hoping to reach family-first women between the ages of 30 and 50. Being as John Q. Law frowns upon the practice of scribbling while driving, I didn't chronicle the roster of ads during Monday night's show. Nonetheless, I remember some cars (Chevrolet), insurance (Progressive?) and a cellphone behemoth or two (definitely Verizon). The rest? Mostly ladythings that appeal to ladies.

It's worth noting that, judging by the show's website, Delilah is clearly OK with marketing tie-ins. Two that struck me as particularly savvy: a program with Home Depot in which readers share their renovation stories (think "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" with less edge) and interviews with/excerpts from popular-with-the-gals authors such as Faye Kellerman and William P. Young. I can't think of too many categories, beyond monster-truck rallies and personal lubricants, that wouldn't be a great fit here.

So here's why "Delilah After Dark" works: It's real. Delilah comes across as more genuine than any other individual who communicates with millions of people on a daily basis. While we marketing-savvy folk rhapsodize about our niche-y podcasts and regard with bemusement any audio offering devoid of wit or snark, the vast majority of listeners want to immerse themselves in treacle at the end of a cruddy workday, and that's precisely what Delilah delivers. I wouldn't exactly say "Seven million listeners can't be wrong!" -- guess how many people bought Natalie Cole's record of duets with her father's corpse? -- but ignore the Delilah-crazed masses at your own risk.
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