David Sirota Returns to Talk-Show Format With Lever Live

David Sirota is excited about helming a live, call-in talk show online.
David Sirota is excited about helming a live, call-in talk show online.
Denver-based David Sirota has attracted plenty of attention lately for helping to come up with the story for the Netflix smash Don't Look Up, which earned him an Oscar nomination. But he's first and foremost a journalist, with a website, The Lever, that describes itself as "a reader-supported news organization holding power accountable."

At 5 p.m. Mountain Time today, June 6, that mission expands by way of Lever Live, a call-in talk show that returns Sirota, a former AM-radio host, to his broadcasting roots, but with a modern twist.

"AM radio has been completely taken over by the right," Sirota points out. "But I think there's more of an opportunity online. Terrestrial radio still has some built-in advantages, but less of a built-in advantage based on the prevalence of the smartphone. It used to be that to succeed, shows had to be heard in people's cars. But now everyone has a little radio in their pocket — their phone."

In December 2009, Sirota was hired to take over the morning slot on AM 760, an attempt to launch a progressive talk-radio specialist by radio giant Clear Channel; he replaced Jay Marvin, a Denver talk-show legend who'd experienced a health crisis earlier that year. For the better part of five years, Sirota provided an alternative to the conservatism that dominated talk radio at the time and enjoyed notable ratings success. But in 2014, around the time Clear Channel was rebranded as iHeartMedia, AM 760 flipped to what it dubbed a "Real Talk" format. Three years later, in 2017, the outlet's sound shifted again, this time to all-Broncos programming under the Orange & Blue Radio moniker, but that approach failed to gain traction, too. In 2019, the signal became the AM affiliate of Freedom 93.7, which delivers syndicated conservative gab in the tradition of the late Rush Limbaugh, whose show originally anchored the station.

Nonetheless, Sirota knows there's a hunger among listeners for other points of view. "It's been a while since I've been on the air, but I still get people asking me about the show or telling me they remember it, probably at least once a week," he says. "That's really flattering, and it's great that it had such a big audience. And I think people liked it because it wasn't just me yelling into a mic. We actually interacted with people — and we'll do that on the new show, too. The platform we've got set up will literally just be taking calls. We'll set up topics and have guests, and the guests will also take calls. But a lot of it will be responding to the audience in real time."

He hopes the views expressed will be diverse. "People will remember that my show got quite a mix of callers," he points out. "There was a lot of disagreement and debate and discussion, and that'll be the same with this."

Sirota admits: "To be honest, I haven't listened to AM radio in years and years and years. I'm not even sure younger people know what AM radio is, and obviously, apps and the internet and smartphones are very much part of the way we live now. We recently launched a pre-recorded podcast [Lever Time, accessible here], and that's good for a lot of things. But I've really missed the liveness of hosting radio. That was the best part of it. The worst part of it was getting up at five o'clock in the morning, but the best part was talking to people in real time."

The current plan is to go live at 7 p.m. each Monday. However, Sirota notes that "if something big or newsworthy happens, we can send out an email to let people know we're going to have a show right away, so that they can talk about that issue."

He uses last month's horrific school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, as an example. After news broke, "I was feeling a sense of despair and wanted to connect with folks and talk about it," Sirota explains. "I think something like that would have been a time to get together, because it's kind of a common experience, where you're processing events and you're hearing from other people who are processing it, too — and I think there's some comfort in knowing that other people are out there. That's one of the things I'm really looking forward to — connecting with people in real time, and in a real, human way."

Social media is another way to interact in such situations, but Sirota believes that "places like Twitter and Facebook, where you're communicating through a screen, can kind of de-personalize and dehumanize the communication. It's easier to be mean or inhumane when you're typing words on a screen. But in some ways, it's a little harder to be that harsh when you're actually talking to somebody. It's more of a human experience. Call-in shows are on a public stage, but you're interacting with one person at a time — and that's something I miss. On my show, I had regular callers, all of them with different personalities. Some of them were great and some of them annoyed me, but even the ones who annoyed me were characters on the show — and I hope we can re-create some of that."

Sirota has one last point: "Because of the decline of radio, and the walling-off of radio so that it's so uniformly conservative, there really hasn't been as much of a place for independent, progressive-minded people to interact. This show will allow people to hear from other people in the world — not just from the host, but also the perspectives of the people calling in. The decline of that contributes to the bowling-alone phenomenon, which makes it really easy to feel isolated in your own bunker. So I hope we'll be able to make people feel less alone."

Click to learn how to access Lever Live.