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Thom Hartmann Had to Rethink ADHD and Talk Radio

“We were driving from Vermont to Michigan and I had the radio turned on, and all I could find anywhere were right-wing talk shows. There was nothing else.”

Jim Cryns

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Even though Thom Hartmann has been on the air nearly 20 years, to me, he seems an anomaly when it comes to a prototypical radio show host. Unquestionably a man of letters, an intellectual, Hartmann just doesn’t seem to fit the mold of a radio talk show host. When you can do so much, possess so much brainpower, why radio?

“I’ve always loved radio, ever since I was seven-years-old,” Hartmann explained. “My father got me an old crystal radio kit, and I listened all the time. I wanted to be a DJ and at 15, I got the chance at a small country and western station. I did that for a couple of years, then I did news for seven years.”

The early Hartmann years were full of curiosity, but all of those brain molecules needed somewhere to take root. After the Russians launched Sputnik in October in 1957, the Eisenhower administration figured they’d better invest in bright kids in America, just to remain competitive with our collective intelligence, to stand toe-to-toe on essentially any concern. Eisenhower dumped all sorts of money at gifted student programs. Progressive radio talker, entrepreneur, and prolific author Thom Hartmann was one of those students.                                                      

“As a young student, I was immersed into studies and was never bored,” Hartmann explained. “By the time I graduated sixth grade at 12 years of age, I’d had two years of Spanish, one year of Latin. I was taking trigonometry and reading at a college level.”

Then came middle school. By that point, the challenges seemed to fade and Hartmann, insanely bored, began to get into trouble. Looking for things to capture his interests. In high school, he found something.

“I started an underground newspaper in the 11th grade,” Hartmann said. He was expelled from high school for writing an article about the principal. “I was kept away from school with a court order. Then I got my GED, got arrested in an anti-war demonstration, and dropped out of Michigan State University.”                                                                                                  

Hartmann had been interested in consciousness and spirituality since childhood,  and has been a vegetarian since he was a teenager. Hartmann’s son was diagnosed with ADHD. Dissatisfied with the prevailing understanding of ADHD, he immersed himself in study on the topic and Hartmann became an authority on ADHD, writing several books on the subject; Thom Hartmann’s Complete Guide to ADHD and The Edison Gene: ADHD and the Gift of the Hunter Child,  among several others.

Hartmann cites ADHD as part of the difficulty some sufferers experience in adapting to essentially everything. Being easily bored is one of several telltale signs of ADHD. Hartmann’s Hunter versus Farmer hypothesis is a proposed explanation of the nature of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD.)

After his relatively brief early foray into radio news, Hartmann began a string of successful ventures in business. He and his wife Louise founded an Atlanta-based advertising agency. They sold the agency in 1997. The Hartmann’s started three other successful business ventures. Hartmann and his wife had paid their dues in the work-world. With plans of retiring in Vermont, Hartmann said he figured that would be the end of his working career. He’d already reaped rewards from hard work and four successful companies he started and sold.

During this “retirement”, he and his wife were on a long drive from Vermont to Michigan for Thanksgiving. Hartmann experienced an enlightening moment that essentially catapulted him to a career in radio. In bridge, it’s called a “demand bid”, essentially an obligation to respond to something. That was when Hartmann heard President George W. Bush “talking” the country into a war with Iraq.                                                                                                                 

“I flipped out about it,” Hartmann said. “We were driving from Vermont to Michigan and I had the radio turned on, and all I could find anywhere were right-wing talk shows. There was nothing else.                                           

“What I couldn’t understand was half the country was full of Democrats, and the other half was Republican,” Hartmann said. “It didn’t make sense that only Republicans were represented on the radio. The prevailing wisdom at the time was only conservatives listened to talk radio. That’s what Rush Limbaugh was telling everybody.”

He found this disconcerting and wrote an article for Common Dreams titled, “Talking Back to Talk Radio“. In the article Hartman said he had been in the radio business and acknowledged how it made sense to program something that would sell.

A couple of venture capitalists in Chicago read his article with great interest, and essentially used it as a business plan for Air America Radio. Hartmann was brought to Chicago to discuss possibilities.                    

“My main goal in returning to radio was to be able to have a conversation and not kiss George W. Bush’s butt about invading Iraq. I helped start Air America,” Hartmann said. “But it was taking them seven months to put together and I was impatient.”

Hartmann wanted proof of concept. To show he wasn’t nuts and how something in a more liberal voice could work on the radio.

“A local radio station in Vermont put me on Saturday morning to try it out,” he explained. “It worked and the show was picked up by I.E. American Radio Network and sent to 27 radio stations. Ultimately I went on Air America and that died, but I kept on going.”

Hartmann’s son was diagnosed with ADHD when the boy was young. It wasn’t a mainstream topic although it had been identified in the early 1900s. British pediatrician Sir George Still, described the condition as “an abnormal defect of moral control in children”. He found that some affected children could not control their behavior in the same way a typical child would.                  

Children with ADHD notoriously have trouble paying attention, controlling impulsive behaviors, being overly active, and may act without thinking what the result of an action may be.                     

The doctor informed Hartmann his son would not live a life rich in intellectual pursuits, and would do well to investigate a hands-on career.                        

“When my son was diagnosed with ADHD, we were told that he was unteachable,” Hartmann said. “When he was 12, we were told he was an educational failure. He’s now working on his master’s degree at a major university.”                                

The somewhat irresponsible, but what Hartmann called “well intentioned diagnosis”, prompted Hartmann to do extensive research into the topic and write several books, including Attention Deficit Disorder: A Different Perception. Hartmann also developed a hypothesis which proposes that ADHD represents a lack of adaptation of members of hunter-gatherer societies to their transformation into farming societies.

“It’s not hard science, and was never intended to be,” Hartmann said. That doesn’t mean Hartmann’s hypothesis and other methods haven’t been extremely effective in understanding ADHD.                                                                

Years ago in a speech he delivered to doctors in Norway, Hartmann told the group ‘We live our lives based on the stories we tell ourselves.’ That’s not only a revelatory thought, it reminded me of something mythologist Joseph Campbell would have written. It turns out my instincts weren’t off a smidge.

“Joseph Campbell was a meaningful inspiration to me at one point in my life,” Hartmann said. “His protegee, Stephen Larsen, wrote an authorized biography on Campbell, A Fire in the Mind.”                                                       

Hartmann said we transmit our identity, where we came from, principally through stories in our culture. Stories that reflect behavioral studies.           

“Aesop’s ‘Boy Who Cried Wolf’ teaches us not to lie,” Hartmann said. “‘The Emperor Wears No Clothes’ teaches us not to hold back with truth. Some people have stories about themselves where they are unloveable, bad, a broken person.”

Studies suggest those stories, to a certain extent, are defined by our temperament.

“Temperament is a fascinating conversation, vastly underrated as part of our personality,” Hartmann said. “Part of this is from parents and how they raised us. Parents also tend to project. It’s also about the kids you grew up with, the movies we watch, all the way back to the Bible. Adam and Eve were told they were given dominion over the earth and felt they could destroy it because God gave it to them. They could do whatever they wanted.”

While immersed in the study of ADHD, Hartmann said he was in Taiwan in the late 90s when he experienced something fascinating to him.                           

“I’d learned they were doing remarkable and innovative stuff in their public school systems,” Hartmann said. “I don’t speak Mandarin so I didn’t understand the concept of what was being taught in the class. The teacher stood in front of the class for five or ten minutes explaining a concept. It was only five or ten minutes to lay down the concept. Then she asked by a show of hands, how many students understood what she’d just said. Five or six kids raised their hands. This was something the kids understood as they did this frequently. She said, ‘great.’”

The teacher had those six kids stand up, and the kids who hadn’t raised their hands formed circles around the kids that had. The students in the middle of the circle started teaching the others. This was going on with six different groups. Soon, the kids that hadn’t raised  their hands in the first place were helping others in the circle learn. The teacher made the rounds to make sure what was being taught was correct.                                                                             

“The kids were teaching their peers,” Hartmann said. “That’s always more effective than a teacher teaching kids. Every kid was physically engaged. After class I asked her if they had any ADHD problems. She told me they didn’t even understand the concept. It wasn’t a problem in their classrooms.”                       

We have just scratched the surface in understanding depression, ADHD, and the positives both of those conditions add to our existence. ADHD is perhaps critical to our survival as a species. Hartmann explained why.                                          

“In the 1970s, there was a study involving chimpanzees. Since humans suffer episodic depression, and it’s measurable, they found the same holds true with chimpanzees. A good number of the group was what they deemed depressed. They wondered where it could come from. How a chimpanzee could be depressed in the first place.”                                      

The study was conducted in a natural habitat. Hartmann said those in charge of the study removed the ‘depressed’ chimpanzees from the community. The chimps were tranquilized and physically taken to another location.

“Those in charge of the study assumed the ‘normal’ chimpanzees would celebrate when all the depressed ‘bummer’ chimps were gone,” Hartmann explained. “When they pulled the plug on the experiment a few months later, half of the remaining chimpanzee group were dead. The ‘depressed’ chimps actually kept the others alive,” Hartmann said.

“The ‘depressed’ chimps weren’t sleeping at night. They weren’t socially engaged. They were hyper vigilant. They’d move to the periphery of the group. All classic symptoms of depressed individuals. They were constantly on the alert for danger. They were the community’s early warning system.”

Hartmann said it was these chimps with ‘depression’ and ADHD who spotted the leopard, cheetah, boa constrictor coming towards the group and alarmed them. The depressed chimps were critical to the survival of the group.              

Talk radio is top-heavy with political discourse and argument. Hartmann said politics is the essence of everything. Politics reflect the stories we pay attention to today. He said in practice, politics create, employ and swat down all our stories.

“I grew up in a world that was predominantly white,” Hartmann explained. “Not just the neighborhood around me. I only saw whites on television and in the movies. When I did see non-whites, they were portrayed as villains, buffoons or minstrels. That shapes your worldview. You can’t avoid that.”

In 1965, Hartmann said we started to see a lot of people of color immigrating to the United States. Immigration had been banned since 1924, and in 1965 immigration was subject to the proportion of the majority of the population. If the country was 85% white, then 85% of the new immigration must be white.                

“Today there’s a backlash against immigrants by white people who realize they are no longer the absolute majority,” Hartmann said. “When President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in the mid 60s, he told his press secretary Bill Moyers, he believed he may have given the south away from the Democratic party for a generation. He didn’t know the half of it. LBJ underestimated how much race drives politics.”             

Then Nixon came along. In 1968, with his run for the White House, he saw the opportunity to snare a bunch of voters and suggested he should pick up the white racist vote.

“They didn’t know how many were out there,” Hartmann said. “They didn’t really recognize what percentage of the white population was being driven primarily by animus. If there were enough of them, Nixon figured they might be able to help his cause.” Hartmann said that was Nixon’s Southern strategy which he said has metastasized over the years.

“Now it’s one of the principal drivers in our politics,” he explained. “Racism at one time belonged to the left, the Dixiecrats. Then it became a right issue. Seems crazy to me. I don’t know why conservatism would become racially conscious, but that’s what happened.” Prior to the 1960s, Hartmann said Republicans weren’t racist.                                                                        

“My father was an Eisenhower supporter, and he was most definitely not a racist,” he said. “Over the last decade or two, since the Willie Horton ad in 1988, we’ve seen the party shout out to white racists. They’re screaming, ‘dance to the tune of big corporations and billionaires. Come over and vote for me.’”

Hartmann is approaching his 20th year in talk radio in March. Joseph Campbell said when you’re involved in your daily life, things can be muddled, confusing. You wonder why you made a certain decision. As you age, when you reflect on that same life, your actions make a lot more sense. 

“Here I am 20 years later and I’m having a good time,” Hartmann said. “I guess ADHD would be kind of a curse if I’d decided to become a professor. As designed by life, ADHD has been a blessing. Talking on the radio is the perfect job for someone with ADHD. There’s always something new. Always constant change.”

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Corporate Radio Will Never Learn Job Cuts Aren’t the Key to Profitability

In most corporate settings, business ventures, and other fields of play, when the team is taking hit after hit and not recovering or regaining any ground, it’s time for an overhaul.

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Audacy Logo

There comes a point in time, sadly, when a self-labeled News/Talk radio station forfeits the right to describe itself as such. That generally happens when you are providing no or at least so very little actual news product that you should just call yourself a Talk station and move on.

That concept is starting to climb the staircase to reality again thanks to last week’s developments in the ever-struggling world of broadcast media.

I was hoping to go at least six months without having to say the words Audacy or layoffs. No such luck. In fact, I get to put the two words together.

This is a company with well over 200 stations, covering nearly 50 markets across the country. What are they best known for in the last five years by my observations?

Failure.

An Audacy spokesman says the company is reducing its workforce by “less than 2%”.

Yeah okay, so that’s supposed to make us feel better somehow? That works out to nearly 100 people. All in the effort to try and reduce Audacy’s almost $2 billion in debt.

Bankruptcy and delisting weren’t enough, apparently.

In the spirit of full transparency, I worked under the Entercom and Audacy banners on two separate occasions, some 20 years apart. It seems under the old name — and prior leadership — things fared more than a tad better. Read into that what you will.

I’m no business person but I can read and I do have the ability to form the occasional coherent thought every once in a while. So, based upon what I’ve observed over the past quarter century, perhaps there’s some merit to the saying, “Bad things happen in Philadelphia.”

In most corporate settings, business ventures, and other fields of play, when the team is taking hit after hit and not recovering or regaining any ground, it’s time for an overhaul.

My dad ran a restaurant for several years and during that time he faced challenges, man-made and otherwise. And while he was no Wolfgang Puck or Toots Shor, never once did he think of adding me to the mix to try and improve the product or the business environment. Not everybody is a chip off the old block as no doubt everyone in radio has seen by now.

Interestingly, the company has once again made major cuts as it continues to tell us the focus and priorities are on streaming, podcasting, and the website. Laudable efforts, I suppose, but if you so decimate your core product there will be no platform left where you can promote all of these fabulous ventures, or more accurately there will be no audience to inform. I would think this is something a sharp or even moderately competent business person might recognize.

But the fact of the matter is no matter what you say or do, you are a radio station first. And to promote your podcasts and your website, there has to be something to listen to on your station.

These are the things that a sharp or even moderately competent businessperson might recognize.

At some point, there has to be a come about if there is to be much left at all for the radio lobbyists to fight for. The very essence of the radio product is what disappears when these slashes occur, and the voices, the names, and the people creating the content disappear. Somehow, those making the poor decisions, the individuals executing the wrong moves, or even more accurately, no moves at all, remain.

Those overseeing the poor decision-makers are themselves poor decision-makers. The proof is in the end result. Could single ownership of stations do any worse? Perhaps it’s time for the Titanic to cast off the lifeboats before they hit the really big iceberg that’s inevitably coming. They’ve hit enough of the smaller ones and perhaps at least a few of those in the lifeboats stand a chance.

I for one would give a station owned by a guy named Morty a listen or two. WKRP didn’t do too badly under the Carlson family.

In any case, if you have not surveyed the latest damage: major markets got hit, again, with this latest round of layoffs.

Just after launching their dedicated sports brand, Audacy made cuts in Pittsburgh, Boston, Hartford, and New York.

I’m guessing those now part of the new sports portfolio are overwhelmed with confidence.

Oh, and did I say Hartford?

Yes, two people I sat across from just a couple of years ago at Audacy were shown the door. Sad on a personal level and mind-numbing from a business angle as it leaves us to wonder exactly how low they can go before the station offers no news value at all to the market. Doesn’t leave much else to choose from either.

But after all, it’s not personal, it’s strictly business.

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BNM Writers

Corporate Radio Will Never Learn Job Cuts Aren’t the Key to Profitability

In most corporate settings, business ventures, and other fields of play, when the team is taking hit after hit and not recovering or regaining any ground, it’s time for an overhaul.

Avatar photo

Published

on

Audacy Logo

There comes a point in time, sadly, when a self-labeled News/Talk radio station forfeits the right to describe itself as such. That generally happens when you are providing no or at least so very little actual news product that you should just call yourself a Talk station and move on.

That concept is starting to climb the staircase to reality again thanks to last week’s developments in the ever-struggling world of broadcast media.

I was hoping to go at least six months without having to say the words Audacy or layoffs. No such luck. In fact, I get to put the two words together.

This is a company with well over 200 stations, covering nearly 50 markets across the country. What are they best known for in the last five years by my observations?

Failure.

An Audacy spokesman says the company is reducing its workforce by “less than 2%”.

Yeah okay, so that’s supposed to make us feel better somehow? That works out to nearly 100 people. All in the effort to try and reduce Audacy’s almost $2 billion in debt.

Bankruptcy and delisting weren’t enough, apparently.

In the spirit of full transparency, I worked under the Entercom and Audacy banners on two separate occasions, some 20 years apart. It seems under the old name — and prior leadership — things fared more than a tad better. Read into that what you will.

I’m no business person but I can read and I do have the ability to form the occasional coherent thought every once in a while. So, based upon what I’ve observed over the past quarter century, perhaps there’s some merit to the saying, “Bad things happen in Philadelphia.”

In most corporate settings, business ventures, and other fields of play, when the team is taking hit after hit and not recovering or regaining any ground, it’s time for an overhaul.

My dad ran a restaurant for several years and during that time he faced challenges, man-made and otherwise. And while he was no Wolfgang Puck or Toots Shor, never once did he think of adding me to the mix to try and improve the product or the business environment. Not everybody is a chip off the old block as no doubt everyone in radio has seen by now.

Interestingly, the company has once again made major cuts as it continues to tell us the focus and priorities are on streaming, podcasting, and the website. Laudable efforts, I suppose, but if you so decimate your core product there will be no platform left where you can promote all of these fabulous ventures, or more accurately there will be no audience to inform. I would think this is something a sharp or even moderately competent business person might recognize.

But the fact of the matter is no matter what you say or do, you are a radio station first. And to promote your podcasts and your website, there has to be something to listen to on your station.

These are the things that a sharp or even moderately competent businessperson might recognize.

At some point, there has to be a come about if there is to be much left at all for the radio lobbyists to fight for. The very essence of the radio product is what disappears when these slashes occur, and the voices, the names, and the people creating the content disappear. Somehow, those making the poor decisions, the individuals executing the wrong moves, or even more accurately, no moves at all, remain.

Those overseeing the poor decision-makers are themselves poor decision-makers. The proof is in the end result. Could single ownership of stations do any worse? Perhaps it’s time for the Titanic to cast off the lifeboats before they hit the really big iceberg that’s inevitably coming. They’ve hit enough of the smaller ones and perhaps at least a few of those in the lifeboats stand a chance.

I for one would give a station owned by a guy named Morty a listen or two. WKRP didn’t do too badly under the Carlson family.

In any case, if you have not surveyed the latest damage: major markets got hit, again, with this latest round of layoffs.

Just after launching their dedicated sports brand, Audacy made cuts in Pittsburgh, Boston, Hartford, and New York.

I’m guessing those now part of the new sports portfolio are overwhelmed with confidence.

Oh, and did I say Hartford?

Yes, two people I sat across from just a couple of years ago at Audacy were shown the door. Sad on a personal level and mind-numbing from a business angle as it leaves us to wonder exactly how low they can go before the station offers no news value at all to the market. Doesn’t leave much else to choose from either.

But after all, it’s not personal, it’s strictly business.

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Does Conservative Media Secretly Want a Second Term for President Biden?

The evidence — from recent polling — suggests he could be a one-and-done president. But that doesn’t mean many in television, radio, and online media business don’t want him back for another go-round.

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A photo of President Joe Biden
(Photo: Gage Skidmore, C.C. 2.0)

Many of the biggest names in conservative media secretly want President Biden to win again in November. 

Sure, the evidence — from recent polling — suggests he could be a one-and-done president. But that doesn’t mean many in television, radio, and online media business don’t want him back for another go-round. Simply put, Biden’s material makes captivating and shocking television. 

Take, for example, podcast host Megyn Kelly and guests last week, who had a rip-roaring good time discussing President Joe Biden’s latest teleprompter gaffe, in which he read a word that was meant to tell him what to do.

“Here he was yesterday, speaking in front of members of North America’s Building Trades Unions in Washington D.C. It was such a simple assignment. It was so simple. Here’s how it went,” Kelly said as she began the segment with Josh Hammer, host of America on Trial with Josh Hammer, and Sara Gonzales, host of Sara Gonzales Unfiltered

Kelly then played a clip of the Democrat President.

“Imagine what we can do next. Four more years. Pause,” Biden said, as the crowd began the “four more years” chant.

“Oh my God,” Kelly interjected, suppressing the laughter. “Four more years….pause. Pause. And when the White House transcription guy, God love this poor slob, who knows what he’s had to go through. They changed it to ‘unintelligible.’ They refused to write ‘pause.‘ Sir, we know what it was. It was very clear. He said ‘pause.’ He embarrassed himself again and he cannot be saved by the White House transcription guy! Sara, I will start with you on it. I really think this is the kind of thing that will horrify and stick.”

“I agree. I mean, look. We have watched gaffe after gaffe after gaffe with Joe Biden throughout these three and a half years. And even I, as critical as I am about Joe Biden and as aware as I am that this is basically a Weekend at Bernies presidency, even I was like, I still cannot believe this happened,” Gonzales said. “I saw it yesterday afternoon and even in the evening I’m like, I still cannot believe what I just watched here. This man has been in public service for what, forty, fifty years and he still cannot read a teleprompter? It’s because he’s not here.”

As conservative media personalities, Kelly, Hammer, and Gonzales know how to read from a teleprompter. Even media newbies know this.

The trio then watched the clip again, and again shook their heads in disbelief.

“It also can’t be lost on everyone that the four more years chant was clearly, completely staged, because they wanted him to pause,” Gonzales said. “Because they couldn’t trust the audience to be that enthusiastic. They had to map it all out. Unfortunately, they overestimated Joe Biden’s ability to read from a teleprompter, which I’m sure we’ve all read from. It’s very clear when they want you to pause. It’s written differently in the prompter. There’s no reason for him to make this mistake, other than the fact that the man is half dead.”

The title of Kelly’s program episode read, Why Joe Biden’s Massive “Pause” Gaffe Could Lose Him the Election, and she made the point repeatedly that Biden’s continuous mistakes simply reinforce the narrative that he is not up to the job of being president. She went on to play a few other clips of Biden similarly reading the instructions from the teleprompter during written speeches. 

“Megyn, I’m really happy you mentioned what the White House transcriber reproduced this as, because what that actually reminded me of was that viral moment from the NASCAR race two and a half years ago. Where the crowd starts chanting F Joe Biden, and they’re like, they’re saying Let’s Go Brandon. That was a Let’s Go Brandon moment in a nutshell right there,” Hammer said, alluding to the depths the media has gone to protect the Democrat. “And I think you both are right that things like this are actually going to matter.”

Hammer continued, saying that these occurrences are nothing new.

“I think it’s worth pointing out that Joe Biden has been a gaffe machine for the entirety of his political career. He’s palpably senile at this point. It’s not a fun thing to say. I have a 94-year-old grandmother. I mean, these things are difficult. I mean, it’s not fun to discuss. But he obviously is senile,” Hammer said. “But that can’t necessarily hide the fact that he’s been a genuine gaffe machine since the moment he first set foot in Washington, D.C. back in the 1970’s.”

Certainly, if it weren’t so serious and dangerous, it would be even funnier.

“This is a major issue insofar as you look around the world, Megyn. I don’t need to be the one to tell you. You cover it every day. But the world is on fire right now,” Hammer added. “The universities are on fire. All of our enemies are looking at this stuff. Shi Jin Ping, Vladimir Putin, they’re kicking their feet up on the table and they are getting a bigger laugh out of it than the three of us just got on your show.”

Kelly finished the segment by playing a segment from the movie, Anchorman, in which Ron Burgundy pulled a Joe Biden and embarrassed himself by reading verbatim from a teleprompter.

“It’s Bernie Burgundy,” Kelly laughed. “It’s so funny to me.”

Conservative media knows Joe Biden is probably toast in this November’s election. The mainstream, liberal media knows it too.

But that doesn’t mean they don’t secretly, and selfishly, want another round of material, with which they can shock and entertain audiences for four more years.

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