Talk Radio, You're on the Air

Sunday, October 29, 2006


The Trinity

“Dignity does not consist in possessing honors, but in deserving them.”---Aristotle

Talk hosts are unique in that there is no rule book where we must follow certain tried and proven methods of broadcasting. Stations have policies but the hosts have a great deal of latitude.

In music radio timing is everything and in most stations a music director creates a play list. The list will reflect the target audience’s music interest.

The target audience is the group or groupings of listeners the station is attempting to attract.

For example a station which is targeting teens will most often have young sounding disk jockies. There are two basic groups for this type of music:

  1. Teens in the 12 to 17 age group; essentially the “teeny boppers”.
  2. 18 to 24 is also an important demographic since it takes in post high school and recent college graduates.

The jocks are given a list of “Top-40” songs to play. I recall the story of one such jock who failed to play the #1 song during his on air shift. When the music director asked why he hadn’t played the #1 song the jock responded saying since he heard it so often he was bored with it. He was fired on the spot.

Why was he fired?

Simple. He was not there to entertain himself. His job was to entertain the teeny boppers.

His next song, “Hit the Road Jack.”

In talk radio we write the songs as we go along. Our demographic is really 35 to 64. However the advertisers target 25 to 54.

Ratings books are broken down the following ways:

  1. The above mentioned 12 to 17 and 18 to 24 “demos”.
  2. 25 to 34.
  3. 25 to 44.
  4. 25 to 54.
  5. 35 to 54
  6. 35 to 64
  7. 12+ (usually favors older listeners). This demographic can run to any age. It measures the number of all the listeners of radio stations.

Typically, talk radio and news radio owns the 12+ demographic. Because the 65 and older audience has few choices in music on the air their interest is overwhelmingly in talk and news. I would venture a guess that more than half the audience of WRKO and WBZ is over 65.

Unfortunately, advertisers have never learned how to market to that age group. They do purchase goods and services but we’re hung up on the television view the money resides in the younger demos. The 65+ group usually has expendable income and spends sometimes lavishes things on younger family members and friends.

I digress. Perception is reality in advertising. After all, our business is not music, talk and news. It is advertising. The rest is merely the medium the advertising is carried out.

Mel Miller, who was himself a product of rock & roll radio having been the creator of Melvin X. Melvin (he was actually the first MXM), directed Woo Woo Ginsburg and many others to stardom on the original WMEX in Boston became a master of formatting a talk station.

After his days at WMEX he was hired as program director for Boston’s Newsradio590 WEEI, by Dan Griffin. Griffin had been program director at WBZ during Mel‘s time at WMEX. He brought Mel there to “liven” up the news. Under their guidance WEEI was always near the top in the Boston ratings.

Mr. Miller later became the first program director of WRKO as a talk station. Mr. Griffin would soon follow as general manager. Again, under their leadership the station zoomed to the top. They were both about the best in the business at their respective positions.

I had the good fortune of being hired by Mel in Boston. More on that in a later chapter.

I learned three things (well, actually more than three) from Mel when he hired me:

  1. Always be myself, don’t try to fool anyone because it will boomerang at some point.
  2. Always speak in terms easily understood by the largest amount of listeners possible.
  3. Never use five syllables when two will do.

    The most important thing from a listening standpoint is “WHO CARES?” Remember who is listening and why.

What does the “Who Cares” mean?

I can still hear his words today, a quarter century later. “Moe, any time you bring up a topic or discuss anything ask yourself, Who Cares? If you have difficulty answering that, move on to another topic. You must be interesting and compelling. Is the topic you’re bringing up going to be discussed at the water cooler, coffee shop, dinner table?

If you answer no, dump the topic.

The most important topics are those which affect the lives of our listeners. What moves them? What’s important to a Mom of three living in the city or suburb? What captures the interest the salesman who listens in between customer visits? The teacher on the way home needs to be stimulated. So to does the truck driver who spends hours listening on the road needs something to interest him.

  1. Issues which affect people’s money are always of interest. Taxes, price gauging, insurance and health costs, etc. Prop 2-½ was huge.
  2. Personal safety. That is pretty much self-explanatory.
    Education. Need I say any more?
  3. Generally anything that affects a person’s liberty. Seat belts, anti-smoking laws.
  4. Any matters dealing with war and our military.
  5. You get the idea. What is it that captures our mutual interest?

There are always the general interest programs. Some of the liveliest have had to do with favorite sodas (sarsaparilla and Moxie are up there with Simpson Springs Ginger Ale), toys of childhood (electric trains, six-guns, and Cabbage Patch Kids), yard sales, and cultural items such as public profanity, lack of politeness in public, talking in movies (that’s been surpassed by cell phones in restaurants), etc.

He had me make a list of things which mattered to me personally. I had never thought in those terms so it was interesting what I thought was important. Safety of my family is ranked high in importance. So is providing for the family. Ditto with health and living expenses. The list was longer but you get the idea. There are many things in which we all are in agreement are important.

The inner city lower middle income man and the forty-something in the burbs have many similar concerns. So now when the question of who cares is asked, I can answer it fairly well. It is something I practice to this day. I visit chat rooms, forums and any other place on the Internet, the ball park or anywhere chatter is going on. Before the talk begins, the listening has been done.


I have been blessed with many outstanding guests. This was true especially in the few years I spent at WSAR In Fall River, Massachusetts.

What do Bob Hope, Albert (Dapper) O’Neil, and Admiral James Stockdale have in common?They were all guests in studio.

I was very lucky.


Bob Hope performed at the famed Warwick Musical Theater in Warwick, Rhode Island in 1955, the year Buster Bonoff opened his “circus tent” theater. Low overhead, plenty of seats for the patrons and a laid back atmosphere made the theater a great place to perform. The theater lasted until 1999 when Vince Gill sang the last song from the revolving stage in the “Tent”.

Bob Hope made his last visit to the “Tent” in the early 1980s. He had performed there numerous times and always had a warm spot in his heart for the theater.

The publicist for the “Tent” arranged for Hope to be a guest at our station via phone from his hotel room in Providence, Rhode Island. He was slated to land at Green airport but because of weather he landed at Logan Airport in Boston. His chauffeur called to say he would not be able to do the interview since he was driving to his hotel in Providence and would arrive late in the evening. Mr. Hope would be tired after such a long day.

I was a little disappointed until I came up with a clever idea. I asked the driver what route he intended to travel and he mentioned I-95. I suggested it would not be any longer to go via Massachusetts route 24 to I-195 in Fall River and then to drive on to Providence. Along the way they could make a short visit to WSAR. It was not a large building and they could park right at the door. We were only a few hundred yards from the exit/entrance ramp to the highway. (I lied when I told the driver the distance was about the same --- but I think he knew that.)

The chauffeur made the request to Mr. Hope and he agreed to it. His publicist was to meet him at the Warwick airport so Mr. Hope was traveling alone.

Now the fun was to get Bob Hope into the studio. Not an easy trick. You see, when I was on air at night I was completely alone. There was no one else in the building. Even the janitor finished his work before I went on air. I asked the chauffeur to simply ring the bell at the entrance.

I loaded six sixty second spots in our machine for playing commercials. The instant I heard the bell ring I cut off the caller I had on the air and hit the button to begin the commercials. I arrived at the front door at the same instant the comedian of comedians was exiting the limo.

Bob Hope was then nearly eighty years old and had just traveled from his California home. He said he was tired. Frankly he looked it. I actually began to feel guilty for putting him through more than he had originally bargained for.

What surprised me most was the gentle manner he had. He immediately recognized I was tense and ill at ease. Not to worry, he said. He asked if I had butterflies in my stomach and I said yes. He then gave me advice on how to handle that.

“You can’t get rid of them. They won’t leave. Just try to get them to fly in formation. They won’t bother you as much that way,” he said.

Bob Hope was right. I was able to relax and focus on the questions I had for him. As I recall I focused on what he was most famous for, entertaining our troops and golfing with presidents.

Who was the most attractive of the young ladies on his tour? No hesitation. Joey Heatherton. Who was the best golfer? Ike was, hands down. But Gerry Ford could hit the ball a mile. Only problem President Ford had was he it a mile on the greens as well.

What was Bing Crosby like?

He was a great guy and friend, just what you’d expect from the man famous for White Christmas.

Would he have done anything differently?

No, I wouldn’t do a thing differently.

To the question of whether he was ever frightened while performing in war zones, he answered never.

“I had the greatest bunch of fighting men there to protect me,” he said referring to the military men he was performing for.

Fifteen minutes went by in what seemed like seconds.

Talking to Bob Hope was as comfortable as sitting down with your grandfather. He was everything I’d hoped he’d be. Just fifteen minutes and I felt as though I’d known him a lifetime.


I found the same traits in another man who was much a different personally than I had not anticipated. Boston City Councilor Albert Lewis (Dapper) O’Neil was a throwback to an earlier time in Boston politics. He was bright and disarmingly charming. He was also a tough pol in the Boston tradition. His mentor was James Michael Curley.

The reason he was a guest on a Fall River radio station was his endorsement of Ronald Reagan for president. The “Dap” had been appointed chairman of Massachusetts Democrats for Reagan. Both men had a common trait. They were each underestimated by their opponents. The political landscape was littered with the bodies of such people.

They also had many other traits in common.

While Ronald Reagan was a professional actor, Dapper was a wonderful entertainer in his own right. Both could charm a hambone from a hungry dog or sell air conditioning to an Eskimo in an igloo.

After the show we stopped by a late night spot near WSAR which had a piano bar, Magoni's Restaurant. The player there was Al Rainone, a local Democrat activist who heard I had “Mr. O’Neil” on the air that night. He expressed surprise someone like “Tip” would endorse the Republican for president.

Al hadn’t listened very closely because he confused Dapper for the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, who hailed from Cambridge, just across the river from Boston. Tip was a very liberal politician and was in all likelihood the opposite of Dapper on almost all issues.

Rainone warmed up to O’Neil very rapidly and Dapper agreed to sing a number of songs, mesmerizing those present with his beautiful Irish tenor voice. Dapper worked the crowd shaking every hand there that night.

His personal charm was most evident when “Margaret”, a dyed in the wool liberal Democrat who called the show regularly tried to attack O’Neil for being a turncoat for supporting a Republican. She had been the bane of my existence in my early days as a talk host. The call lasted about four or five minutes, which is long for a talk show call.

Margaret could be a real thorn in my side and tried to be the same with Dapper. The call ended with Margaret not only placated by Dapper, she invited him to dinner at her home “any time”. She all but said “I love you”.

Dapper was a real charmer who did many shows with me and enjoyed doing them each time he visited. He was in great demand by those who loved him as well as those who detested him. It was impossible for anyone not to have a strong feeling for Dapper, good or bad.

I loved “The Dap”.


One of the most decorated officers in the history of the United States Navy was Vice Admiral James B. Stockdale. He was also the highest ranking officer held prisoner during the Vietnam War. He was awarded The Medal of Honor and four Silver Stars.

James Stockdale is in the same place of honor reserved for Admirals David Farragut, William Halsey Junior, John Paul Jones, Chester Nimitz, Matthew Perry, Hyman Rickover and Richard Evelyn Byrd.

I recall with disgust the way Admiral Stockdale was treated by the media during his run for Vice President with Ross Perot in 1992. During the Vice Presidential debate Admiral Stockdale had difficulty hearing. That was a result of injuries he suffered when he was beaten senseless repeatedly at the Hoa Lo Prison (better remembered as Hanoi Hilton). The man’s hearing became a problem and in certain circumstances he had great difficulty hearing clearly. He was a fish out of water being on a platform where one needs to be on guard for any misstatement and action. A place you are judged more on your ability to be an actor than a genuine person of character. He was ridiculed by people not worthy of breathing his air. He was quite possibly the finest choice anyone could make for a candidate for any office at any time.

Admiral Stockdale passed away in July of 2005 leaving us a memory of a proud and distinguished man who stood tall among men. He died of complications from Alzheimer’s. His death came a mere thirteen months after the passing of President Ronald Reagan who died as a result of the same illness. Another similarity was the humanity and humility of very honorable men whose love of America was unparalleled.

About 1981 I read an article in National Review Magazine about the admiral and realized he was back in Newport, Rhode Island at the Naval War College. After obtaining the phone number for the War College I called and was passed on to Admiral Stockdale’s office. A man’s voice answered. I identified myself as a radio talk host at WSAR in Fall River, Massachusetts and would appreciate the opportunity to interview Admiral Stockdale. The voice on the other end inquired what I’d like to discuss and I responded the Admiral’s thoughts on family values and the love and admiration he had for his father, his experiences as a POW and the Admiral’s view of the military today.

The National Review article, as I recall, spoke glowingly about Mr. Stockdale’s academic achievements and how many recommended that he become a college professor. However his call to the Colors and his love for flight compelled him to further his Naval career, a choice, the article said, he never regretted.

Finally the voice on the other end of the line said, “Yes, I’d like to do such an interview, thank you for offering.”

I was breathless. Here I was pontificating to a man for whom I had nothing but admiration. I suggested I could go to Newport to conduct the interview to be played back on my evening radio show.


The Admiral then spoke and asked if I would object to his coming to the studio to do the show live. He almost seemed to be disappointed I had not invited him to be on the air live.

That matter was cleared up and the following week Admiral Stockdale was a guest at Number One Home Street in Somerset, Massachusetts, the studios of WSAR.

I was struck by the gentle nature of this fighting man. His love for philosophy was exceeded only by his love for family and country. Admiral Stockdale was easy to talk to.

I knew that moment what it was like to be in the presence of Greatness. One of the few times I had ever had such a feeling was with Ronald Reagan about fifteen years earlier and President Dwight Eisenhower when I was a child.

Time has faded my memory of most of our discussion (yes, discussion, not questions and answers). What I am left with is how Admiral Stockdale held no animus for the Vietnam War protesters. His view was, after all was said and done, what he and many others fought for was the preservation of our liberties, therefore we should not object when someone uses (or even abuses) one of those liberties.

Was he hurt by the protests and political speeches while he was captive? He said yes. Deeply.

The enemy hardly allowed a day to pass without tormenting him and the other prisoners by telling them they wasted their efforts because no one cared about them.

Admiral Stockdale told us about his treatment at the hands of his captors. The torture he experienced was incredible.

While flying a mission over North Vietnam in September of 1965, James Stockdale’s A-4 combat jet was shot down and he parachuted into a small village where he was severely beaten and handed over to North Vietnamese regulars. His entire captivity was at “Hanoi Hilton”.

Seven years in Hoa Lo Prison. Of that, half was in solitary confinement.

He spent most of his first months locked into a small stall in leg irons. Daily beatings were routine.

One time he was told he was to be paraded in public. Rather than allow his captors to take advantage of him for propaganda purposes he slit his skull with a razor. They laughed and said they would put a hat on him and parade him anyway.

His captors underestimated his sense of purpose. He was not going to be used for propaganda. He smashed his face with a stool until it was beyond recognition. They were never going to use James Stockdale for propaganda.

Some of the Admiral’s fellow prisoners were dieing under the mistreatment and torture of their captors. When he heard that he slit his wrists and told them he would rather die than submit.

His actions were in large part why the North Vietnamese stopped their gratuitous torture of prisoners and led to his being awarded the Medal of Honor years later.

Mrs. Sybil Stockdale took a cue from her courageous husband. She organized The League of American Families of POW's and MIA's.

In 1968 she and the families put pressure on the President and Congress to publicly accept as truth the mistreatment of American POWs.

Admiral Stockdale told our audience that when he was released from the Hanoi Hilton in 1973 he was in terrible shape. Both his shoulders had been wrenched from their sockets, his leg had been shattered by angry villagers. The severity of his torture led to a broken back, but through all that he had refused to capitulate.

After he received the Medal of Honor in 1976, Admiral Stockdale filed charges against two other officers. He felt they had given aid and comfort to the enemy. The Navy Department took no action and merely retired these men.

When he returned to active duty he was hardly able to walk or stand. Out of respect for this man of great courage the Navy kept him on the active list and promoted him regularly until he retired as a Vice Admiral in 1979.

Listening to him tell his story reminded me of the days listening to my Grandpa relate his life’s experiences. Honest and truthful. No hyperbole.

The outpouring of love and admiration expressed to him by our listeners reduced him to tears. He was especially touched by two calls, one from a WWII veteran who was a POW in the Pacific and the other a Korean War POW. He was also touched by comments of a woman whose brother was still MIA in Vietnam.

I still hear from and meet listeners who recall Admiral Stockdale’s visit. In ninety short minutes he seared into my consciousness the meaning of General Douglas MacArthur’s sense of Duty, Honor, Country: Admiral Stockdale exemplified it.

The Admiral spoke often of his love and respect for his dad. I later gleaned from some of his writings how strong his relationship with his dad was and how important it was to live up to his father’s expectations.

His greatest ordeal during captivity was his knowledge the Gulf of Tonkin incident, the basis for the start of the Vietnam War was nothing more than a hoax. He was there and was a witness to the event. He alluded to it on the show but I wasn’t sharp enough to catch the full importance and meaning of what he related until 1992 when he said the following:

"[I] had the best seat in the house to watch that event, and our destroyers were just shooting at phantom targets—there were no PT boats there.... There was nothing there but black water and American fire power." From Media Beat (7/27/94) 30-year Anniversary: Tonkin Gulf Lie Launched Vietnam War By Norman Soloman and Jeff Cohen.

On August 4, 1964 squadron commander Stockdale was one of the U.S. Navy pilots flying overhead during the second alleged attack of the Gulf of Tonkin Incident. Unlike the first attack, this one is believed to have been a false alarm.

The basis for Admiral Stockdale’s dilemma and his terrible ordeal was because he said his superiors had ordered him to keep quiet about the incident. After he was captured, the truth about the Gulf of Tonkin incident burdened him a lot. He was concerned that his captors would eventually force him to reveal what he knew. It was the most terrible secret of the Vietnam War.

Rest in Peace, Admiral James Stockdale.

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