From Townhall Magazine's October feature, "Floating On Air" by Mark Kakkuri:
In handling times of tragedy as well as in discussing the deeper issues of everyday life, Steve Kelley, host of a Denver, Colo. radio talk show named “Kelley and Company” at 710 KNUS, says radio is really good “at being there, in all senses of the phrase. Radio allows me to be a local companion and friend.”
Kelley’s viewpoint matches that of Heidi Harris, the quick-witted, spunky host of the KRLA Los Angeles and KTIE San Bernardino, Calif., talk radio show “Heidi Harris in the Morning.” A talk show host for 11 years, Harris agrees with Kelley that radio provides a unique edge over other media. She says radio allows her to “connect with listeners on a personal level that a scripted TV show or news show cannot.”
Harris used this dynamic to turn a hateful listener into a supporter and friend. After an appearance on MSNBC—she says this always garners lots of hate mail—a man wrote her a long, rambling email about the war in Iraq and other issues. The content of his email was “hateful, mean, with him calling me ‘ugly,’ ‘stupid,’ and so on,” she says. It also included the man’s phone number. So Harris asked her producer to call him and get him on the air during her show. According to Harris, he was willing, so the producer put him on.
“My first question was, ‘Let me guess: You wrote me this hateful email because you don’t have Dick Cheney’s email, right?’ He sheepishly replied, ‘Uh, yeah, I guess so.’”
Harris asked him why he was so mean to her when he didn’t even know her and reminded him that she didn’t send anyone to war. She listened to his concerns, made her case and thanked him for his time.
“We had a great discussion for probably about 10 minutes and parted friends,” she says. “I think he was shocked that I would give him a chance to come on and give him plenty of time to air his views without shouting him down.”
Veteran talk show host Mark Davis, now with KSKY Dallas- Fort Worth, has been on the radio since the late 1970s, at one point filling in for Rush Limbaugh and currently serving as a frequent guest host of “Bill Bennett’s Morning in America.”
“Hands down, radio is the most personal of media,” he says. “We don’t bring newspaper and TV into our cars or even the shower. I have heard countless times that talk shows are like having an interesting travel companion along for the ride.”
It’s also an important medium through which the listener and host experience history.
“The various chapters in history that I have chronicled with listeners before our very eyes—the Clinton impeachment, the 2000 election, 9/11, the political conventions—before any of these were chapters in books, they were talk show topics first,” Davis says.
Radio as a communications medium has been around since the late 1800s, and Davis, Harris and Kelley agree that its chief positive is its ability to allow people to connect at a significant level.
“It provides an opportunity for people to interact in an era when we seem to have outgrown town halls and chats over the back fence,” says Davis....
Radio as a career comes with many opportunities and adventures, but most surprising at first to Davis was “the close personal bond” he forged with listeners “and the blessing of providing them with enjoyable moments on the radio,” whether those moments be humorous or in tragic times. More recently, Davis says he’s been surprised at the growing trend of station owners undervaluing that close, personal relationship between host and audience. Even in a tough economy, decades of service to a talk show audience is something to be cherished, he says.
Harris also has experienced that same kind of personal bond with listeners, albeit from a different angle.
“I’m still amazed when I realize that listeners [fans] don’t see me the way I see myself,” she says. “It always throws me when someone treats me like a celebrity. I see myself as just a working stiff, shuffling papers and answering phones—the only difference being that I do my job in public.”
Harris says one of her radio friends reminded her not to take her celebrity status away from her listeners, especially when they meet her in person: “You have to remember that they think you’re famous, even if you don’t.”
Kelley cites the same kind of bond that Davis and Harris allude to, but quickly adds that even that is overshadowed by what he calls the “Forest Gump-ness” of it all—“being where I didn’t belong and experiencing things I’d never have thought I’d experience. People genuinely love you.”
“Also, I don’t have a college degree; I came from a family of seven children; I have a brother who is institutionalized,” he says. “All the people around me have a superior intellect and here I am, talking to them, asking them questions on the radio. Sometimes I just wonder how I got here.”
Read more about Kelly, Harris and Davis in the October issue of Townhall Magazine. [Editor’s note: Salem Radio Network is a sister company of Townhall Magazine. All three radio personalities in this piece work for Salem-affiliated radio stations.]