On radio row, Republican convention at its weirdest

Reuters News
Posted: Aug 29, 2012 3:19 PM
On radio row, Republican convention at its weirdest

By Samuel P. Jacobs

TAMPA, Florida (Reuters) - "That's Sununu, right?" asked a reporter, running to catch up with a scrum of television cameras.

No, it wasn't John Sununu, the former New Hampshire governor who has gained a reputation as one of the most quotable Romney supporters.

Better yet, it was Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, another Republican known to be quick with a quotation.

The case of mistaken identity is the kind of thing that happens regularly on radio row, the 100 makeshift studios set up side-by-side, like so many horse stables, across the street from the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida.

There, radio hosts and roaming television cameras have the opportunity to catch up with the likes of Arpaio, elected officials and conservative celebrities of all stripes and renown looking to beam their voices across the United States without moving more than a few feet.

For conservatives who feel that the mainstream media tilt left, radio remains a refuge, turning hosts like Rush Limbaugh into powerful voices in Republican politics and celebrities in their own right.

The convention to nominate Mitt Romney as the Republican candidate for president provides an ideal setting for the types of people who geek out at the sight of Herman Cain, and perhaps no place offers a better opportunity for strange encounters than radio row.

On Wednesday morning, Arpaio, currently on trial for racial profiling, was taking questions from foreign journalists.

"What's it all about to you?" he was asked. "Is there any ideological advancement going on here?"

"Romney's a gentleman," said Arpaio, whose golden tie pin was shaped like a small gun. "Me, the way I talk maybe people don't call me a gentleman."

As it happened, Sununu was near, just on the other side of radio row, being told by an aide to wrap up his interview with conservative talk show host Neal Boortz, who favors "Mighty Whitey" as a nickname.

Two aides paced behind Sununu. They were looking for Philadelphia (the CBS radio affiliate, not the city) and weren't sure of the way.

"He's behind. He's lost it," one said to the other.

Assistants act like sherpas, making sure the likes of Sununu can make it to their next stop without a hitch.


Standing in front of the tables weighted with laptops and microphones, young aides participate in the ritual dance of the convention. First, look chest-high to see if someone's credentials are better than yours. Once assured they are not, return gaze to phone, thumbing it sternum-high.

There were any number of conservative luminaries to distract from the chest-gazing and iPhone-pawing Wednesday morning.

Foster Friess, the quirky Wyoming millionaire who supported Rick Santorum's presidential campaign and memorably recommended aspirin as a form of birth control, spoke to radio host Mike Gallagher.

Actor Stephen Baldwin, hair slicked back like his brother Alec once did, wore black pinstripe pants and a black t-shirt, standing out in the crowd, which favors gaudy combinations of red, white, and blue.

Longtime talk show host Geraldo Rivera, whose mustache has taken on the proportions of a squirrel's tail, conducted his radio show standing up, unlike the rest of his colleagues, as if posing for a camera that only he could see.

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Game show host Chuck Woolery, dusted with blonde hair highlights rarely seen on a 71-year-old, jumped from neighboring radio hosts to his own program.

As with many of the hosts, watching Woolery work was like hearing one side of a phone conversation, though his patter lacked the indignation of many of his competitors.

"How you liking John Kasich? I like John," Woolery said about the Ohio governor who spoke to the convention Tuesday night.

"Milton Friedman," Woolery said.

"He's the perfect CFO, isn't he?" he said. "He makes it so that you can understand."

Down the row, former presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani was short of breath, sweat breaking out across his brow, as he hurried to the table of a New York radio station.

A burly security guard followed behind, carrying the purse belonging to a Giuliani aide.

"I needed a picture of that, baby," Giuliani said.

Not everyone was impressed by the assembled talent.

"Is Glenn Beck here?"" asked one visitor, gawking at Giuliani. He was not.

(Reporting by Samuel P. Jacobs; Editing by Jim Loney)