A Conversation with the Dean of Texas Talk Radio Hosts

Posted: Nov 08, 2014 10:22 AM

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the November issue of Townhall Magazine.

Listeners to Dallas-Ft. Worth talk station 660 AM The Answer know Mark Davis as their “wake-up call” from 7-9 a.m. Monday through Thursday. On Fridays, he expands his footprint nationally by also serving as guest host of the widely syndicated “Bill Bennett’s Morning in America” program. And in the past, he frequently was guest host for the “quasar” of talk radio, Rush Limbaugh.

Since bellying-up to the microphone at his first talk radio job October 25, 1982 at WOKV radio in Jacksonville, Florida, Davis has been a phenomenon: local and national radio talk show host, best-selling author, popular emcee/speaker at conservative political events and, balancing it all, a caring husband and father. But it is his 20-year reign as dean of talk radio hosts in Texas that prompted us to sit down for a candid conversation about Davis’ career, and how he has stayed on top over the decades in the talk radio wars.

Tradup: You’re 32 years into a career in talk radio and show no signs of letting up. Why have you endured when so many other hosts have come and gone?

Davis: When I started, Larry King had made it clear that talk shows could generate audiences overnight. A few years later, Rush Limbaugh revolutionized AM radio, some say saved our industry, by showing the way to make political talk interesting, by making it interesting and entertaining. But he spawned a boom around the country of “local Rushes,” and many forgot to talk about local stories that meant a lot more to listeners’ actual lives. I have always enjoyed chronicling local developments in every market where I’ve worked: Jacksonville, Memphis, Washington, D.C., and of course, the past 20 years in Dallas-Ft. Worth. Local issues are still at the core of what I do.

Tradup: Does talk radio mold public opinion or merely reflect it?

Davis: I wish we were as influential as some think we are. But how did Bill Clinton and Barack Obama each win twice in the era of conservative talk? Talk radio reflects opinion and has the same opportunity to change minds as Michael Moore or The New York Times. What we do in talk radio is reliably paint a cross-section of conservatism as it matures through moments of growth and crises.

Tradup: Your recent book, “Lone Star America,” touts Texas as the state others should emulate if they want better jobs and a stronger economy. In a nutshell, what’s the magic of Texas?

Davis: It’s not so much what we do, it’s what we don’t do. No state income tax in Texas. We don’t badger businesses with crippling regulations. We don’t burden entrepreneurs with infuriating hurdles and paperwork. We don’t take your guns away. We don’t let Washington tell us what to do (if we can get away with it.) But the real magic of Texas is not in our economic policies, which any state can emulate, and should. It is our exceptionalism. We carry another layer of state-level pride that is unlike any other part of America. Texas does not have the beaches of California, the mountains of Colorado, or the skylines of Manhattan, but we have beaches and mountains and skylines and they are ours, and they are filled with Texans, working, living, worshiping, and fighting to remain the one large state that still remembers the model of governance preferred by our founders.

Tradup: OK, as a big player in the talk radio industry, who are your favorite hosts to listen to when you’re not on the air?

Davis: I have the joy of friendship with Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Mark Levin, but I would be a fan even if that were not true. Other industry colleagues occupy their specific perches with consummate skill, the civil discourse of Bill Bennett, the common-man adventures of Mike Gallagher, and the depth and thoughtfulness of Dennis Prager.

But if I were to venture outside friends and colleagues, I was always a fan of Neal Boortz, whom I shared space with a few times as he plowed through a career with the courage of not much caring what people thought of his views. I have also liked people whose craft is very different from my own, from the creativity of Phil Hendrie to the sharp edges of the late Neil Rogers in Miami.

Here’s a secret that is no secret—when he’s not wallowing in vulgarity, and maybe sometimes when he is, Howard Stern remains one of radio’s best interviewers. And ultimately, it seems like a million years ago, but it was actually the 1970s into the 80s, Larry King. Inspired by those folks, I love telling people what I think of things in the news, and asking them what they think in return.