Archive for March 2013

Three of Nation’s Top 20 Talk Radio Hosts Applaud The Right Frequency

March 14, 2013

Talkers, the definitive magazine covering the talk radio industry released its annual “Heavy Hundred” list of the most important hosts in the country, many are profiled in The Right Frequency: The Story of the Talk Radio Giants Who Shook Up the Political and Media Establishment by Fred V. Lucas (History Publishing Co.).

Several of these top flight talkers were interviewed for the book, while three of the top 20 hosts in the country endorsed The Right Frequency.

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Mark Levin, nationally syndicated conservative radio host with Cumulus Media Network ranked #7 on the Talkers list and said: “Fred Lucas not only delineates the roots of talk radio as a venue for communicating conservative political thought in the 1930s and 40s, he explains how it has become, in the 21st century, the life force for the conservative movement and the voice for conservative ideals on the current political landscape. Anyone who loves talk radio will love this book.”

Mike Gallagher, a nationally syndicated conservative host on the Salem Radio Network, ranked #15 on the Talkers list said: ‘The Right Frequency’ is an insightful, thorough, exciting chronicle of the talk radio story. This is destined to be a classic as it perfectly captures the nature of talk radio in a way no book I’ve ever read ever has.”

Alan Colmes, a nationally syndicated liberal host on Fox News Radio, ranked # 16 on the Talkers list, said during an interview with Lucas: “I enjoyed it because I’m in the business and I think you did a really good job in writing about the business including, I notice I’m in there a little bit.”

The Right Frequency by Fred V. Lucas explains how talk radio has impacted American politics. Virtually all of the top political hosts on this list are featured in the book, including Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck and Michael Savage. But the book goes back to radio’s earliest days in the 1920s.

“So many of these stars on the Talker’s Heavy Hundred list have played an amazing role in shaping public opinion and moving public policy,” Lucas said. “Not surprisingly, Rush Limbaugh topped the Talkers list again, as he has ruled radio for more than two decades. Most of today’s leading talk radio figures stand on his shoulders. But, as this book explains, Rush stands on the shoulders of titans of talk before him such as Barry Farber, Bob Grant and Joe Pyne.”


Walter Winchell: Inventing Info-tainment

March 10, 2013

The following is an excerpt from The Right Frequency. To order a copy, click here.

Walter Winchell’s broadcasting career was very political, an ally first for President Roosevelt and later for Senator McCarthy on the radio. However, he rose to prominence digging up dirt on celebrities and various socialites. Like H.V. Kaltenborn, Fulton Lewis, Jr. and Boake Carter, Winchell began his media career as a newspaperman, but in a profoundly different way. He was the first gossip columnist, then radio gossip commentator. He revolutionized the news media, became an unparalleled star across multiple platforms and added many previously non-existing words to the English language along the way.

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“Rush Limbaugh flows from Walter Winchell. Walter Winchell was the first heated, irrational, political commentator,” liberal media commentator Neal Gabler, a Winchell biographer, said in a 1994 interview with National Public Radio. “In some respects, Howard Stern flows from Walter Winchell, because Walter Winchell was a confessional journalist and really one of the first who talked about his family, talked about his affairs, talked about his relationship to his wife, and did it in the column to a wide public. Entertainment Tonight flows from Walter Winchell. Info-tainment—the whole notion of info-tainment—is really an invention of Walter Winchell’s, so, in some ways, when we look at, for better or worse, this media environment in which we live, one can trace its roots to Walter Winchell.”
About 50 million Americans out of an adult population of  million listened to his radio broadcast, and almost as many read his six-day per week newspaper column syndicated in 2,000 newspapers nationally. He was so much a part of the culture of his day that Burt Lancaster played a Winchell-like character, a ruthless gossip columnist, under the name J.J. Hunesecker, in the 1957 film “Sweet Smell of Success.” His image and phrase “O.K.—America!” were posted on 45,000 billboards across the country to advertising the popular Lucky Strike cigarette brand.152 In his prime he made $300,000 to $500,000 per year, which would put in on a par with network news anchors when adjusted for inflation.
While Fulton Lewis and Boake Carter can be compared to Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, Winchell most closely resembles Internet mogul Matt Drudge—who would become a media evolutionary in the 1990s. Drudge even wears a fedora to emulate his hero Winchell. Just as much of the establishment press scoffs at Drudge today—though pine to have their story linked on his site—most of the establishment press scorned Winchell in those days, even though he had an unparalleled audience for a newsman of any kind.
He was born in 1897 in East Harlem in New York, the son of Jewish immigrants from Russia. Winchell dropped out of school after the sixth grade.154 He got a job sending news tidbits to The Vaudeville News, then by 1924 secured a gossip column for the sensationalistic tabloid New York Evening Graphic called “Your Broadway and Mine.” Within 10 years he hit the big leagues getting a job at the New York Daily Mirror, a newspaper owned by industry giant William Randolph Hearst. When one of his editors told him, “You have neither ethics, scruples, decency nor conscience,” Winchell responded, “I’ve got the readers.”
His widely read column paved the way for his radio debut in 1930 on CBS’s Saks on Broadway, which was a 15-minute feature about show business news. Then in 1932 NBC’s “Blue Network,” later ABC, hired him to host The Jergens Journal, sponsored by the Jergens lotion, also a 15-minute show about entertainment.
Winchell also began talking about national affairs. As we’ve seen, opinionated radio was nothing new. What was new was Winchell’s colorful, fast-paced, staccato style with a telegraph typing in the background. He frequently would say, “I’ll be back in a flash with a flash”; “Attention, Commissioner Valentine, please phone—I have an alleged clue;” “Dots and Dashes and Lots of Flashes from Border to Border and Coast to Coast.” He still managed to write six columns per week for the Mirror. In gossip, he came up with the phrase “main stem” for Broadway, a “keptive” was a mistress and newlyweds were either “lohengrinned” or “welded.
A pregnant woman was “infanticipating” and if a famous couple broke up they were “sharing separate tepees.”
He would open his shows generally saying, “Good evening, Mr. and Mrs. North and South America and all the ships at sea. Let’s go to press.”
He would generally end the show saying, “And that, ladies and gentlemen, winds up another Jergen’s Journal until next Sunday night at the very same time. Until then and with lotions of love, I remain your New York correspondent, Walter Winchell.”
After the 1932 presidential race, Roosevelt invited Winchell to the White House and thanked him for his support, even telling him to call whenever he wanted.
“It was in 1933, after the inauguration of Franklin Roosevelt that he really became a political gossip and a commentator, as well just a gossip monger on Broadway and Hollywood and the entertainment circles,” said Gabler, author of Winchell: Gossip, Power and the Culture of Celebrity. “And that was because Franklin Roosevelt, shortly after that inauguration, invited Walter Winchell to Washington, obviously in the interest of promoting himself and the New Deal, and Winchell was easily courted, becoming really, perhaps, the most prominent cheerleader in all of the media, for FDR, because after 1935, most of the media in this country were arrayed against him. But there was Walter Winchell, a lone and loud voice, promoting the New Deal and FDR.”
After the first meeting in 1933, Winchell called FDR, “the nation’s new hero.”
He should be credited for being among the first pundits to denounce Adolph Hitler, though not always in the most substantive way. In 1933, he said of the German chancellor, “I cannot refrain from flaunting the fact that he is a homo-sexualist.” Winchell aggressively called for U.S. intervention into World War II, often ripping into the isolationist’s movement demanding the country stay neutral.
Next to Roosevelt, his favorite political figure was FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. This was despite Winchell’s chumminess with organized crime figures. He interviewed Al Capone and was friendly with Frank Costello. In one unusual occurrence, Louis (Lepke) Buchalter—whom Hoover called “the most dangerous criminal in the United States” surrendered to Winchell in 1939.
In 1940, New Yorker writer St. Clair McKelway wrote a book scrutinizing Winchell’s work, titled “Gossip: The Life and Times of Walter Winchell,” and concluded that Winchell’s reporters were 41.2 percent completely inaccurate, 18.3 percent partially accurate and 40.5 percent completely accurate.166 It didn’t matter to most of the public. Far more people counted themselves among Winchell’s loyal listeners than read the book about him.
Winchell was very forward thinking on civil rights, going with heavyweight fighter Joe Louis to his favorite night spot, the Stork Club. In other cases, he would escort blacks into clubs to integrate them. More importantly, black soldiers would write him about abuses they suffered in the military and Winchell would send a note to President Roosevelt. Roosevelt valued his relationship with Winchell, and had his staff take action. He also escorted Sugar Ray Robinson into a segregated hotel in Miami.
FDR’s death was a blow to the country, but particularly one for Winchell.
“Winchell loved FDR and took his political bearings from FDR, so that when FDR dies, Winchell, like most of the country, in point of fact, lost his political bearings, and when one factors that in with the other side, that with the Nazi threat gone, Walter Winchell has no adversary,” Gabler said. “And Walter Winchell is a man who lives an adversarial life. Everything in Walter Winchell is predicated on the notion that he is sounding the alarm for Americans.”
So that alarm would be the communist threat. Roy Cohn, Sen. Joe McCarthy’s chief aid, befriended him and brought him into McCarthy’s circle. Like FDR, McCarthy knew how important finessing a giant media personality could be.
In one broadcast Winchell warned Americans, “And now to beat the hand around the clock. International News Service—January 10th is the date for a mass meeting of the communist leaders in Washington, D.C.—behind closed doors, of course. The real purpose, however, will be to protest the trial of the 12 leading commie chiefs in the United States.”
He went on to accuse Lucille Ball of being a communist. Her husband Desi Arnaz responded, “The only thing red about Lucy isher hair, and not even that is real.”
After McCarthy became disreputable in the public’s mind, so did many who aligned themselves with him. In the case of Winchell, it was McCarthy and a number of other factors that led to his decline.
When entertainer Josephine Baker claimed she was discriminated against at the Stork Club for being black, Winchell—who had a good on-air record for civil rights—scorned Baker for attacking his favorite night spot. The public spat made front page news.173 Also, Winchell—like so many other radio titans—couldn’t cut it on the TV age. The staccato-style so popular on the radio caused him to bob, weave and jerk, which was OK before it became visual. On TV it just seemed weird. Also, fedoras were out of fashion by the 1950s.
He found a successful TV gig though as the unseen narrator of the crime drama “The Untouchables” from 1959-1964, a fictionalized version of Elliot Ness’s book by the same name—not the news commentator he had been used to. The Daily Mirror folded in 1963, and Hearst dropped his column from The World Journal Tribune in 1967. That year, desperate for work, he took out an ad in Variety asking for someone to hire him, with no luck. Even worse, no publisher was interested in his autobiography.175
He also had an incredibly messy personal life. He was a notorious philanderer during his two marriages. Meanwhile, his son committed suicide, and one daughter died of pneumonia. The one-time huge star, Winchell died of cancer in 1972 in Los Angeles, only his daughter Walda attended his funeral.

Fulton Lewis Jr.: Combating the ‘Ultra-Liberal Eastern Crowd

March 8, 2013

(The following is an excerpt from The Right Frequency. Click here to order a copy.)

Nearly 40 years after his death, Fulton Lewis, Jr. was back in the news again. In 2005, Ken Tomlinson, the chief of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, sought to bring balance to the left-leaning National Public Radio and Public Broadcasting System TV.

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The move was met with expected resistance, but the liberal online magazine Salon determined Tomlinson and William Schulz, the CPB ombudsman, were McCarthy-ite throwbacks. To prove this, Salon writer Eric Boehlert looked at a brief association the two men had 40 years ago to discredit whatever point they had to make in 2005, which was sort of, well, a McCarthy-ite move.
Salon reported that Tomlinson was once an intern for Lewis—an anti-New Deal, pro-McCarthy radio commentator, while Schulz was once a writer for Lewis.108 Retired New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis griped, “If both men wrote for Fulton Lewis it means they were dedicated to an extreme-right position that should disqualify them from determining somebody’s objectivity.”
Politicians and commentators from both sides have often found the best weapon in the public arena against a substantive argument is an ad homonym boogey man. For the left, these boogey men are generally representative figures such as “the wealthy,” conjuring up images of a monopoly man in a big hat, “big business,” conjuring up an image of a ruthless cigar-chomping man in an expensive suit and the “big oil” image of a J.R. Ewing type figure sticking it to you at the pump. The straw figures are endless. A few real people make the cut, such as Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh. But the Salon piece going after Tomlinson proved that Fulton Lewis was still a boogey man for the left after all these years, which is quite an accomplishment.
Fulton Lewis, Jr. was definitely part of the extreme right—at least extreme for his time when most Republicans had accepted the premise of the New Deal policies. Lewis railed against the New Deal, supported some discredited communist witch hunts in government, and even lobbed oratorical grenades at Eisenhower Republicans. He was nevertheless very popular at his 7 p.m. weekday broadcast on 550 stations with 16 million listeners per week.
He established the same rights for radio correspondents to cover Capitol Hill that newspaper reporters had. Like others of his era, his star waned with TV—a medium for which he was not well suited.
He introduced such phrases to the political lexicon that would be recycled in some way or another for generations to come such as “The ultra liberal eastern crowd,” “the New York Park Avenue Pink Set,” “the Left Wing Fund for the Republic,” and the “CIO-backed Communist left wing crackpots.”
“He would take a position or a stand and people would react to it,” said Lee Edwards, a leading historian of the conservative movement, and distinguished fellow at the Heritage Foundation. “He was really as big as, if not bigger than, Rush Limbaugh, in the 1940s.”
With a weekly income of $7,000, he was the highest paid broadcaster, and among the highest paid Americans, in the 1940s.
Years before Phyllis Schlafly penned “A Choice Not an Echo,” and decades before Ronald Reagan was elected president, Lewis almost prophetically argued that if Americans actually had a choice between conservatism and liberalism, they would vote conservative.
The problem, he said, is that moderates had taken over the GOP.
“I said between a clear drawn election between the right, between conservatives—I didn’t use the ‘right’—between conservatives, conservatism and liberalism, and this is the thing that I have been driving for, for years and years and years, and until we get it the American people are not going to be able to have a free expression,” he said in an interview with Mike Wallace in 1958. “If we could get an election between the conservatives and the liberals there is not any question in my mind whatsoever. … There is no question in my mind whatsoever that the balance would be sixty to seventy-five percent on the conservative side.”
Lewis was born in 1903 into a well-to-do family, the son of a prominent Washington attorney. The National Cathedral now sits where his childhood home once stood.116 He dropped out of the University of Virginia—where he led a dancing orchestra—after three years. He later enrolled in George Washington University
School of Law, but his father’s footsteps were not for him. He went to work for The Washington Herald in 1924, a Hearst-owned morning newspaper and became city editor within three years.
He tried radio in the 1920s, and it didn’t work out. So he devoted his life to print journalism and gained a lot of success. He did a major investigative piece on irregularities in the federal payments that airlines got for transporting mail, rooting out huge government overpayments. The Herald found it too hot to publish, so Lewis turned his notes over to a congressional committee, which probed the matter and led to the government cancelling all airmail contracts.
Such a view of government waste likely led him to lean more to the right.
His journalism career continued to rise when the Hearst Corporation made him the Washington correspondent for Hearst Universal News Service from 1928 to 1937. The news service leaned right, but Lewis really gained bona fides in conservative circles after he married Alice Huston, the daughter of former Republican National Committee Chairman Claudius Hart Huston.
The wedding drew 2,000 Washington elites, including First Lady Lou Henry Hoover. But, Lewis wouldn’t always fit in perfect with establishment Washington, as broadcast colleague Wythe Williams would later comment that Lewis was too caustic to be popular with Washington officialdom or other Washington reporters.
These same qualities made for high ratings as a broadcaster.
From 1933 to 1936, he had a syndicated column called The Washington Sideshow. Then, in 1937 after a 10-year absence from radio, he substituted for a vacationing radio announcer with Mutual Broadcasting Company. Though he used slang and clichés, he had an excitable voice, he showed up for work on time, and Mutual WOL station manager William Dolph loved the energy and passion.
Dolph said, “Announcers who can read the news perfectly are a dime a dozen. I’ve asked perhaps a hundred announcers to tell me the news after they read it and not one ever came close. They don’t know what they’re reading. They don’t care. Fulton reads from a script, sure, but it’s a script he himself has written at the last moment. … He gets excited and loses his place, but you know a guy like that just can’t be phony.” After Dolph asked him to do commentaries full time for WOL, Lewis dropped his newspaper column with King Features and took a pay cut to do radio full time.
By the end of 1937, Lewis’s program was being broadcast nationally, and the Mutual Network, the smallest of all the radio networks, touted him as the only national news commentary originating from Washington. But being a commentator did not mean he was no longer a reporter. He still cozied up to sources on Capitol Hill, and sought to get dirt on the Roosevelt administration. Most of his sources were conservatives from both the Democratic and Republican parties, skeptical of the New Deal. Being a real reporter in Washington means having credentials to cover Capitol Hill, something radio correspondents were not allowed to have then, as the print journalists that ran the press galleries looked down on radio reporters. Lewis leaped into action to crusade for radio as being every bit as legitimate a source for news as newspapers.
Newspaper and wire reporters were not considering politicians loved publicity from any medium. Lewis’s crusade paid off when Congress voted in 1939 to establish a radio gallery for covering the House and Senate.
He became the first president of the Radio Correspondence Association.

The Right Frequency Featured on “The Final Say” Radio Show in New York

March 6, 2013

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Fred V. Lucas, author of The Right Frequency, was a guest on “The Final Say with Brett & Jon Rappaport.”

The program is based in New York City, and there was much discussion about major stars such as Barry Farber and Bob Grant, who were legendary on the New York airwaves.

Both of these legends are interviewed in the book.

Rush Limbaugh also became a national star from the New York airwaves.

Click here to hear the interview.

Click here to order a copy of The Right Frequency.