After Layovers On Wall Street And In Hollywood, Jerry Doyle Lands In Talk Radio (05.22.06)
By Joe Howard, Editor-In-Chief
A casual drink with a Wall Street trader led him to a 10-year career as a stockbroker. His popularity as a television star netted him an invitation to an Air Force aircraft carrier, where the former charter pilot got the chance to fly in an F16 fighter jet. And his friendship with Talk Radio Networks' Mancow put him in contact with TRN CEO Mark Masters, who saw in Jerry Doyle a flair that he believed could make Doyle a Talk radio star.
For Doyle, it was just the latest in a series of chance meetings that have led him down a unique path. But 225 radio station affiliates later, Doyle - whose fearless approach to life has led him, literally, to dizzying heights - is quickly moving up the Talk radio ranks.
Masters, who gushes with pride about a roster of talent that includes Laura Ingraham, Michael Savage, Rusty Humphries, along with the aforementioned Mancow, believes he's found something special in Doyle. “The guy generates referral-based listening,” Masters says, noting that Doyle's is among the fastest-growing shows in the independent syndication company's history. “We're always trying to find people who can create that bond with the audience,” says Masters. “Those people are very rare, and they have a ring to them. And that's the story of Jerry Doyle.”
Radio Ink: You have quite a diverse background. Talk about the winding path that led you to radio.
Jerry Doyle: I've always just followed my gut. Early on, I was a pilot. I went to flight school because I just dug planes. At 22, I was flying around in multi-million-dollar corporate jets. The cool thing about that job was the people I met - CBS Chairman Bill Paley, for example. I've always been fascinated by people who do really big stuff, so to have an opportunity to talk to some of these guys - to have five or 10 minutes when you're waiting for luggage to just ask a question - was incredible.
One of the guys I was flying worked on Wall Street. We were down in the Bahamas, sitting in a bar, and he asked how much I was making. I told him maybe $60,000 or $70,000 a year. He said, “That's great. How'd you like to make that every month?” Six months later, I picked up and went to Wall Street.
After 10 years on Wall Street, I was fortunate enough to put a couple of shekels away so that I could decide what to do irrespective of talent, training, or the income stream. I thought about being a fishing boat captain, but then decided I wanted to act. I went to Hollywood in September of 2001, and got hired within the first month to be on a soap opera, The Bold and the Beautiful - of which I was neither. The next year, I was cast in the pilot for Babylon 5 . We went into production the following year, and low and behold, six or seven years later, we're off the air and I'm doing movies, voice-overs, and cartoons.
I don't know how it happened. There are 5,000 guys who could have done my role equally well, but for some reason, I got the nod. It's kind of the same thing in radio. There are people who have been doing radio all their lives and never have the right convergence of things fall into place.
A combination of luck, timing, and talent got me to [Talk Radio Network CEO] Mark Masters. I was a huge Talk radio fan, and one day he asked if I wanted to fill in for one of his weekend hosts. I went on at six after the hour, and after my first break, I looked at the clock and I said, “Oh my God, what am I gonna do for two hours?” I went into panic mode. Then I calmed down and realized that I knew Talk radio - I knew the vibe, the pacing, and how it worked. Mark had a bunch of people at TRN listen to that show, and they were like, “Where's this guy been?”
RI: Does your acting experience translate to radio? To some degree, are you playing a character on the radio?
JD: No, there is no character. What you hear is me. When I start to throw out quirky stuff about myself, the phone lines explode. It's not that I'm trying to manipulate the audience, it's just that when I get in this zone, there's no clock, no call screen, no producers - it's just a riff. But you have to watch out for that, because you don't want to become self-indulgent. You can only give people so much drama, and then you have to let them off the emotional hook.
RI: How do you recognize it?
JD: You learn it. Sometimes, I'll go on a riff and I'll wonder, “Is anybody buying this crap?” So I just bust myself. Every Friday, we do Jerry's flubs of the week. It's about a three-minute spot where they take out all the words I've mangled, all the stupid things that I've said. I think it shows the audience this guy is as screwed up as I am. He makes as many mistakes as I do. A guy called in and said the show is just like hanging out in a bar with his buddies. That's the mentality I had for the show.
I try and put some of who I am into what I do. Having had the opportunity to fly is one perspective, going to Wall Street is another perspective, acting was another perspective. And I ran for Congress in 2000.
RI: You ran in California, right?
JD: Yes, for California's 24th District, as a Republican in Hollywood. I ran against Brad Sherman, whose initials are BS. My campaign was “Doyle for Congress, no BS.” I've actually had him on the show, to talk about my crushing defeat. Oh my God, it's better to come out as a drug addict than it is to come out as a Republican.
RI: How do you manage the business side of Talk radio?
JD: I do market visits. I meet with the salespeople, with affiliate relations, with the PDs and the GMs. This way, we're all working together to try and sell the show. Because it's not just content - it's a business. It's a business model that has to be sustained by profitability. My show has 225 stations, not because it's a great show. I hope people enjoy it, but when you look at, it's a combination of great affiliate relations, a great sales team, good PDs, Talk Radio Networks' support staff, and me. I'm just one piece of the puzzle.
I never really got caught up in being an actor. I knew it was show business. I didn't have the show part, but I had the business part, so I treated it like a business.
RI: When you prepare for the show, what sort of topics are you looking for?
JD: Sometimes, I still won't know five minutes after we come on. I could hear or see something right before we go on that changes the whole through line of the show. You watch what's happening, what people are tuning into, and what's ticking them off. If everybody is hammering something to death, we anticipate that the audience may need a break, so we change it up.
There are really only two ways to go: a familiar path to an unfamiliar payoff, or an unfamiliar path to a familiar payoff. Talk radio listeners want something a little bit different. What we're trying to do is go from potato chips to nuclear war and keep people involved in the trip.
RI: Do you like flying by the seat of your pants?
JD: I don't ever want to get caught on the air not knowing what somebody's talking about. The desk that I broadcast from is the size of an aircraft carrier. I'm in the center with the screens around me, and I've got two or three rows of stories on either side of that. If I find my through line, then I pull the story that makes the point, instead of using the story to make the point. Everybody has the same access to the same information; the difference is how we take the information and give it to the listeners.
RI: What is a “through line”?
JD: A three-hour show should have a through line, a story. Anything should have a beginning, middle, and end. It's kind of like driving on the freeway - occasionally you're going to get off at a rest area and take a little break, but then you get back on the road. I use the stories as off-ramps and rest areas, while we're breaking down the through line as the main road. If I have a through line, everything else falls into place. You hear people struggling to change-up subjects, but when you've got that through line, it's easy to go from illegal aliens, to protests in the street, to Congress.
RI: In television you received a script every day; in radio, you're creating the script. How did you shift from one to the other?
JD: When I would get a TV or movie script, I didn't just learn my lines, I learned everybody else's lines, because I wanted ownership of the entire script. When I transitioned to radio, I realized the script is already there; we see it play out every day in the halls of Congress, in the streets of America, and internationally. The script is there - it's just how you decide to deliver it to the audience.
When you're on a set, you've got the feedback from the other actors, and from the crew, and the director. In radio, you don't have that kind of feedback, but if I can make somebody laugh and piss somebody off, I think I've done a good job.
RI: There are a lot of hosts out there who label themselves as conservative talkers. Do you label yourself?
JD: I denounced my Republicanship on the air about a year ago, because the Republican Party is not what I recognize anymore. Now I've declared myself an independent who's conservative in philosophy. As a talk show host, it's really freeing to not have to prop up any political party. Everybody is fair game, and if they're not doing their job, I hold them accountable. I'm more of a fiscal conservative and a social moderate. And I think fiscal conservatism has long left the Republican Party. Fiscal accountability doesn't exist. They spend, spend, spend, and it doesn't matter to them.
RI: What is missing on the Talk dial today?
JD: An individual, authentic voice that holds everyone's feet to the fire. I see people in Talk radio trying falsely to race to the middle. As Robin Williams said in The Fisher King: “Decide what you are, and be it.” If you're going to be an apologist or excuse maker for a certain political party, don't say you're not. Be honest, because the people hear it, and it rings hollow. The predictability in radio is the death of radio.
I crucified [former FEMA head] Michael Brown on the air, but then I learned he was made to be the fall guy. So I got him on the air and told him that I owed him an apology. I abused my privilege as a talk show host. He screwed up in a lot of ways, but not in the ways many people think. He got a stigma attached to him because of stupid things that I, and others, said. But many others won't take ownership of the fact that they were wrong. You have to have the ability to be wrong on the air, because you can't be right about everything. But you can't be wrong about your opinion, and if your opinion is based on facts, you can ask listeners, “What am I missing?” and try to paint a bigger picture.
RI: Has party-driven Talk radio - both liberal and conservative - hit its saturation point?
JD: Absolutely. We're way beyond the saturation point. People just want to find a place where they can laugh, get pissed off, learn something they didn't know, have their feelings validated, or think about something in a different way. It's easy to pick sides. It's easy to prop up a party every day; it's hard to write a new show every day, and thankfully, I have a lot of good guys who work on the show that help me do that.
RI: Do you think some other Talk hosts are playing a character, or just pretending because it gets them ratings and advertisers?
JD: That's what I'm hearing, but I don't listen to Talk radio anymore. I stopped listening to other people. Vin Scully, the announcer for the Dodgers, said he watches baseball games without sound, because he doesn't want what someone else says to affect him. It's the same thing with Talk radio. I don't care if the guy before me talked about the same thing that I'm going to talk about. I'm talking about it with my perspective and the audience hasn't heard what I have to say about it.
RI: What's the next hot Talk radio topic going to be?
JD: It can be whatever the media decides it is. I call it the grapefruit mentality. If I take a grapefruit and put it on a podium, keep a camera on it long enough and have reporters interview the grapefruit, within a month I'll be able to take that grapefruit and travel around America. People will come out from their homes and businesses and say, “It's the grapefruit I saw on TV.” We give things way more importance than they deserve.
Natalee Holloway is a classic example. It's a tragedy and it's sad, but it's a regional story out of Alabama. The cruise industry is slashing prices because cable news has decided that everyone's getting murdered on cruise ships. The media can create and destroy with equal ability.
I get three hours a day to unload what's on my mind, and in a certain way, you're giving people the same opportunity, you're giving them that microphone. Some days you're spraying wide and far, and some days you're laser-focused on something. Then you get a radio gold moment that changes everything. Somebody calls in and says something, and it changes the whole show. You've got to be ready to dance when somebody changes the music.
You can't tell people what to think and feel, you can only tell them how you're thinking and feeling and give them the wiggle room to interpret it for themselves.
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