Last time I spoke with Jerry Agar he had moved over to WGN as a fill-in host. He has since landed another full-time gig in his native Canada. I asked him how the new job is going, and if it was more difficult to do conservative talk in a more liberal country...
Canada has gone even further to the left since the days when I grew up here and it seems I got back just in time to fight the socialism.
The people at the station are great. Like WGN it is live and local all day and evening, with a full news room.
I am still proudly associated with WGN as I get to do some Saturday evenings for them.
One of my sons has just started his senior year in high school so my family is still in the Chicago area as we want to let him finish it out with his friends and sports teams.
I first met and interviewed Jerry shortly after he arrived in town, and was doing the midday show at WLS. He was moved out of that time slot to make way for Mancow and Pat Cassidy, and then a few months ago, made the move down the dial to WGN Radio. I caught up with him the other day and asked how the transition has gone...
Jerry: All is well. I am doing up to three shows on the weekend, depending on the Cubs schedule. I also do fill-in for various weekday shows. I was on for Cochran a few times and I will be doing the over-night soon.
I was the guy who did the first several weeks in mid-morning after they let Kathy and Judy go, so I took the hits and the hate for the radio station. No problem - as an opinionated host, I am used to that.
The original interview follows...
Jerry Agar hosts the midday show on WLS AM 890, from 9-11 a.m. every weekday
Jerry: Started in Canada in 1973 fresh out of high scool at CKDM, a small station in Dauphin, Manitoba doing the overnight DJ show. Then to CJME, Regina, Saskatchewan to do morning traffic and a midday two hour show. At CKLQ, Brandon, Manitoba, a country music station, I was the PD and afternoon host in the late ‘70s.
My first American station was WFXW, Geneva/St. Charles, as PD/Morning Host in the early 80s, then Star 96 in St. Cloud, Minn. in the same roles. From there to Toledo, Ohio to a soft rock station, WLQR to do mornings. Got fired. KOOL 108 in Minneapolis as a part-timer until I got a morning gig at MIX-FM in Tucson, Arizona in 1996. Got fired. Hired by same company (Journal) to mornings at their oldies station in Knoxville, Tenn. Got fired again.
After some career reflection, not wanting to bounce around mid-level markets getting fired I decided to either get into talk radio or try long haul truck driving. Hired by WPTF, Raleigh, North Carolina for afternoons on the first business day of 2000. Stayed almost 5 years and then, after winning R&R Magazine’s Rising Talk Star of 2004 I moved to KMBZ in Kansas City for middays, moving up to afternoon drive.
A year ago I was offered the astounding opportunity to move to Chicago to do 9 am to 11 am on WLS and an evening show, broadcast from Chicago, on WABC in New York. I did both for a year and then was replaced in NY by the legendary Bob Grant.
Rick: You're a relative newcomer to Chicago, but your listeners might not realize that you worked at a suburban station here early in your career. Tell us a little about that station and your time there.
Jerry: WFXW is no longer on the air. It was on 1570 AM. I was getting no attention whatsoever from Chicago radio stations and being from a small Canadian town, I did not know about suburban radio. I had a job as a manufacturer’s rep and was making a sales call in Geneva at the Ace store. I saw the radio station across the parking lot and after my call I threw the samples in the back seat of the car and walked into the radio station with no tape, resume or appointment. They were so thrilled to see a guy who had actually been on the air (so he said) that they hired me on the spot for Saturday mornings. A few months later I was the morning host and PD. We did a news/talk morning show and AC music during the day. High school sports at night and signed off at midnight.
The station moved into the transmitter building, which was actually a split level house, with a bedroom and two bathrooms. I would sign the station on in the morning and since the news guy was a guy, and we were the only people in the building at 5 am, I would start taking my clothes off while the sign-on cart played. Then I would run downstairs to shower while he read a 15 minute newscast. Is this too much information?
I loved my time there since it was a trial to do a show like that with no talk experience and no phone calls, possibly due to the fact that we may have had practically no listeners.
Rick: Now you're working at the powerhouse WLS. I'm guessing it's been a little different this second time around. How has Chicago welcomed (or not welcomed) you?
Jerry: It has been my experience for the most part that talk radio listeners do not care as much about where a host is from as they do about where he is “coming from.” If they like the topic, like the way the show is put together and believe that the host has done some homework, they get engaged in the issues and the conversation. Of course it would have been an advantage to have grown up here as Maura Myles did, but I didn’t and I don’t try for a moment to pretend I did. That I have lived here before helps a little.
Rick: How does your time slot (between two powerhouse shows like Don & Roma and Rush Limbaugh) affect the way you do your show, or does it? Do you feel any added pressure?
Jerry: The first morning I walked into the studio Roma said, “Welcome. Don’t suck.” But she said it with love. It is an honor to be on WLS at all and more so to be in a lineup that goes from Don and Roma to Rush to the Roe Conn show and the powerhouse lineup we have all around the clock. I listen to the station a lot and between those hosts and the great news department, I know that I can’t have a day when I slack off. It isn’t so much that I feel pressure as it is that I feel a responsibility to live up to the station’s presence and heritage in the market. I am not kidding when I say that while my mouth says the call letters my mind says, “LarryLujackJohnLandeckerFredWinstonDickBiondiDonandRomaRoeConnJerryAgarOhMyGod.”
Rick: To people who haven't yet heard your show, how would you describe it to the uninitiated?
Jerry: I try to walk a line between the full on political shows we get from Rush, Hannity and Levin and the more lifestyle, comedy show that Roe, Bill, Christina and Jim do. In that regard I guess it is an attempt to be a continuation of what Don and Roma do. I am very conservative, but I don’t think talk radio has to be for policy wonks. Life is fun. If we don’t laugh we cry and who better to laugh at than politicians? Sure, I get on my soap box from time to time and I always will. But I really enjoy developing a parody song about the news, twisting a topic into a fun phone call segment or talking about a lifestyle issue with Maura. The show is also more likely to be about Chicago area happenings than national, since we have the top national hosts on the station already.
Rick: How would you describe Maura Myles' role on the show?
Jerry: Her primary responsibility is the news. As such she lays back on many of the more hardcore opinion related topics such as illegal immigration or why Hillary is the anti-Christ. But she can be a great foil on some of those topics by saying, “Now, just to play Devil’s advocate here….” Which can take me in a direction I had not planned but that is always fun. Maura (photo) is a top notch “reactor” on lifestyle topics and she makes me laugh. Anyone who thinks that a smart, funny person lobbing some bombs from the sidelines isn’t worth gold has likely never done a talk show. She also is the type of person who can take the heat when I disagree strongly with what she says. That is also rare. Too many people take it personally and this is no business for wimps. She isn’t one.
Rick: You're a Canadian doing a talk show in America. What are the pros and cons of your background while discussing the issues confronting America today?
Jerry: The only real pro I see is that it blunts the attack on me as being xenophobic or anti-immigrant when I take on the illegal alien issue, which I frequently do. It isn’t as much of a con now, but at first I had to get up to speed on a lot of things I didn’t live through other than on the TV news. Occasionally a caller will attack me by saying I have no right to be on an American station telling Americans how to think about politics. My response is that if all they have is an attack on me personally, rather than to take on the issue we are discussing, I win. I also invite them to send management a tape, they hire Americans. Most listeners don’t care. Again, as I said earlier, it is about the topic and what the host brings to it, not picky personal stuff.
Rick: When you listen to talk radio or watch cable television talk, you hear a lot of absolutes. One side is always right and the other side is always wrong. Of course, everybody knows it's ridiculous to believe that one political party is always right or wrong. So, as a conservative talk show host, let me ask you this...what is one thing the Republicans are absolutely wrong about, or one thing the Democrats are right about?
Jerry: Well, Rick, that is because one side is wrong. It is the side that isn’t the host.
Actually, I don’t see it as a party issue. I see America’s salvation in a philosophy, not a party. I believe the overall conservative philosophy of getting back to smaller government as outlined by the Constitution with a moral compass guiding our affairs as much better for all Americans rich and poor. The Republicans are often a big disappointment in that regard. What we have right now are Big Government Republicans and that should be an oxymoron.
What are the Democrats right about? That is as fair a question as you could ask a conservative talk show host and I honestly can’t think of a thing. I am not talking about the ordinary American who is registered a Democrat. Those are good people who have some differences in philosophy from mine. That is OK. But if we are talking about the Democratic Party as represented by those at the top, I think the people of the party have let the communists take over. They are a bunch of screeching, anti-Bush, anti-military power freaks with no ideas of their own other than more, more, more government control of our lives and economy and they are a danger to the nation. See why it is a daily chore to find humor in all of this?
Rick: Another thing you hear a lot about is the liberal media and/or the conservative media. Both sides think the other side has total control over the media (conservatives point to liberal reporters/story selection, liberals point to conservative Wall Street's hold over the owners). You've worked in the media here for many years. What is your opinion about that hot button issue? Which conspiracy theory is correct, or are neither?
Jerry: That the media leans left is not even worth debating. Just a week or so ago yet another study came out bearing that conclusion. The study was done by Harvard University, hardly a member of the vast right wing conspiracy. They concluded (did I mention this was Harvard University?) that the dominant media in this country are vastly more supportive of the Democrats and left leaning policies. What was the media’s response? They proved the point by choosing not to report the finding. But Thank God your pesky local talk show host was here to point it out.
See more of Jerry & Maura in the latest commercial for WLS AM