This week marks my 40th year as a radio talk show host.
Being a talk show host has therefore given me a unique laboratory to study the human condition. This is especially true in my case. I talk about many subjects—politics is only one of them. I just as often talk about men and women, religion, happiness, children, and just about everything else of importance.
This human laboratory has taught me an immense amount about the human condition.
Here are just a few examples:
Ironically, talking to so many people has made me aware how many people do not have friends, people with whom they can freely share their thoughts. I thought lonely people were rare. What I’ve discovered is that people with real friendships are rare. No wonder the UK has a Minister of Loneliness.
She told me (and millions of listeners) that she had a “miserable” daughter in her 30s who had made her (the caller’s) life miserable. But one day she reached a conclusion: “I didn’t break her; I can’t fix her.” I profusely thanked that caller for helping countless people at that moment—and many more who have or will hear me quote her on the radio and in speeches.
It is the one thing that characterizes all talk show hosts. Left or Right, whether they talk about politics, finances, sports, or anything else, they are interesting. If you are not interesting, you lose your audience, and then you lose your job. No matter how important what you have to say is, you must first hold people’s interest.
Thanks to my realization of the most important quality in being a talk show host, I finally realized why I preferred one musician’s performance to another: The performance I preferred held my interest more, even if I didn’t like the interpretation as much.
They say that radio has a limited future. I have been hearing this for 40 years. It may be true, yet the talk radio audience remains many times larger than that of Fox News. Should it gradually be replaced by podcasts, it will be a loss—as much as I appreciate podcasts and do two of my own. Hearing the voices of your fellow citizens in addition to that of the host and guests is of great importance—though I always tell beginning talk show hosts to end calls with a certain type of caller as quickly as possible: the ones that aren’t interesting.
Even after 40 years, I love this job. To be able to tell millions of people what I think about just about everything—and be paid well to do so—is a gift. I am a lucky man, and I hope my listeners feel they, too, are lucky.