By Mike Kinosian
Managing Editor/West Coast Bureau Chief
Association with the Norm Pattiz-founded syndication powerhouse would last more than two years, before the conservative-slanted talk talent segued to 9:00 am-12:00 noon duties for Talk Radio Network in September 2003.
As of the first of this year though, five-time author Laura Ingraham has reunited with Pattiz, as the illustrious broadcaster-2009 Radio Hall of Fame inductee-iconic Los Angeles Lakers fan is distributing Ingraham’s daily talk program through his recently-minted Courtside Entertainment Group. “I was off the air for six weeks and I needed to build back my station base,” Ingraham recounts. “We are doing a pretty good job of that thus far. It has been fun, and we have a great team spirit. I treasure that and think we are onto something quite special. Norm and I have known each other since I started in radio, so we have come full-circle and are good friends. After all these years, it is exciting that he and I have started this new venture together.”
Responsible for digitally streaming Ingraham’s daily three-hour program live online and making it available as an on-demand podcast is Launchpad Digital Media, a Courtside Entertainment Group division. “It is very cool that we have added the growing, really prominent part of our business – digital – to build on the terrestrial part,” remarks Ingraham whose staff includes “art & soul” Dream in my Head Productions partner Raymond Arroyo, and new personnel members – board operator/sound producer Mike “Nemo” Niemann and executive producer Garrett Baumann. “I love the terrific digital team. I looked at Norm and asked, ‘Why didn’t we do this sooner?’”
Law Profession Suits Her
Throughout her formative years, Glastonbury, Connecticut-raised Ingraham fondly remembers that a radio – generally tuned to Hartford talk outlet WTIC-AM – occupied a place on the family’s kitchen table. “My mom would sometimes talk back to the conversation that was going on over the air,” she recollects. “Radio was part of my daily life and I got to know the names of the people on the air.”
Along with a childhood chum (Pam), an 11-year-old Ingraham would record approximately 25-minute “pretend” radio shows on a cassette recorder. “We would take on different personalities and imagine we were interviewing people we thought were cool such as ‘The Brady Bunch’ cast members,” she notes. “It was more humorous than political. We would play it back and just start laughing. Thank goodness, those tapes are nowhere to be found.”
It was when she was a college student that Ingraham became involved in the media. The platform was not a campus radio or television station, but The Dartmouth Review, a conservative student newspaper, which for multiple reasons, attracted considerable attention. “I was sued for liable at least one time by a professor, who ultimately dropped his ridiculous case against us,” states Ingraham, who in her senior year, became the paper’s first female editor-in-chief. “We were thrust into the national spotlight.”
Specifically, Dartmouth music professor Bill Cole sued Ingraham for $2.4 million for an article she had written, but as Ingraham mentions, the suit was withdrawn in 1985.
Notwithstanding that legal drama, experience at the weekly newspaper afforded her the opportunity to be introduced to major political figures, and she found herself interviewing the likes of pro quarterback-turned-congressman Jack Kemp, Pat Buchanan, and William F. Buckley, among others.
After being a late-1980s speechwriter in the Ronald Reagan administration; law school student; and clerk for Clarence Thomas, she kept her hand in writing. “I became a lawyer and began writing freelance op-ed pieces on a variety of topics,” Ingraham states.
Soon thereafter, the 1991 University of Virginia School of Law Juris Doctor degree-holder began getting booked on a variety of television shows.
Following the 1996 political conventions, legendary morning talent Don Imus invited Ingraham on his show and as she explains, “That was my real introduction to national radio. I loved it and thought to myself, wow – this really is fun. If it were not for Imus, I would not be doing what I am doing – no way. He gave me my start and I repeatedly joke about that with him. He laughs when I tell him that he is responsible for my career, but I really love doing his show.”
In the nascent stages of that on-air connection, Ingraham had what she categorizes as “a raucous love-hate relationship” with the 24 years her senior “I-Man,” about whom she jokes, “I treated him like my older brother. We would fight and it was pretty funny. I was working for MSNBC and CBS at the same time, but in the summer of 2000, my contract was not renewed. I pitched the idea for a show to Westwood One and was initially laughed at, but they eventually hired me.”
Advice and Consensual
Components of Ingraham’s Courtside Entertainment Group-distributed program include a Friday “Laura Advice Hour,” where formidable entry #17 on the TALKERS 2013 “Heavy Hundred” kicks around an assortment of cultural problems and dilemmas.
Although Ingraham is admittedly not always the best at heeding counsel, she points out that she is very good at giving and analyzing it. “I basically will give advice on everything – except financial,” she remarks.
Such recommendations cross party lines, regional differences, and tend to broaden her show. “I really like that because I am about a lot more than politics, and it is about time that people know that,” Ingraham stresses. “I think people will like and enjoy the show even more as we continue to further expand our focus.”
This represents an evolution to her daily broadcast, although the core – of course – is still political. “I am a conservative and always try to keep my eyes on major players in both parties,” she comments. “I analyze what is working, what is not, and propose solutions where I think I can add something to the debate. Beyond that, a growing part of the show is about the daily problems we all have. I talk about personal difficulties and triumphs in our lives. My audience helps me in things in my life – and I try to help them in many ways. I am not saying that I always succeed, but I always try.”
Discussions might turn to the downright goofy, including the mind-numbing amount of money families allocate to have their teenagers attend high school proms. In simpler times, girls would get a dress; guys would rent a tux (hopefully get a corsage for their date); and that was it. Things however have escalated immensely. “Our society has determined that parents need to spend upwards of $1100 on the prom experience,” notes Ingraham in disbelief. “I have no idea how we got to that place, what it says about us, or whether it is good. I wondered if we are placing value on the wrong things. If so, we might need to reorient our thinking on a number of things.”
Big-picture implications for pop culture-savvy broadcaster Ingraham are that she gets to have additional fun in an entertainer capacity, while at the same time fully appreciating the business’ bottom line aspect. “We want to be able to sell our great products to as many listeners as possible and advance the interests of our advertisers,” she states. “When we talked about the Jason Collins issue, a Colorado woman called to say she thought he [the NBA player who revealed he is gay] needed to have a bridge to his next career.”
One caller identified himself as being African-American and that he voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, but contended there were more pressing needs for the President than to contact Collins by phone. “It was just a fun conversation with people chiming in from all over the country,” Ingraham remembers. “I like talking to people who might not necessarily be Fox News Channel watchers but could find something about our radio show to enjoy. I seem approachable to them. I’m tough but I am fair, at least I try to be.”
In addition to her daily radio show, the telegenic Ingraham is permanent guest host on FNC’s (Bill) “O’Reilly Factor” and she maintains the media mix is something she welcomes. “From taking [fellow] Republicans to task on the immigration issue to my latest saga at Home Depot to doing funny voices, I can do anything I want with radio,” she happily explains. “I can have live bands in my studio and feature great music as well.”
Listeners appear to endorse the spontaneity of a show that can go in any direction. “Some days I plan one thing but get on a totally different topic I never told my staff about because it just struck me during a moment,” Ingraham points out. “By its very nature, television is much more regimented and structured, so it really does not let me do that. That is good because you can burrow-in on one issue or interview; it has its benefits.”
Television showcases Ingraham’s ability to analyze and to interview. “Hopefully by now, I can do that pretty well. Television has enormous power just for amplifying the overall brand of what I am trying to do with my viewpoint.”
Usually pitted against each other, the two mediums can, of course, complement each other. “Many people listen to radio, but do not catch me on television and vice versa, so it is fun to find the two different audiences,” remarks Ingraham, who, in 2008, hosted FNC’s 60-minute, weekday news program “Just In,” which ran from June 16 to July 4 of that year. “It is really special when you find the audience that listens and watches.”
Pity Not “The Thrivor”
Perhaps once pigeonholed as the woman who most effectively broke through the male-dominated conservative talk radio arena, Ingraham sports a much more significant badge of honor, although it is something she actually prefers to downplay. Now eight years since her last cancer-related operation, she confides, “The coast is clear, but honestly, I do not think about it. I do my best to raise breast cancer awareness and I go to my appointments. I try to go on without obsessing about it all that much. It was not a pleasant experience to go through and I treated it like training for a marathon, or writing a law school essay. I powered through it and did not want people to pity me.”
The word “survivor” sounds too defensive to her, so “thrivor” is what she prefers. “The hardest part was losing the ‘normal’ part of my life,” comments Ingraham, who would usually go to chemotherapy Thursdays at noon, immediately after her talk show concluded. “My appointment would start at 1pm so I would race across town to get hooked up. I would miss a Friday show and be back on the air Monday.”
Albeit entirely unsolicited and unintentional, Ingraham emerged from her personal health crisis as a role model. “That was a blessing,” the former front-person of MSNBC’s “Watch It!” acknowledges. “Even to this day, listeners ask how I coped, what I did for exercise, and what I ate. I believe I have been able to share my experience in a positive way. With me as an example, listeners can see that life does not have to stop completely.”
Chemotherapy is “inconvenient and unpleasant” but Ingraham, who turns 49 on June 19, notes she was still able to work and go out with her friends. “Get a kick-ass wig and you will be cool.”
Not only does Ingraham tend to minimize her role model status, she concedes to being “full of flaws.” Impatience is at the top of that list, although she contends there has been improvement on her part in that area. “I do not think I am the smartest person to have ever stepped into the media world,” she declares. “Without trying to sound arrogant though, I do not suffer fools well. Like all of us, I have made many mistakes.”
Even as she was simultaneously solidifying her image as one of the country’s most prominent talk radio personalities while being a cancer “thrivor,” Ingraham over the course of the last five years, did something even more substantial. “I adopted three children,” she proudly proclaims. “My oldest [eight years old] is a girl from Guatemala and I have two boys [ages five and three] from Russia. I lived in soviet Russia when I was at Dartmouth – that was my semester abroad. I took Russian from eighth grade through most of college, so my Russian is pretty good. If you don’t speak it very often, it can be a hard language to master, so I try to keep up as best as I can.”
Temptation is to assess Ingraham’s situation as a whirlwind, although the 1985 Dartmouth graduate would not have what she describes as “ordered chaos” any other way. “Single mothers across this country who do not have the ability to support themselves are the ones with a tough life,” she maintains. “This is just kind of how we roll here at the Ingraham household. It has been my primary focus but somehow, I keep my media career going strong. I am very blessed with a great support system of family and friends. It is not ‘Leave it to Beaver’ picket fence stuff, but it is wonderful.”
Free time is at a premium for Ingraham whose “real love” personal adult activities center on biking, running, hiking, and anything else having to do with the outdoors. On weekends, her youngsters are playing sports and she assists by coaching. “We are just an outdoor family. In my youth, I was a bit of an athlete and I still try to relive those glory moments every now and then. None of us knows when we are going to get that ‘tap on the shoulder.’ I try to be as healthy as I can so I can be around for my kids.”
Nighttime radio is a thing of the past for Ingraham and while the greater Washington, DC vicinity-based talent has proven she can work any day-part, she is more of a morning person. “Especially with the little ones, I can be up at 4:45 am even though my show does not start until 9:00 am. I go to bed late, do not sleep much, and I tend to be ready for the day early.”
Enormous pride in Ingraham’s demeanor and a palpable transformation in emotion take over when the conversation involves her children. “My kids are becoming wonderful young people,” she sincerely comments. “My daughter recently had her first communion and I was weeping. Five years ago, I was picking her up in an orphanage in Guatemala City. Today, she is the most beautiful, well-adjusted, funny, smart, great girl, who has very solid values.”
Incontestable is the fact that the highest priority element in Ingraham’s mind is that she raises her children correctly. “All the rest of this stuff is nice and fun, but they are what matter the most to me,” she stresses. “My legacy will not be the number of radio stations I was on, or whether my show was a hit: It will be whether I had hit kids. In my unconventional way, I am directly affecting the lives of three incredibly beautiful children. I am proud and humbled by it, and I am grateful for it.”
Mike Kinosian is managing editor/West Coast bureau chief of TALKERS. He can be emailed at Kinosian@Talkers.com or phoned at (818) 985-0244. Meet Mike Kinosian at Talkers New York 2013 on Thursday June 6.