By Jeff McKay
Special Features Correspondent
NEW YORK — Aaron Klein simply breaks all of the stereotypes of today’s talk show hosts. He’s just 34 years old. He does not lean liberal or conservative, nor does he speak in political talking points. He does not love or hate President Obama, or stand on the ground of anyone’s political party. He’s an accomplished author of six books with another blockbuster on the way. His radio show doesn’t just talk about the news – in many cases it breaks the news – broadcasting half a world away.
Klein grew up in a tight-knit community of orthodox Jews in Philadelphia, and eventually moved to New York City where he attended Yeshiva University. It wasn’t long before he joined the student newspaper, and became editor. If he wasn’t hooked to the media by that time, a powerful report in the college newspaper led to the school removing issues of his newspaper. That action led to the threat of a lawsuit against the university. The school backed down and discontinued their practice.
Like many people in radio, Klein never really planned on the media as a career.
“I was a pre-med student in college when I started to hear a lot about terrorism and al-Qaida. I thought we should be paying attention to these guys. At that time before 9/11 most people didn’t know anything about them,” says Klein.
“Radio just kind of happened. As a reporter for WND I was asked to be interviewed on some talk shows – Michael Savage, Rusty Humphries, John Batchelor, G. Gordon Liddy to name a few. On a few occasions I was asked to co-host a show. Then I found out about a weekend opening on WABC. (Then PD) Laurie Cantillo gave me a shot. The show is not Republican or Democrat. I don’t just talk about the news. I want to break the news on this show. I believe a show like this can be a part of the future of talk radio.”
Klein may indeed be a throwback to the “muckrakers” of the past, a title really not used anymore when it comes to today’s talk show hosts. He’s notorious for interviewing newsmakers on the air, and breaking news with today’s newsmakers, whether they are eyewitnesses to major events, people in the political-know, or Islamic leaders or those who would be considered terrorists who speak openly to Klein despite knowing he is Jewish and someone whom they would consider the “enemy.”
Terrorists on Speed Dial
“Aaron is a go-getter with a gutsy ‘take-no-prisoners’ attitude, which led to the slogan that we created for his show, ‘Fearless Talk Radio,’” says Cantillo, who is now the PD for Washington, DC’s all-news WTOP. “Who wouldn’t be intrigued by a guy who has probed the inner workings of terrorist groups and who has terrorists on speed dial?”
Klein brings to his “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio” talk show a treasure trove of contacts. Each week on his weekend show, heard on Cumulus-owned WABC in New York City, the guest list could include people like former UN Ambassador John Bolton or Dr. Mahmoud al-Zahar of Gaza.
Bolton recently made news on Klein’s show when he told Klein on WABC that Israel must make a decision very soon as to whether to attack Iran’s nuclear sites, saying, “I don’t think Israel has much time. They should have done this (attack Iran) years ago,” reminding listeners Israel had in the past attacked Iraq and Syria to prevent those countries from building nuclear powered weapons.
Al-Zahar, a Hamas leader based in the Gaza Strip, made news when he was interviewed by Klein in 2010 on WABC and announced his group’s backing of the proposed Park 51 Islamic Center which was to be built by the World Trade Center site in Lower Manhattan. Those comments started the firestorm against the then-proposed development after it became headlines in a New York City newspaper.
When it comes to guests nobody else would be able to get, Klein is well-known for getting high-ranking members of anti-American and anti-Israel groups to speak on his radio show. The question is why would anyone who dislikes America and Israel speak with an obviously American-Jewish talk show host?
“They would rather talk to me than The New York Times or CNN. They know I want the audience to hear what they have to say,” says Klein. “Terrorists will tell you it’s about spreading Islam and reaching ‘paradise.’ They really hate when the media paints them in desperation. They actually welcome the opportunity to speak about their real goals. Obviously they know I am Jewish. Their problem really isn’t with Jewish people. It’s the Zionists they don’t like.”
The reason Klein scores these exclusives is two-fold: First, he uses his investigative skills to find angles in stories that nobody else is finding or talking about. Second, he would rather break new ground, rather than talk about what every other talk host is discussing, and he knows his contemporaries are listening.
“Every week I try to have something new and exclusive. I get emails from a lot from journalists who say they wish they could do what I’m reporting on, but in many cases the company they work for won’t allow it. Even though I focus on the Middle East it’s not always about the Middle East,” says Klein.
Klein became the news when Oklahoma U.S. Sen. James Inhofe said to Klein on his program that “he probably wouldn’t be here” and would have died if the Affordable Care Act had been in place when doctors discovered multiple blocked heart arteries during a routine colonoscopy, a story picked up by all major networks. In addition, during an interview with Klein on WABC, comedian Jackie Mason called President Obama a “liar” and said that he “sounds more like a maniac in an asylum,” another story picked up by networks and world media.
His program on WABC is closely listened to by media across all political spectrums, from MSNBC to Politico to CBS, NBC and ABC, along with CNN, Fox News, Matt Drudge and various other sites and newspapers around the world.
One of the reasons he breaks so much news in the Middle East is because that’s where he’s based. Klein does his show live from Israel, where he spends the majority of the year when he’s not in New York City.
“I’m doing what is my job. I try to do what the rest of the media doesn’t do. That’s why my show is different. I’m not just a talk show host. I double as a reporter who is breaking stories on a radio show,” says Klein.
The attack on the U.S. Mission in Benghazi, Libya killed four Americans, including the US Ambassador to Libya. It brought out questions of conspiracies and a lack of judgment on the part of President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in talking points by right-leaning talk hosts.
For Klein, he believed the attack in Benghazi was a story hiding a far bigger story.
“I first broke the story – two weeks after the assaults, and months before the rest of the news media joined the bandwagon – on information the US mission in Benghazi was being used to coordinate weapons shipments to the Syrian rebels, whose ranks openly included al-Qaeda.” Klein tells TALKERS. “At the same time, the U.S. mission was collecting weapons previously distributed by the West to the jihadist Libyan rebels. That information, which could help explain the motivation behind the Benghazi assaults, has now taken center stage during the Benghazi hearings on Capitol Hill.”
It seems that for Klein, there’s a much bigger part of the story that hasn’t come out yet, and goes far beyond political talking points.
“Fourteen months before the mainstream news media, I further broke the story of a U.S.-run training camp for the Syrian rebels in northwest Jordan, a camp that utilized weapons previously shipped from Benghazi, with Ambassador Christopher Stevens serving as a key conduit to the jihadist rebels. This report has been confirmed by Reuters. This is just the tip of the iceberg of Benghazi stories that first broke on my show,” says Klein.
Recently, Klein took a CBS “60 Minutes” investigative report to task for not really digging deep enough for answers, and first announcing that something wasn’t right with their sources. Soon after, CBS News and “60 Minutes” were forced to publicly apologize after it was determined their source was not truthful and gave conflicting stories to CBS and the FBI.
Klein is heavily investigating the security provided at the U.S. Mission, believing that something out of the ordinary may have been going on inside the compound, asking on a recent radio show, “What was the compound being used for?” According to Klein, his investigation of the attack in Libya and the killing of Stevens and three other Americans could have ties to arming militant anti-American jihadists, and questions whether the U.S. Mission in Libya was a meeting place to coordinate the fight against the Assad government in Syria.
“Reporting on Benghazi on the show is really ahead of the curve. Ten days after Benghazi the media was reporting it was a spontaneous attack. I was reporting the Consulate was in fact a transfer station for guns and weapons to be used against al-Qaeda,” says Klein.
Klein, who has questioned almost everything about the Benghazi attack both in print and on his radio show, from the attack itself; how, when and where Ambassador Stevens was killed; why Obama did not order the U.S. military in the Mediterranean theater of operations to immediately respond; what the ‘mission” of the U.S. in Benghazi really was; and the “gunrunning” aspect, is currently writing a book that is expected to be a blockbuster about the events in Benghazi.
“I can only say that it will be a ground breaking investigation revealing new details about not only the Benghazi attacks and the ensuing cover up but breaking news related to security at the compound, the fate of Ambassador Stevens, why air support was never sent and the role of key politicians in the affair,” says Klein.
The Next Generation of Talk
One out of every three listeners to talk radio is 65 years of age or older, and nearly six out of every 10 news/talk radio station listeners are above 55.
It’s a trend that isn’t changing for the younger.
Younger people tend to listen to their smartphones for audio streams, and this does not help radio stations. However, technology is changing rapidly, so a talk show host broadcasting live on a New York City radio station and talking about New York, Libya or Washington, DC with a guest on the phone in any corner of the world doesn’t have to be 17 flights above Madison Square Garden.
“I broadcast from a fully equipped home radio studio on the beach in Tel Aviv. I even have an ISDN line, which was quite difficult to have installed since Israel no longer uses that technology,” says Klein, which also gives him a distinct advantage when reporting on the volatile Middle East.
Klein’s hard work and dedication to radio has paid off, with recognition by his peers, and his inclusion in the TALKERS magazine “Heavy Hundred” radio talk show hosts.
“I was thrilled that my local show made the list and was the only live weekend local show to make the list. It’s very meaningful and more evidence that radio is changing. It shows people are looking for independent talk, and the ratings show it,” says Klein.
“It is great that Aaron reports on the news but he also gives us a great advantage and provides a huge service to our audience by constantly breaking news for our listeners,” says Tony Mascaro, the operations manager for WABC. “While Aaron attracts people in the older WABC demos he is also great at attracting the younger audience both male and female and attracts those listeners that love investigative journalism.”
For Klein, whose Sunday show on WABC is one of their most popular on the weekend, it’s not about reinventing talk radio as much as it’s understanding younger demographics and serving those needs.
“It’s about the energy you put into the show. Can the younger audience connect with you? People aren’t looking for a younger talk show host, but they also won’t listen too long if they hear the same topic or the same talking points over and over again. Younger people have less patience for that,” says Klein. “The aspect of my show that draws younger people in is that I change the topics a lot. Unfortunately, much of what you hear on talk radio these days are the same talking points. For the listener, it becomes why should they listen to the second or third hour of a show when all you are going to talk about they can get in the first 20 minutes?”
Adds Klein, “Sometimes talk can be predictable. I don’t use GOP talking points, or ObamaCare bad – Republicans good. For me, I’m a reporter and an investigator. I don’t care if it’s Democrat or Republican. I tell you my own perspective.”
When it comes to social media, Klein is well ahead of the curve. Klein’s investigative work is highlighted throughout the WND website, along with his “Klein Online” page. He has an army of over 130,000 Twitter followers. The podcasts of his WABC radio show available on the station’s website, a link to “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio” on TuneIn, and a treasure-trove of clips on YouTube.
“For me it’s natural. Radio should have more use for social media platforms and the internet. Talk needs to get on board to monetize it. Radio can break stories. You really need to have a good ear for what is news. I keep doing what I’m doing, building up an audience, and finding the story that others may not look for.”
For Klein, it all begins with show prep, which can take an entire week for his two-hour program.
“My work during the week includes writing investigative articles, researching new details related to the news cycle and receiving updates from sources from across the political spectrum serves as a good deal of the prep time for the show. I live and breathe the news so for me the Sunday show flows naturally from the work that I do during the week.”
A major reason for Klein’s success is his multi-level media platform of writing, reporting and radio. Another reason for his success is the fact he does not try at all to follow the crowd. Monologues, talking points, political ideology are all pages you won’t find in his talk radio playbook. For Klein, it’s about doing what he knows best and infusing that into his show.
“I fuse exclusive news reporting with investigative journalism with the concept of talk radio. Listeners know they can only get the information by tuning in. Plus, I hope I make it interesting and compelling,” says Klein. “I just keep doing what I’m doing, building up an audience.”
When asked what advice Klein would give someone who wanted to go behind the microphone, he says it comes down to not trying to be the next Rush Limbaugh, but instead to be who you are.
“With regard to a talk show I’d say first and foremost be unique and independent. Find your own voice. Why should people tune in to your show? Discover what it is you can offer an audience that no one else can,” says Klein. “Absolutely do not try to fit into a certain mold or clique. Group think – parroting the same talking points – gets boring pretty quickly. Think for yourself. Bring a new dimension to the talk radio craft. Try not to read a monologue. To me it sounds disconnected and makes for really bad radio. It’s difficult to be real when you are reading from a piece of paper, especially if someone else wrote it for you. Don’t be afraid to show vulnerability. People connect to humanity not to a radio announcer.”
“Answer this: what makes you or your show different from everything else out there? Don’t try to emulate another talk host, but find your own voice,” says Cantillo. “To quote Oscar Wilde, ‘Be yourself. Everybody else is taken.’”
Jeff McKay, a veteran New York-based operations manager, newsman and traffic reporter, is a special features correspondent for TALKERS. He can be emailed at McKayway@aol.com.