By Mike Kinosian
It is a political philosophy that just “made sense” to the teenager, who a number of years later would go on to make $30,000 annually as a Bronx patrol cop.
Nowadays though, Queens native John Cardillo is doing double-duty, hosting a 9:00 am – 10:00 am show on Salem Media Group Miami’s WZAB “880 The Biz” and surfacing two hours later each weekday on Mike Horn’s CRN Digital Talk Radio for a two-hour (12:00 noon – 2:00 pm, ET) talkfest.
Policing online predators
Adhering to the viewpoint that those who put in the effort will eventually get something out of it, Cardillo – whose father was an entrepreneur and his mother a legal secretary who took the bus to work everyday – does not expect anything from anyone.
Politics was stressed as part of the St. Francis Prep curriculum and “many” of Cardillo’s high school friends have gone on to “impressive” political careers. “My family was always right-leaning but politics was never really incredibly top-of-mind,” he mentions. “I was leaning toward the Young Republicans through my academic – not my home – experience.”
After attending St. John’s University in New York, Cardillo transferred to the State University of New York, where SUNY credits were applied to the New York City Police Academy.
An NYPD cop throughout the 1990s, he decided to dabble in the technology arena.
One business started to do very well, so Cardillo took an early retirement from the NYPD. “I wound up creating a company that became one of the largest at tracking and removing sexual predators from online communities,” he explains. “My clients included Disney and [Rupert Murdoch’s] News Corp. I had done quite a bit of media when I was tracking the bad guys online but it was always talking about an issue. The Blaze and Glenn Beck were the first to give me a contributing status – I was a recurring guest for a specific reason.”
No longer scraping by
Transitioning out of that business in 2010, Cardillo began using software for political analysis. “I was working for campaigns in Florida and some other states,” he notes. “I really became interested in the political space and was immersed in the process. Even when I was in New York, I was involved, so I have been in and around the political process for the last 20 years. When I got out of that security business, I had many relationships on the legislative side in various states. The software I had could be used to look at trends and to analyze what is happening. That is what I began to do, but I always did on-air [guest segments] and I was pretty good at it.”
Desirous of a change of pace prompted Cardillo to relocate to South Florida in February 2004. “The energy of [New York City] was very different after 9-11,” reflects Cardillo, who was in Manhattan on that tragic day in 2001. “I always loved South Florida and thought it was a great way of life. I didn’t want to live and die in the same city my whole life. It is a big world out there and I wanted to try something new. I thought I would give South Florida a shot for a year.”
Returning to Gotham to see his family exactly 12 months after moving to Florida, Cardillo was scraping ice off his car windows and vowed he never wanted to do that again. “Especially since Florida is a ‘red’ state, the way of life is much more comfortable for me,” he accentuates. “It is easier to run a business and their attitude on the second amendment is outstanding. It is a more conservative culture where small government is encouraged. New York makes it as difficult as possible to do business and to exist.”
Guest becomes host
A meeting Cardillo secured with Glenn Beck’s team culminated in a program that used social media to analyze political conversations. “I had some information on happenings in Florida politics that I thought would be of interest to Glenn because of the subject matter,” he recalls. “News Corp got me in touch with Glenn’s producers, who invited me to come to Dallas and be on-air with Glenn. He and the audience loved it [which led me to become] a semi-regular on his show. I then became a regular on [Dr. Drew Pinsky’s] television show. When you have the respect of legends in the business like Glenn and Dr. Drew, you realize you are doing things correctly. Dr. Drew is the most down-to-earth, ‘normal’ guy I have met in the entertainment business – there is no pretense about him.”
Not terribly long after laying the foundation as a solid media guest, Cardillo felt it was time to launch his own talk radio-hosting career. “When I wasn’t on someone else’s show, I was being called to [recommend other sources] so I thought I might as well do it for myself,” he reasons. “I have the subject matter and the relationships; I did it and it has worked out.”
Cold-calling stations, Cardillo was able to land a weekend shift on West Palm Beach’s WJNO. Eventually, that blossomed into a daily segment on the iHeartMedia-owned station’s morning show. “I built a social media audience,” boasts Cardillo, who began treating it as a business about seven months ago. “I met with many people – some good/some bad, some real/some fake. It became the correct decision because I am on CRN five days a week. We have a great affiliate team with Jeremy Price, who was Glenn Beck’s executive vice president of sales; [Talk Radio Network’s former director of affiliate relations] Jim Watkins; and [CRN president] Mike Horn. I made a name for myself as a law enforcement analyst and I split that discipline with political analysis. Fox Business, for example, will call me for law enforcement segments, while Glenn Beck will [still occasionally] use me for political segments.”
Actually, a greater number of guest shots are now with Radio America’s Dana Loesch, although Cardillo asserts, “The relationship is still solid with Beck. I do less and less in general because people call for me in the middle of my own show. There is no bridge in the industry that I do not have – I am not someone who burns bridges.”
Lowering talk radio’s demo
Similarities exist between Cardillo’s morning show and his afternoon program; however, the former tends to be politically-geared and slightly more “formal” than the latter.
Moreover, additional entertainment-oriented elements are infused in the national afternoon broadcast. “The last half-hour of the show typically focuses on life with a conservative slant – people love it because it is very new,” Cardillo proudly states. “I usually have two guests per hour and I will keep them on for as long as they are interesting. I do not like the same stale talking heads and I will never use a guest who was a military colonel 25 years ago. I respect their service, but I want to have ‘current’ guests. Even among other talk show hosts, I have made a name for myself by doing this. I have built a great source network and that is one reason I have become so successful very quickly.”
On-air positioning statement used on Cardillo’s program “Over the Line – Always Right” means he is not doing a “conventional” show. “We all know the legends in the conservative talk format. I got my start with Glenn Beck – few people have been able to connect emotionally with their audience the way he does. One of the best interviewers I know is Sean Hannity, who doesn’t pull any punches. [Rush] Limbaugh created the genre: This would not exist without him. Progressives would have dominated talk radio had it not been for him.”
Despite these three heavyweights and a few others like them, forty-something Cardillo assesses, “It was time to freshen things up a little. Our show is conservative ‘entertainment‘ – not conservative ‘talk.’ The average age of the conservative talk show audience is 60.3. My audience goes from millennials to those in their 50s. I want my subject matter and content to be a little bit different. I bring in an ‘Access Hollywood’ correspondent two days a week.” [Some of my talk radio peers] see me as a kid. They do not respect the views of millennials. Talk radio is a lot like the ‘gray-hair’ mentality. Anyone who has a new idea is told to sit in a corner and let the ‘old gray-hairs’ show you how it is done. If you tell me that, it just makes me hungrier and I will want to bulldoze over you.”
Scary lack of chatter
Part of the challenge facing those on right, Cardillo opines, is that – by and large – conservatives have not tried to take charge of pop culture. “We woke up with progressives owning Hollywood and it was too late,” he maintains. “In my own little part of the world, I try to [integrate pop] culture to win over the younger, trendsetting audience. Unless we do that, the conservative movement is doomed.”
Rather than “lecturing” listeners who are stuck in their cars, Cardillo opts for an alternative of booking “entertaining” guests. “The audience loves to hear me bring on conservatives living behind enemy lines in Hollywood,” he remarks. “My on-air competitors are not doing that. They stick to wonky, content- and policy-driven topics. My show has to be about politics, entertainment, and [pop] culture – but not necessarily in any order. There is no substitute for working on the street and I have that going for me.”
Conservative talk radio, as it consists today, he insists, scares away millennials. “They think it is something for their dad or grandfather,” Cardillo quips. “I get emails from people in their 20s who tell me what we are doing is fun and funny. They aren’t used to conservative talk hosts doing this.
Some network radio “traditionalists” though have given Cardillo pushback. “An older person at a well-known network yelled in my face, ‘You are not one of us.’ He was probably upset that I don’t act [as if] everything is a grave, solemn topic and I don’t have a well-orchestrated voice. There is a lot of humor and entertainment value in this presidential campaign – it is ridiculous not to capitalize on it.”
Notwithstanding Cardillo’s stance on the entertainment component’s value, vital non-humorous topics for him include the attack earlier this month in Brussels, and mass shootings this past December much closer to home in San Bernardino. Such events keep him awake at night. “Another 9/11 doesn’t do that to me because something like that takes a lot of coordination and planning; we can intercept that,” he declares. “The ones that scare me to death are those planned two days in advance by 15 people in an apartment. There is no chatter to intercept. We look for high-tech, movie-like attacks [but the terrorists] don’t need that. Low-tech attacks that can inflict maximum damage are the ones that scare me. We need to be talking more about Paris and Brussels, which is a tough subject. I can dissect it as law enforcement better than any of my competitors because I’ve been there.”
Free advice rejected
Impressed by Donald Trump’s manner of “disrupting” the 2016 presidential campaign, Cardillo comments that, “It is fascinating to watch cops, firemen, and carpenters gravitate toward him. Ted Cruz has solidly conservative positions, so we on the right are lucky to have two such interesting candidates in the race who are saying what people want to hear.”
Meanwhile, it was approximately nine years ago (2007) when Cardillo worked on criminal justice legislation with someone no longer in the presidential hunt. “I wish the Marco Rubio I knew [when he was speaker of the Florida House] had been the Marco Rubio who ran for president. People leading his ‘traditional’ campaign were very careful where they didn’t need to be. Caution was his biggest mistake. He tried being all things to all people, the middle-of-the-road, scripted candidate. The younger Marco Rubio was a pure conservative who owned the room when he spoke.”
During what became nearly a war between Rubio and former Florida governor Jeb Bush, Cardillo was firmly in Camp Rubio. “The Bush Family let their personal feelings get in the way when Rubio decided to run,” Cardillo contends. “Rubio was one of Florida’s United States senators but Bush hadn’t been governor in a long time. [Bush] should not have turned his arsenal on Rubio simply because he felt betrayed.”
Early on in the process, Cardillo approached someone very close to the Rubio operation. “I said that I was pretty good at messaging stuff; I have an audience; and people like me. I suggested that Rubio needed to be himself and not to be afraid to punch. They said, ‘Thanks – but no thanks.’ I repeated that it was a mistake to run a ‘traditional’ campaign and that [Trump’s messages were] going to resonate. Voters do not want political correctness and tepid candidates. Trump is speaking for those without a voice. He has the money to back it up and that is what hurt the other candidates.”
Frequent criticism of Rubio was that he often came off as being robotic, but Cardillo emphasizes, “It is just the way he talks [whereas] Trump is natural in the way he communicates. The concession speech Rubio gave should have been the one to launch his campaign – it was a great speech. If he were that guy in the race, he may very well have been the frontrunner. It is an interesting campaign cycle – I will give you that. It is a lot of fun to cover and there is something new every day.”
Heavy social media reliance
Social media accounts for roughly 75% of Cardillo’s on-air content. “If it is trending there, listeners will want to listen to you bring it into the real world,” he stresses. “I tracked bad guys on social media and I learned how to use the tools. The intelligence is priceless [but] since conservative talk radio skews older, they have not figured it out, which is why they are losing audience. If you do not marry your show to Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, you are old-fashioned and stale – not topical. I am not cool unless I allude to certain hash-tags. As conservatives, we are destined to go extinct because – for years – Democrats and progressives have figured out how to own it.”
Routinely awake at 6:30 am to prepare for the 9:00 am Miami show originating from the custom home studio he built, Cardillo manages to get in a two-mile walk each day. “I have young, smart, hip producers and interns who work with me,” he points out. “They are sending me content late-night and early-morning. I reconcile it with what is trending on social media.”
That is followed by at least 90 additional minutes of prep time, leading to the 9:00 am airtime. Typically, more guests are scheduled than needed and when that one-hour program concludes, Cardillo has roughly that same length of time to map out the clock for the afternoon program. “After that show, I talk to my sources and figure out who I want to have on the next day.”
Obviously though, it is subject to change should something like the Brussels tragedy occur. “I will keep going until about 7:00 pm looking for the best content,” Cardillo discloses. “I want to keep things fresh every day and I learned the only way to turn out a great show is to put in the time finding the best content for the audience.”
Part of the reason Cardillo has achieved prime on-air weekday slots stems from his self-funding and he admits that he did not have to “knock on doors” for jobs. “I was lucky enough to have a business that did well,” he underscores. “Some gray-hairs out there though are afraid of the paradigm shift because it makes them obsolete. They will hold on and keep that gate closed for as long as they can.”
Avid scuba diver, spear-fisherman, and hunter Cardillo collects firearms and – along with his fiancé – shares a fondness for dogs. “All this stuff can go away tomorrow,” he acknowledges. “The person who runs my business operations is a person [with whom] I went to high school. I am not programmed to be a different person from the cop I was on patrol.”
Confirming he aspires to be syndicated on numerous radio stations, Cardillo envisions himself branching out into another medium. “I genuinely do enjoy television and we are currently shooting several pilot ideas that seem to be well-received,” he reveals. “Ideally, I would like to have my career look like that of Glenn Beck, Dr. Drew, and Sean Hannity. I don’t want to be pigeonholed into conservative politics or law enforcement. It is important for those of us on the right to have a strong entertainment and [pop] culture angle. This does not feel like work to me, so putting in the long hours is really enjoyable.”
Contact TALKERS managing editor Mike Kinosian at Kinosian@TALKERS.com.