Highly anticipated historical memoir reveals candid behind-the-scenes look at talk radio and its big-time stars of the day from the perspective of a young female producer during the genre’s golden decades
By Kevin Casey
SPRINGFIELD, MA — Bernadette Duncan spent 26 years as a radio talk show producer between 1983 and 2009. In her newly released book, YAPPY DAYS: Behind the Scenes with Newsers, Schmoozers, Boozers and Losers (AuthorHouse/Talkers Brooks, 2016), she vividly recounts her adventures in the trenches of big-time talk radio during its most dynamic decades – set against the dramatically changing backdrop of America’s pre- and post-9/11 cultural realities.
Juicy stories and details
Bernadette writes interesting details about hundreds of names – from the high-profile hosts for whom she worked, to the many more she met and knew, to the non-stop parade of famous celebrity and newsmaker guests she booked (and, in many cases, babysat) along the way. And she’s not shy about sharing the juicy tidbits of her experiences with these personalities as well as her recollections about the very processes that make talk radio fascinating. The book is about “the character of characters.”
The candidly told story focuses on Bernadette’s first-hand impressions of the sometimes-quirky, extremely talented, performers whom she served as a producer during her career. Namely, Larry King, Sally Jessy Raphael, Tom Snyder, Gil Gross, Charles Osgood and Lou Dobbs. In the process, the reader follows her growth from innocent, wide-eyed, newbie – who at the tender age of 12 sent a fan letter to Sally Jessy Raphael – to becoming a seasoned media professional standing her ground in hostile toe-to-toe situations with such broadcasting bruisers as Lou Dobbs and Geraldo Rivera.
A tribute to the job of radio producer
The book captures a glimpse into the seldom-chronicled subject of what it takes to be a talk radio producer – a job that, according to Bernadette, is the most under-rated, under-paid and under-appreciated job in commercial media.
It explains on the book cover:
In talk radio, a producer does a wide variety of tasks in facilitating a show including…
Booking the guests.
Screening the listener phone calls.
Occasionally engineering the program.
And most important – holding the hands, supporting, consoling, encouraging and simply trying to get along with some of the most egotistical, egocentric, neurotic, insecure, demanding, opinionated, sometimes horrible, but oftentimes wonderful and always remarkably talented human beings to TALK across the face of the earth.
Bernadette Duncan, the daughter of an Irish-immigrant mother who always had the radio on in the house tuned to local talk stations, grew up in the Douglaston section of New York City and is a graduate of Queens College. She frames the book from the humble perspective, “What, ME, a girl from Queens! How did I get here?”
During her career in radio that is chronicled in this book, she worked for such companies as ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, United Stations, WMCA and WOR. Also a professional writer, her articles have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, New York Daily News, Cosmopolitan and Seventeen.
The book takes a penetrating look at the talk radio industry as seen from her eyes “on the other side of the glass.” The personalities whom she served as a producer and writes about in the book receive what media consultant Holland Cooke describes as both “candor and kindness.”
The great Sally Jessy Raphael
Sally Jessy Raphael is the subject of an intimate portrait in which she is painted as a fascinatingly seasoned woman who is both a “fairy godmother” and a “rascal.” Bernadette credits Sally as being one of the main inspirations that attracted her to talk radio, all the way back to when she was a kid, and recalls the heart-pounding drama of producing her show for the first time and having it invaded in the final moments – after a perfect two hours and 55 minutes – by the dreaded “Baba-Booey” caller (an over-zealous Howard Stern fan) who “photo-bombed” media events. He skillfully evaded her gatekeeping efforts and made his way to the air, ending the show on an embarrassing, disruptive note. She talks about having to face Sally in her office later that night and explain herself to the woman she idolized.
Sally was doing personal “advice” radio without the need for a doctorate or degree in social work very early in the game, playing the role of the “wise woman in the public square” and relying on her up-and-down life experience and quick-wittedness to maintain and build the credibility and following to do a successful national radio show for years. Along the way, she added television to her platforms and became an iconic pop media star. Today, Sally (still an Internet presence) stands as a historical radio giant who helped pave the way for generations of female hosts to come.
The good and the bad
Talk show legend Larry King plays a prominent role in the book. Bernadette was one of his New York-based radio producers when he regularly came to the Big Apple from Washington, DC and had to do his show from the NBC Radio Networks studios in Manhattan. Bernadette presents the legendary media figure quite fairly including the good, the bad and a touch of the ugly.
She talks about the first time she boldly whispered a series of questions into Larry King’s earpiece when the talk titan was squirming on-air with an author whose book he had obviously not read… about a subject he obviously did not know. (Larry King was quite open about the admission that he hardly ever read his guests’ books…saying he would learn about the subject along with his listeners.) This incident marked a major breakthrough in her career as Bernadette transitioned from a “seen-but-not-heard” operative to speaking up behind the scenes and helping her host navigate unfamiliar waters.
Bernadette fondly remembers working with the late Tom Snyder whose unique brand of radio and TV talk show “performance art” truly made him one of a kind, devoting a hefty chapter to him based on her time as one of his New York producers.
She praises the journalistic and broadcasting skills of Gil Gross whom she served as an associate producer during his CBS network days explaining how and, perhaps why, in spite of his accomplishments as an award-winning, top notch talk show host – not to mention all-around “good doobie” – he never achieved the level of recognition and fame that hosts such as Howard Stern and Sally Jessy received. Bernadette analyzes the complex and often intangible elements in radio that determine why one host, though greatly talented and professional, remains dispensable while another becomes an indispensable household name.
Bernadette also worked (as a fill-in producer) with the erudite, musical, poetic commentator Charles Osgood, although he is not a “talk show host” per se. His insightful short form features have established him over the decades as somewhat of a national treasure. But he was also a bit of the absent-minded professor. She serves up a fascinating story about Charlie’s tendency to misplace objects such as his keys, briefcase and, on one occasion, even his car.
The enigmatic Rush Limbaugh
A major chapter in the book, “Brushes with Rushes,” described by consultant Holland Cooke as “poignant,” is devoted to Bernadette’s observations over the years of the remarkable and profound evolution of Rush Limbaugh. It is a compelling character study of a complex and possibly conflicted individual. Bernadette never worked for or with Rush, but she interviewed him in person for the New York Daily News early in his career and had several opportunities to cross his path at particularly interesting moments in his development as he went from earnest up and comer to the world famous, controversial, reclusive icon who is widely credited with saving the AM band.
Talk show, freak show
Perhaps the best aspect of the book is Bernadette’s colorful stories about the parade of well-known guests that passed through her shows a well as “the stories that wouldn’t go away.” Some of the scenes prompt out loud laughter even among the seasoned pros who have read advance copies of this collection. For example, Bernadette’s account of how she mistakenly booked former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on a morning show satellite tour (to promote her new book) in which most of the hosts were bad boy “shock jocks” with names like “Cowhead,” “Pond Scum,” “Smelly Belly,” and of course “Bubba the Love Sponge” – the results being disastrous but, years later, hilarious.
Excerpt from the book:
Right out of the gate – the scheduled two-hour string of interviews got off to a rocky start when the first host introduced the Secretary of State in this way: “If we were to send more ugly old broads like our next guest to foreign countries, perhaps we could shock the ‘Al-Qaedas’ into submission.” I went numb.
In her extensive discussion of the psychology of talk radio, the people who grace its airwaves, and the ongoing struggle between producers who want to book guests that make the show better versus guests who want to be booked to promote their products, projects and brands – Bernadette introduces the term “media exhibitionist” (a polite way of saying media “whore”). Using former Partridge Family actor-turned-radio talk show host Danny Bonaduce as the chapter’s poster boy, she illustrates the character traits of people who become famous simply for being famous and would never say no to a last minute invitation to guest on a show, usually to replace a better guest who cancelled at the last minute. Yes, Donald Trump was on this list of go-to guys.
The fiery Lou Dobbs – a self-proclaimed “bastard”
The closing chapters of the book deal with the dramatic behind-the-scenes tensions that took place in 2007-2008 when Bernadette was tapped by United Stations Radio Networks to serve as executive producer of the brand new, long-form, daily show hosted by then-CNN anchorman Lou Dobbs. Dobbs was a very hot commodity at the time with his brand of “advocacy journalism” and the idea was even being floated by significant political groups and voices that he make a run for the presidency. According to TALKERS publisher Michael Harrison (and Bernadette’s husband), “Lou Dobbs was unknowingly paving the way at that time for the later candidacy of Donald Trump with his outspoken nationalistic views on immigration reform and international trade agreements. If Trump becomes president, he should pay Dobbs royalties.”
It was no secret that off the air, Dobbs was a hothead with a fiery tongue and extremely demanding on co-workers – subordinates and peers alike. During Bernadette’s initial job interview with the newsman/commentator, he told her outright, “I’m a bastard. What do you think of that?” Her answer, “You won’t be the first one I’ve worked with.” As it turned out, he was the last.
YAPPY DAYS: Behind the Scenes with Newsers, Schmoozers, Boozers and Losers (AuthorHouse/Talkers Books, 2016) is a fun, breezy, informative and gently analytical look at the media, journalism and the complex nature of ego.
Bernadette Duncan embarks upon her national radio tour promoting the book this evening (8/22) with an appearance on the Jim Bohannon show. Talk show hosts interested in booking Bernadette can do so by calling Barbara Kurland at 413-565-5413.
Kevin Casey is VP/executive editor of TALKERS/RadioInfo. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org