By Mike Kinosian
Managing Editor/West Coast Bureau Chief
LOS ANGELES — Nothing short of sweet serendipity is the fact that the positively fetching young woman confidently seated behind the microphone has such a lilting, lyrical name as Meghan Marguerite, although that represents only two-thirds of her alliteration-intensive, attention-getting moniker.
It is her last name – “McCain” – that makes the striking daughter of Arizona Senator and 2008 GOP presidential nominee John McCain particularly intriguing, while simultaneously putting her under more scrutiny than the typical media personality.
Owing to a burgeoning vitae that already boasts such impressive credits as New York Times best-selling author; Daily Beast columnist; and contributor to cable networks MSNBC (past), Participant Media’s Pivot (past), and Fox News Channel (present), Meghan Marguerite McCain is a fresh, formidable, force – with or without the benefit of her lineage.
Fueling a case for rising, shining media star status for someone about to turn 31 next month (10/23) is the fact that, as of mid-July, M-To-The-Third-Power or M-cubed added a daily, three-hour (6:00 pm – 9:00 pm ET), Premiere Networks radio program to her repertoire.
More to the point, the intensely genuine McCain inherits “America Now,” which initially debuted four years ago (August 2011) with Andy Dean as host; Joe Pagliarulo succeeded Dean 13 months ago (August 2014) as interim host.
Still in the process of revamping and tweaking the show, McCain gives her seal of approval to “America Now,” rather than an eponymous title. “It says that we are literally going to talk about what is going on in the country right this second,” she remarks. “The name sounds very official.”
Change, however, can be difficult for some people, so when McCain took over the show, she realized there would be haters. “Honestly, I cannot go outside and buy a sandwich without someone criticizing it,” she convincingly muses. “If I cared what every person thought about what I did every day though, I probably would never leave the house.”
Negativity has ranged from the youthful quality of her voice, what some perceive to be a rapid speech pattern, and to internal industry jealousy regarding her selection as the program’s headliner. “My response is that I take it very seriously; it is an incredible opportunity; and if everyone in talk radio were doing it correctly, there would be no need for me,” McCain astutely reasons. “There would be no need for a young, single, Republican woman [hosting this show]. If you want to listen to old, angry, white men putting down America, plenty of people out there fill that niche. I am obviously a woman and I have a young, feminine voice – but I like the challenge of winning over people. It is a difficult job and I have a completely new respect for the medium.”
Right out of the gate, McCain-fronted “America Now” emerges with a healthy affiliate roster (roughly 100) and she is finding the radio show to be extremely exciting – if not also a bit intimidating, and borderline overwhelming. Sensing a generation gap to her new-found medium of talk radio, McCain opines, “I feel as if I am trying to bring a new perspective to something that – quite frankly – has a much older audience.”
Nonetheless, the past two months have proven to be a fun challenge. “Other than my writing, I have never done anything where every person has such easy access to my work,” she explains. “My parents can listen to my show in the car and I know my friends are listening throughout the country.”
Immediately after iHeartMedia-owned WRNO “News Talk 99.5” added “America Now,” McCain did a phone interview with the program’s New Orleans affiliate. “It is very exciting that the show is gaining stations,” she beams. “I told the people at Premiere that I have spent a lot of my life on the road. If they want me to go and visit affiliates, I am more than happy to do so. I understand how important it is to respect each affiliate and I completely understand the importance of having a relationship with each one.”
Preparation for the daily radio broadcast finds McCain accessing “countless” political websites every morning. “I spend a good two hours going through the news,” she confirms. “I’ll pick out whatever I have a visceral reaction to, things that I can’t get enough of, and/or things that make me [upset].”
Those normally are her lead stories and McCain typically opens the show with a question. “I don’t like the word ‘rant,’ but I will talk about an issue or something where I have an emotional reaction to something in the news,” she discloses. “I like mixing entertainment and pop culture into the show. It would be a bit dense if we did politics for the entire three hours. I would say the show is 50% political and 50% interviews/pop culture-entertainment.”
Social media is a key component in the research aspect with Twitter partisan McCain enthusing, “It makes the job more interesting just because everything happens in real time.”
There have been occasions for her to chat with her famous father on the air so she can ask him to deliver insight to certain developments. “I had my engineer play an ABBA song leading into my introduction because my dad loves [that Swedish group],” Meghan recounts. “He laughed and really liked that.”
Other political experts – as well as analysts, commentators, and journalists – are incorporated into the show. In addition, McCain has talked with those embedded in pop culture such as “Extra” host/Premiere Networks personality Mario Lopez (“ON with Mario Lopez”); Jack Osbourne (son of Ozzie & Sharon); and Ross Matthews (“Live From E!” and formerly “Ross the Intern” on “The Tonight Show Starring Jay Leno”). “We feature whoever we are interested in at the moment,” McCain acknowledges. “When I was growing up, I felt there was a lot of social relevance to the ‘MTV Music Awards.’ This year – I did not like any of it. I watched most of the show, but could not sit through the entire thing because I thought it was boring. It seemed very scripted and staged – just not ‘rock and roll’ to me. [Host] Miley Cyrus was naked the entire time and I do not think that is a terribly great image for young women.”
Rewinding to 1999, a then-14-year-old McCain had “the privilege” of accompanying her father to MTV’s award festivities and as she describes, “That was the era of Rage Against The Machine, Beastie Boys, and Lauryn Hill. I sound like an old grandma, but people were singing about things that were very important. To have Kanye West say that he will run for president [in 2020 as he did at this year’s award show in Los Angeles] is the peak of ridiculousness.”
While the bachelor’s degree she possesses from Columbia University is in art history, Phoenix-born McCain entertained thoughts of becoming a music journalist. As a student at the upper-Manhattan Ivy League institution, she interned at “Saturday Night Live” and at Newsweek magazine. “Those were unbelievable, groundbreaking experiences in my life,” she proclaims. “It changed my perspective on the world. When I was at ‘SNL,’ it was the first time I realized how much pop culture and entertainment dictated many things in politics.”
Nearly 13 years have passed since John McCain hosted “SNL” (October 19, 2002) and his daughter Meghan asserts, “It was one of the fondest memories from my teenage years. I thought he was hilarious.”
Incidentally, if you scroll through the credits for that third episode of SNL’s 28th season, you will find the name Stephen Colbert buried as the voice of “Ace” and Steve Carell as “Gary.”
Passion that Meghan McCain has for all facets of the media includes print journalism, so she was thrilled when her college internship at Newsweek was extended. “I really loved having an idea on Monday and then seeing it come to fruition Saturday in the magazine,” she recollects. “Even at the age of 21, I had the luxury of working for bosses who fostered my ideas and included me in meetings. It was one of the best experiences in my life.”
Shortly after Senator McCain announced his presidential aspirations in 2008, Meghan began writing a daily blog, where she discussed everything from food to a journalist’s look at the campaign’s backstage life. “It was PG-rated and family-friendly,” she notes. “I had a very good time doing it.”
Formerly based in Los Angeles, McCain is returning to New York City, where she does double-duty as a Fox News contributor. “Their studios are in Manhattan, so it is just easier for me [to be there than in Los Angeles],” she states. “I am lucky that there are a bunch of [Premiere Networks parent] iHeartMedia studios in New York City; my bosses and producers are all cool with it.”
On the subject of her tenure in the City of the Angels, McCain illustrates it as “a culture shock” and that she had relocated there for another job. “The highlight of being in Los Angeles was working for Premiere and with amazing producers. It felt like I was working with people who are like me – legitimate news junkies and political junkies. The bittersweet aspect of moving is that I became attached to those people. That is the only negative thing about returning to New York City. It is my home and, every day of the day, I much prefer New York over Los Angeles.”
Geography notwithstanding, McCain commenced her radio duties as the 2016 presidential campaign began heating up and she observes there is more than a sufficient amount of content to wade through every day. “Each candidate is interesting, entertaining, and provocative for [his or her] reasons. I am personally interested in each one on my side – the Republican side – except Jim Gilmore, who is boring; no one cares that he is running for president. I am so grateful there is so much content. After the show, I go to dinner and talk about the same stuff with my friends.”
Height of under-statement would be to ascribe current GOP frontrunner Donald Trump as a polarizing lightning rod. Hardly a stranger to controversy, “The Donald” truly shocked many when – for no apparent reason – he went after John McCain (obviously not a 2016 presidential contender) with the rhetorical query, “He is a war hero because he was captured? I like people that weren’t captured.” Refusing to be apologetic, Trump doubled-down by saying his fellow Republican – McCain – has been a disappointment to veterans. “For better or for worse, the inclusion of Donald Trump has given us a lot to talk about and it’s a fascinating and interesting time in American history right now,” Meghan McCain declares. “Anti-establishment candidates [such as Vermont Senator] Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are co-opting [considerable] attention; there is so much momentum on both sides.”
Both of those particular individuals are, in McCain’s opinion, quite extreme and she categorically stresses, “I am not a fan of Donald Trump – he is not my candidate. I do not like the [wild] rhetoric that comes out of his mouth [although] many Americans are responding to it.”
Disruptive, disheartening dings
Understandably upset about the unkind comments Trump made about her Vietnam War POW father, McCain insists, “What he said is offensive to not only my father but to all veterans. I could not conceive of giving up what POWs have sacrificed. Having a lack of respect for that blows my mind. It is not something I could relate to at all. I woke up the day that happened and noticed my father was ‘trending’ on Twitter. There were so many ding alerts on my phone that I was afraid something terrible had happened to him.”
Worst-case scenario is where the younger McCain’s mind jumped to, thus she emphasizes that, especially for that reason, she “cannot forgive” that incident and, “It was not a fun morning. It was a bizarre statement and [Trump] is a bizarre person. He is wildly disconnected from what mainstream Americans think. Any person who puts on a [U.S. service] uniform is a hero to me. Comparing one against another is very ignorant and a slippery slope [upon which] for him to go.”
Perhaps seeing something of a silver lining, however, McCain mentions that, “Trump picks on everyone and he doesn’t like anybody, yet he seems to get a pass from the media and voters. I still do not think he will be the Republican nominee – I certainly hope not. If he is, I do not know what I am going to do and don’t know what will become of the party.”
Although McCain maintains she cannot envision herself ever voting for a Democrat, she in fact did do that at least once already. It was the 2004 presidential race, when then-18-year-old McCain cast her ballot for Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, rather than George W. Bush. “It was completely personal because of the long history the Bush family had with my family,” reveals McCain, who – in June 2008 – changed her party affiliation from independent to Republican. “I was young and emotional and couldn’t bring myself to vote for [Bush]. Like all things, [it passed and] I grew up a little bit. I began to understand what politics is all about and have voted Republican in every election ever since.”
Strong reaction to “Game Change”
Many talk radio hosts purposefully avoid monitoring colleagues and counterparts in the genre, in part because, they do not want to unintentionally mimic another’s style. “It sounds terrible and I don’t mean to be disrespectful to the people I share a roster with and the predecessors who made it the giant it has become, but I don’t listen to talk radio,” McCain admits. “I never drove a car until I moved to Los Angeles, so I didn’t have time to listen to talk radio as I sat in traffic. I do not relate very much to angry white men. I have my own political views but I don’t have time to divide this country.”
Palpable difference in energy is the most common response/feedback McCain has received since she began hosting “America Now” and she appears extremely pleased to be having respectful dialogue with callers. “I do not want to fight with people and be angry every day. Previously, I only listened to Howard Stern and podcasts at different times. I agreed to take this show because I knew people could podcast it on iHeartRadio, or stream it anytime they want. That immediacy and accessibility for young people to get my content at any moment they want is important to me. I love the feeling of accomplishment when the show is over. It is an exciting moment when our little show breaks through.”
Few on-air talents can lay claim to be depicted in a movie; in McCain’s case, it is actually a technicality, of course, as HBO’s 2012 Game Change predates her radio career. The Danny Strong-written film version of events from the 2008 presidential campaign was based on the book authored by Mark Halperin & John Heilemann, but McCain cautions that – in her opinion – Game Change is “50% – 60%” fiction. “It is taken from the perspective of disgruntled campaign staffers. Tom Hanks is [one of the film’s four producers] and the inclusion of Hollywood dilutes that entire story. I would really love it if someone would write the fair perspective from all campaign staffers. I never met the two gentlemen who wrote that book. I was on the road the entire time with my father and I never knew people who were quoted in Game Change. I do not know how you can accurately portray something when you don’t have the inside people telling what is happening on the road. It is unfortunate that people believe Game Change is factual.”
Granting that she did not screen the entire movie that stars Ed Harris as John McCain and Julianne Moore as Sarah Palin, McCain was curious to see Tiffany Thornton, the actress featured in the “Meghan McCain” role. “She is gorgeous and she reached out to me on Twitter,” McCain points out. “I am unworthy of having such a beautiful actress portray me in the movie.”
As it turns out, McCain and Thornton share something in common (on-air radio talent), as Thornton co-hosts “Kramer & Tiffany” on Noalmark Broadcasting Corporation Hot Springs, Arkansas mainstream contemporary hit music radio outlet KLAZ “Continuous Hit Music.” In addition to the daily 6:00 am – 10:00 am wakeup show (and a four-hour solo voice-tracked shift directly thereafter), the 29-year-old Thornton is a blogger for DisneyBaby.com.
Diminished social life
Music is clearly an integral element in McCain’s life and it is not uncommon for her to enjoy heavy doses of Nicki Minaj, particularly when she (McCain) was spending as much as one hour (each way) commuting to Premiere Networks’ Sherman Oaks (Los Angeles) studios. “I love her attitude,” McCain comments of the 32-year-old Trinidad-born rapper-singer-songwriter-actress. “I like to mix up my music with some old stuff from the 1950s and 1960s. I would listen to John Coltrane on my drive home, so I like a lot of different music.”
Free time though is at a premium for McCain, who likes to fish “and hang out” with her family, but she realized doing “America Now” was going to be draining. “The show is taking up so much of my life and time – it’s always present on my mind. Hopefully, there will be a day when it doesn’t co-opt so much brain space. For the first time, I am saying ‘no’ to dates. That, however, is the sacrifice you make and it is fine with me – I am more than comfortable with that.”
Given that the two have sound-alike first names, share similar political views, and are highly photogenic – it is actually quite understandable that McCain cites Fox News Channel’s Megyn Kelly as a professional role model.
Another on that list is Tabitha Soren – who at age 23 – was the face of MTV’s “Choose or Lose” campaign, which focused on encouraging young adults to vote; Soren is now 48. “When I was growing up, I loved Tabitha,” exclaims McCain, who – in June 2014 – joined the national board of directors of LGBT advocacy organization GLAAD. “Tabitha Soren was the first person I [emulated]. She dressed stylishly and she was young and cool. To this day, I thank her for the influence she had on me as an adolescent.”
In advance of being his party’s presidential choice in 2008, John McCain made a similar bid for the nation’s highest office eight years earlier (2000), when Meghan was 14. “I am the only child in our entire family who was always on the road with my father’s campaigns,” she proudly boasts. “More than my other siblings, I had the best opportunity to observe how he interacts on the stump and in interviews.”
Even as a child, she derived pleasure from it so, “It is only natural I would be influenced by him and he has always been very supportive.”
Unless the 79-year-old Arizona Senator is traveling overseas, he usually is in communication with his radio talk host daughter multiple times a day, but Meghan maneuvers through a potentially thorny predicament. “I want to have my parents on the show but I do not want listeners to be under the impression that I cannot do this myself, or that I would rely on them too much. I had my [61-year-old] mom [Cindy McCain – whose mother’s first name was Marguerite] on to talk about human trafficking. She is ageless and makes me feel very comfortable about the aging process; my mother looks incredible.”
Whether as a daily radio talk host; cable television contributor; author (2008’s My Dad, John McCain, 2010’s Dirty Sexy Politics, 2012’s America, You Sexy Bitch: A Love Letter to Freedom), or a blogger, McCain has gleaned something valuable from each experience. “I have been given many amazing opportunities,” she concedes. “To my credit, I have always taken challenges and run with them. My last name can only open so many doors: I need the ‘chops’ to back it up. The radio show is so personal and it feels more challenging than any other project I have done in a long time. I did not quite realize the degree of the one-on-one interaction. When I go in the studio every day, it almost feels as if I am going on a date with one person. I am talking about my life, politics, and wanting to get that person’s perspective every day. It feels much more personal than television or writing. I have been lucky enough to love every job I have had.”
Prior to accepting the Premiere Networks job, McCain had numerous meetings with – among others – Premiere Networks president Julie Talbott and Robin Bertolucci, program director of iHeartMedia Los Angeles talk properties KFI and KEIB “The Patriot”; KEIB is an “America Now” affiliate. “I knew what I was getting into would be sort of a Herculean task every day,” McCain reflects.
Originally, however, she rejected the Premiere Networks overture because she perceived the genre to be “so dated” and McCain wondered how many young people listen to talk radio. “The biggest focus in my life is trying to get more women and more young people to take a second look at the Republican party. There are [other] talk radio personalities, however, who do the exact opposite – they turn off women and young people. I didn’t think there was a place for someone like me. After meeting with Julie and Robin though, I saw that Premiere was trying to make a tone shift. Obviously, Premiere has incredibly smart people running the company. It makes me happy that the world is changing and that I have a boss who wants a strong, empowered person to talk about politics on the radio.”
Specifically referencing three conservative talk hosts, who happen to be Premiere Networks stable-mates, McCain puts forth that she “could not be more different from Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Glenn Beck. I am happy that I am bringing a different flavor and a different vibe to the medium. Many people underestimate how challenging it is to do a talk radio show. I did my research and I am very happy to have the platform that Premiere has given me. You have to make a show entertaining and compelling three hours every day. It is as if I just had a child and it is ‘America Now.’ When I was a student at Columbia, I never thought I would have a huge radio show and be a Fox contributor. If someone said I would do that by the time I was 30 years old, I would have said they were crazy.”
Contact TALKERS managing editor Mike Kinosian at Kinosian@TALKERS.com.