Profile of Compass Media Networks and Premiere-Syndicated Personality Joe Pagliarulo
By Mike Kinosian
SAN ANTONIO — Nirvana for the epicurean purveyor of Chinese cuisine is to behold – and partake of – a bountiful buffet whose selections might include such taste-tempting combinations as chicken chow mein to shrimp lo mein; yang chow fried rice to moo goo gai pan; sweet and pungent chicken to sweet and sour pork; and a variety of others.
One particular (ominous) Friday the 13th – May 2011 to be more precise – an extremely well-liked, San Antonio-based media personality was enjoying the process of selecting and piling onto his plate his favorite Chinese food offerings.
Seemingly carefree, he and his wife were in relaxation mode as the on-air talent took a break from gearing up for the rigors of an upcoming three-hour talkfest, blissfully unaware his world was moments away from taking a monumental jolt.
Only one word uttered by the physician mattered – “cancer.”
After that, eerie silence filled the car.
Most likely, it seemed an eternity, but realistically was probably several seconds until Pagliarulo elected to break the ice by blurting out, “Do you have a machete,?” following the news the then-44-year-old conservative talker had been diagnosed with testicular cancer.
Extended hush on the other end.
Somberly, the doctor assured Pagliarulo that it was a serious subject, but “Joe Pags” stresses, “I wasn’t going to let it define who I am and ruin my life after a nice lunch. I went on the air later that day and told my listeners what happened. I suggested how men should check themselves to catch it early as I did. I made levity about it on the air.”
Coping and moving on
Notwithstanding the laudable tact Pagliarulo took of attempting to make light of a very heavy situation by invoking obligatory having a ball with it references, he asked to leave that Friday night’s show one hour earlier than usual so he could more cohesively collect his thoughts. “About four or five days later, I sat by myself and cried my face off for about ten minutes,” he candidly admits. “I had to have my moment and come to terms with it. When that was done, I thought this is very curable; I will keep on going and live to be 80 or 90 years old.”
Just a scant four months prior to the diagnosis (ultimately culminating in surgery to remove his right testicle), Pagliarulo went to China where he and Jenny adopted a daughter. “While I was there,” he reflects, “I felt something ‘different’ in that region of my body. I thought the pain in one side would go away after a few weeks.”
Unfortunately, it did not and he wisely scheduled a doctor’s appointment. “I am feeling great and kicking ass,” a cancer-free Pagliarulo emphasizes. “I have been in the gym for almost three years and I am trying to get back to my youthful form. I got rid of the cancer-riddled testicle; I have moved on; and I am better for it.”
Necessity to self-syndicate
Out-of-the-ordinary work schedules – leading to a weakened-immune system from sleep deprivation – tend to be the norm for the indefatigable Pagliarulo, who for roughly seven years, simultaneously managed to juggle wakeup duty on KPRC, Houston (where Walton & Johnson replaced him in April 2013), while anchoring afternoon drive on WOAI, San Antonio. “I have always had a hunger and a desire to have my show syndicated,” he comments.
Desire became reality last July when Compass Media Networks began distributing his weeknight 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm (ET) “The Joe Pags Show” from flagship WOAI. “My representative is the remarkable Susan O’Connell and I do a ton of cold-calling to potential affiliates,” points out Pagliarulo, who for the past six years has been fronting “The Weekend with Joe Pags,” a three-hour program Premiere Radio Networks clears on approximately 200 stations.
Heard now on 32 talk outlets – including KPRC, Houston; KTLK, Minneapolis; and KHOW, Denver – Pagliarulo began putting into action the need to self-syndicate a weeknight program when his contract was to expire at the end of 2014. “I was happy to re-sign and would not need a whole lot more money – but I needed the right to syndicate the program myself,” he insists. “I got approval [from WOAI and Premiere parent iHeartMedia] and it coincided with Andy Dean leaving [Premiere’s] ‘America Now.’ I think they had a plan, but it did not shake out. Apparently, they never listened to my daily show because they said they were surprised at how funny and not all-political I can be; fake news reports we do are hilarious.”
Suddenly, he was heading a list of aspirants to succeed Dean as host of “America Now;” however, it was not exactly what “Joe Pags” coveted. Nonetheless, “If they were interested in syndicating my show, I said I was in,” he states. “We went back and forth a little bit and they said they had an idea for that slot, but they first wanted to plug me in for four to six weeks. They gave me a little extra money and I was still on – one year later. It was great timing for me because I got incredible exposure on over 100 stations.”
National driving force
Challenged in discerning the “very weird thing” Pagliarulo was doing with his morning drive-sounding show airing in the evening, listeners eventually became “crazy ‘Joe Pags Show’ fans,” the host modestly maintains. “That was a great impetus for me to launch my own syndication once they chose Meghan McCain [as Dean’s permanent successor]. I said, ‘God bless her – let her do whatever she has to do.'”
At that point, he commenced seeking out affiliates for his own program. “Out of respect for the company, I had not been trying to syndicate my show or to expand my reach,” Pagliarulo remarks. “As soon as ‘America Now’ went away, many non-iHeartMedia stations came to me and we’ve got them.”
Prospects of overseeing a national versus local program initially intimidated Pagliarulo, but he now reasons, “As someone who communicates for a living and who explains things, it is actually rather easy. One segment I do is, ‘Joe Pags Teaches You People How to Drive.’ There is [heavy reverb] and we get a good chuckle out of it. If you want to see the phones light up, talk about how badly people drive – you will have calls for the next seven hours. When there is a local story of national interest, you can always make it something that will feel local to someone else.”
Work commutes are nonexistent for Pagliarulo who has the luxury of operating from his home studio. “My producer will email me a few topics that she thinks are interesting,” he discloses. “In many ways, what is trending on social media is more important than what you get at the news sites. It lets us check the pulse of what Americans are talking about so I go to social media almost immediately. It is amazing that I get to do a promo on social media by pressing one button. It is an incredibly valuable tool to keep a constant connection with listeners. Sometimes though, we are mired into the garbage that ends up on Facebook – it is stupid to debate someone there. On-air, I disseminate what I observe and I do it in such a way that keeps people listening. [If need be], I can switch gears quickly and focus on a big, breaking story.”
Something to prove
Amityville, Long Island-born Pagliarulo grew up in the Suffolk County town of Copiague, but moved to Florida with his family at the age of seven. “I started watching television news when I was 10 years old,” he notes. “Most everyone else was interested in the weather, but I wanted to see heads on my TV.”
By the time he was 12, Pagliarulo was putting together audiocassette tapes for his imaginary WPAG in which he would record songs from local music stations and do intros over instrumental beds leading to vocals. “I think my mother still has those tapes of me with my then-thick New York accent,” he laughs. “I come from a blue-collar background and during my lifetime, I have made pizzas and I have driven dump trucks. My father and grandfather wondered if I was crazy for wanting to be on radio. They thought I should dig ditches or do other kinds of manual labor. The family attitude was to go break your back until you cannot work anymore. My father actually said I couldn’t be on television or radio. After that, my drive and desire to do so went on steroids.”
Family skepticism about Pagliarulo making broadcasting a viable career changed altogether, “when I began getting paychecks.”
Remuneration came in the mid-1990s as the result of anchoring television news at Michigan properties WEYI-TV, Saginaw-Flint and WWMT-TV, Kalamazoo-Grand Rapids, as well as doing radio work at Detroit’s WXDX (now silent WDTW-AM; iHeartMedia uses the WXDX calls on its alternative-formatted station in Pittsburgh).
Over and above being able to pay his bills, Pagliarulo had sufficient money left over to treat himself to dinner one night a week when he became news director-main anchor-managing editor of WLAJ-TV, Lansing, Michigan (1997 – 2002). “It looks small today, but the ridiculously big break at the time was when I became the main anchor for WRGB-TV, Albany,” he recollects. “I started in broadcasting in 1989, and I am not bragging, but [at WRGB] I finally hit six-figures in salary, which was a goal of mine.”
During his 2002 – 2005 tenure in Albany, “Joe Pags” had a two-and-one-half hour lunch one afternoon with Gabe Hobbs, then overseeing programming on Clear Channel (now iHeartMedia) news, talk, and sports stations. “He heard me on [what is now iHeartMedia-owned talker] WGY, Albany and he wondered why I was doing television news,” Pagliarulo declares. “All we did at lunch was laugh and act stupid. At the end, he asked me, ‘Gun to your head – radio or TV?’ I had been doing television for a long time. I cannot have an opinion [as a news anchor on that medium] and cannot give what I think I have to give. I have won a bunch of awards for journalism, but for the same money, I [prefer to] do radio.”
Snowing in San Antonio
Yet more radio experience was inserted to Pagliarulo’s impressive vitae after he did a year of fill-in work on Rochester, New York talk outlet WHAM and Hobbs – looking for a morning person at WOAI – had not forgotten their memorable lunch. “He said this could be exactly the job to transition me from television to radio,” Pagliarulo details. “I checked it out and took the job.”
Noteworthy sidebar is that by relocating to San Antonio for that radio opportunity, “Joe Pags” actually reduced his annual salary by $35,000. “Once I got to San Antonio, Tony Snow happened to be in the building,” he recounts. “He had his own talk show [that Fox Radio introduced in March 2004] and was doing ‘Fox News Sunday.'”
This predated Snow’s role as the third presidential press secretary under George W. Bush. “I mentioned I was a fan of [Snow’s] and that I think I could do a good job of ‘yelling’ at some Democrat on television,” Pagliarulo elaborates of his conversation with the late Snow. “He gave me the phone number of the person to call and told me to make it happen. That weekend, I was on Fox News, ‘yelling’ at [Democratic pundit] Kirsten Powers. From then on, I was on Fox as much as five times a week, while I was doing my [WOAI] morning radio show.”
Nowadays, if Pagliarulo “yells” at someone on his syndicated program whose slogan is, “talk radio doesn’t have to be boring,” he contends it is done so in a “fun” manner.
Rather than disparaging or comparing himself to others in the talk radio arena, the genuinely gracious, golden-voiced “Joe Pags” acknowledges, “Right-wing conservative talkers are making [substantial money] for big corporations. I am not going to criticize them. At the same time though, I am not them; I do not want to be them; and I cannot be them. They do what they do and they are unique – I hope their success lasts another 100 years.”
Moreover, he does not even monitor or listen to anyone else in the genre. “I used to, but I found it would sway my opinions on the topics of the day,” he confides. “At this point, I go in with one perspective, which is that I am going to entertain the listener. They are going to laugh; they are going to get angry with me; they are going to think; and there will be women and young people listening. My show has evolved – it was not always this way.”
Uniquely using gas, chicken soup as talk topics
Former seven-year substitute host for Glenn Beck, Pagliarulo assesses his fellow conservative radio and television broadcaster as “an unbelievable talent” but the two have not spoken to each other in about 18 months. “As much as I adore Glenn and cannot thank him enough for the opportunities he gave me, I never saw him that much. Even when I would go to Dallas and fill-in on [Beck’s] Blaze TV, our paths didn’t [frequently] cross. I have great admiration for him, but we were never really great friends – I was more of the guy who filled in for him. When I did, I had to do his show. It would be disrespectful to do my show on his air.”
Downside to that was it got him a reputation of being “Beck-Lite,” or someone aspiring to be Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity. “That is not who I am at all,” Pagliarulo accentuates. “In one of my programs, I switched gears and said I was going to talk about farts. I was able to do an hour about nothing but [flatulence] and it was hilarious. People said that they were laughing so hard that they were going to crash their car if I didn’t stop.”
Vigilant to detect numerous things that can be unconventional talk radio fodder, “Joe Pags” did 30 minutes on-air about the person next to him in the gym who – he opines – was emitting a somewhat soothing, albeit distinctive, odor. “He was on the treadmill and I seriously couldn’t understand why I smelled chicken soup coming from him. I thought to myself – that is not normal. When I figured out that I do have this in me to be funny, self-effacing, and introspective, the audience has become [compelled] to listen to my show.”
Originally though, his Twin Cities listenership on KTLK did not warm up to his act out-of-the-box. “I do parody songs about the news of the day, but I don’t know if the management there ‘got’ it,” Pagliarulo speculates. “Now – after about 18 months on the air, we are trying to figure out how to get me to Minneapolis to do an event there. My news anchor has a great voice and is a mother of two. We talk about raising kids and other things. At any time, I will bring in my producer and my board-op to give listeners different views and different voices. That goes back to the root of what we used to be in radio – I am going to entertain you. With that perspective, this show has gone through the roof.”
Pop culture stories punctuate many Pagliarulo-hosted programs. “We talk about stupid, off-the-beaten-path stories showing how disconnected and nuts Hollywood can be at times,” he quips.
Strident in his desire of purposefully desiring the spotlight and being on stage is evidently in Pagliarulo’s genes, as he is the great-grandson of vaudevillian-monologist Bob Willis. “What he did in front of an audience is what I do into a microphone. He would go on tour in the vaudeville circuit and make fun of the day’s politicians.”
Even those not politically aligned with Pagliarulo are often able to thoroughly enjoy his program. “The way I feel politically is based on common sense,” asserts the gifted talent appearing at #37 on TALKERS’ “Heavy Hundred” of 2015. “I use logic – not talking points – in what I say. At the end of the day, I want the biggest possible audience and I want listeners to get something from what I am delivering. Caller after caller agreeing with everything you say is bad, boring radio and listeners will shut you off. I cannot do Obama-bashing for three hours – I just do not have it in me.”
Presidential candidates in the 2016 election cycle are unquestionably a diverse, often controversial lot and Texas Senator Ted Cruz, the victor of Monday’s (2/1) GOP Iowa caucus, emerges as contender-of-choice for frequent Newsmax TV guest host-commentator Pagliarulo. “I interviewed him a dozen times before he was elected senator. The Republican establishment and old-school Democrats hate him, but I think he won [his Texas senate seat] because he told the truth. Politicians say what they need to say in order to win, but when they get to Washington, it is a different story.”
Several contenders seeking the Oval Office from both political spectrums are highly polarizing, but none more so than Donald Trump. “The Cruz-Trump thing is very interesting,” Pagliarulo puts forth. “Trump isn’t taking anyone else’s money. Any other candidate would have been scared to death to pull what he has pulled so far – such as skipping a debate. It is attractive to the American people that [Trump] doesn’t have to capitulate to the mainstream party structure. He doesn’t care and will say whatever he wants. People enjoy that they will get the real deal from him. There are no focus groups with him and that is a bit refreshing.”
Long, winding road yields to triumphs
Spare moments are rare for the perennially conscientious Pagliarulo, although the part-time saxophonist has been seen/heard playing the National Anthem at a variety of events around San Antonio, including the NBA western conference finals between the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers. “I remember loving Johnny Cash when I was five years old and singing ‘I Walk the Line’ in front of any relative who would listen,” the self-proclaimed “performer” jokes. “I get great enjoyment out of music and I go to as many Spurs games as I can (only the Golden State Warriors have a better record among the 30 NBA teams than the Spurs). Many of their games though start while I am still on the air, so I generally have to go on weekends. I have a bunch of cars. Generally speaking, I love American-made, General Motors cars – specifically, Chevys.”
Hopeful to continue his hectic professional schedule forever, “Joe Pags,” who turns 50 this coming August, proclaims that he might have “30 other problems, but working hard is not one of them. We work hard six days a week and we are getting it done.”
Relentlessly fine-tuning his weekday and weekend on-air broadcasts, the Palm Beach Community College alum enthuses, “Our show is an alternative to what is out there. From my soul, I truly believe it can play on any radio station in any region of this country.”
Establishing his status as a top-tier talent “did not happen instantly” and Pagliarulo underscores that, “It has not been easy. To do a show that people in San Antonio cannot get enough of [while also resonating] with listeners in Yakima, Washington is an unbelievable professional accomplishment. I do not know of too many other shows that immediately fit into that square as well as mine does. My end-of-the-year goal is to have between 50 – 75 affiliates. I am just trying to grow the show little by little and I am thrilled that I am able to do it.”
Contact TALKERS managing editor Mike Kinosian at Kinosian@TALKERS.com.