Michael Reagan is back on Los Angeles radio. At 54, after more than a decadeon air in Southern California--the last half of it spent bouncing in and out of local stations and time slots--Reagan is enjoying his new home in the coveted afternoon drive, from 4 to 7, on KIEV-AM (870).
All the moving had been frustrating for the son of former President Ronald Reagan, a hometown guy, who found himself explaining his professional migration in places like church.
"I'm now in my eighth year of syndication," Reagan said this week from his Sherman Oaks home, "[yet] people would always come to me in church and say, 'You still doing radio?' And I go, 'Yeah, I'm still doing radio.'
"Now people don't have to ask me if I have a job. They can actually tune in every day."
With about 200 stations and more than a million listeners nationally, "The Michael Reagan Show" has since 1996 been syndicated from 3 to 7 p.m. by powerhouse Premiere Radio Networks in Sherman Oaks, which also distributes Rush Limbaugh, Dr. Laura Schlessinger and Art Bell.
Over the last several years, Reagan has expanded from a focus on political themes to include social issues. Recently, he took on the new promotion guidelines of the Los Angeles Unified School District, which provide that only students who fail English will be held back. "Parents have to get mad," he said and added, borrowing from the movie "Network": "They're going to have to say, 'I'm mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.' "
Since Nov. 15, when KIEV put Reagan's show into the afternoon slot, he has drawn heavy listener response, according to Jason Jeffries, program director. Though it's too soon to gauge a ratings impact, Jeffries said, "the e-mails have been incredible." Reagan had been out of KIEV's lineup only a few months. The show was bumped from the 8 p.m. to midnight slot to make way for infomercial programming in September, but Reagan was brought back "by popular demand," Jeffries said.
Though KIEV at last count ranks 33rd in the Los Angeles market with an audience share of 0.6%--or about 10,000 listeners on average per quarter hour--it is an identifiable outlet with a long history of conservative talk, featuring George Putnam (noon to 2 p.m.) and Michael Medved, who precedes Reagan.
Altogether, it's a good fit for Reagan, who formally left the GOP a few years ago and now defines himself as simply a conservative independent. In his 1997 book, "The City on the Hill," he blamed "Rockefeller Republicans [and] the moderate-to-liberal Republicans like George Bush and Bob Dole" for abandoning his father's legacy and losing the White House. These days, Reagan deems Texas Gov. George W. Bush to be more conservative than the senior Bush, but he's a long way from handing out endorsements.
What sets Reagan's caller-heavy show apart is familial intimacy. Usually it's listeners who mention Ronald Reagan, though Reagan occasionally makes reference to his father's political legacy. "People bring him up all the time. . . . You'll hear Rawhide [his Secret Service name]. But when I talk about my father, it's in relationship to his policies."
He also mentions his mother, actress Jane Wyman. And, he's one of the few hosts whom you'll hear apologize.
"I was too cranky [yesterday]," he said Tuesday. "I was a little nasty with [some] callers. So if I hurt anybody. . . ." He said he went home and read Psalms and Proverbs.
Reagan harbored notions of going into talk radio long before he got his first full-time gig in 1989 at an AM station in San Diego. It was 1983 and a chance meeting with George Green, then general manager at KABC, led to Reagan's occasionally filling in for Michael Jackson. Reagan's first foray in the Los Angeles market with his own show came with a short run in 1996 on the old KMPC.
Being the president's son gave Reagan name recognition and conversational grist, but that was about it. When his show was syndicated in 1992, his studio was in a basement in San Diego filled with mattresses to muffle sound and required a daily commute of 262 miles--or moving. He chose to drive.
A few years later, when he phoned the Des Moines station where his father made a name for himself as a sportscaster in the 1930s, Reagan got the standard line: "Call us back in a year and let us know your ratings." It took him three years to close a deal there.
On one of his commutes, feeling quite sorry for himself, Reagan phoned Wyman. " 'Mom, this is getting tough. There's no money coming in.' And she says, 'So shut up and keep driving. Everybody has to pay their dues.' "
Reagan, still grateful for that advice, remembers telling her: " 'Thanks, Mom, I needed that.' "