Price Is Right as Jones Takes to Talk Radio

Times Staff Writer

Somewhere out there in the morning flow of freeway metal, the voters are listening. Maybe they have slowed to a crawl on California 163 coming in from Poway, or are stuck dead on Interstate 5 as it curls under Lindbergh Field’s flight path at the edge of downtown.

Bill Jones figures they have nothing else to do, so he’s talking to them on this Tuesday morning from the glass-walled studio of KFMB-AM (760) near the busy runways of Miramar Marine Corps Air Station.

“The governor needs to have a partner; we need to finish the job we started last year,” Jones said, casting his campaign to unseat Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer as part of a Republican revolution in California, but sounding like a pitchman in the process. “If you’re interested in helping us, make a contribution; help walk precincts. Please come join us.”


Jones has found his welcome here within the echoing reach of talk radio, getting a favorable judgment from a jury of peers on host Rick Roberts’ self-styled “court of public opinion.”

They include listeners like Shawn, a 33-year-old firefighter on hold on his cellphone in his SUV while Roberts stokes the conservative embers of Jones’ campaign.

“How dangerous is Barbara Boxer to the state of California?” Roberts asks, a loaded question that dangles like a pinata.

But Jones doesn’t swing at it. Instead, he offers a measured comment that in the 12 years Boxer has been in the Senate, California’s share of federal funds has dropped from 93 cents on the tax dollar to 76 cents. “We’re getting double taxed,” Jones says.

Shawn agrees. “You’re supposed to represent California in the Senate,” he says later, “and if our economy is hurting, you should be fighting to get us, your state, as much money as possible.”

Jones hasn’t caught many breaks in his race against Boxer. His fundraising has been anemic -- Boxer has spent more just on ads than Jones has raised. His biggest gun stayed in the holster as Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger offered Jones little more than a perfunctory kiss on the forehead -- a closed-door fundraiser that Schwarzenegger ultimately missed. And with a week to go before election day, the polls are entering the embarrassing range.


Jones’ 20 minutes of radio fame here Tuesday won’t do much to cut Boxer’s lead in the polls, because the audience doesn’t include many listeners who aren’t already sympathetic to him. But his campaign is gambling that appearances like these will marshal the turnout that Jones hopes will get him within striking distance on Tuesday.

“Talk radio, particularly for Republicans, has a multiplier effect,” said Sean Walsh, a Jones strategist. “If you get the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval from an individual host, you get a positive reception from those listeners. It’s particularly helpful for Republican candidates because it allows for conservative Democrats and moderate Democrats to be reached as well.”

And the price is right, especially for Jones’ cash-strapped campaign.

“It’s free,” said Tom Hollihan, associate dean of USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and author of “Uncivil Wars: Political Campaigns in a Media Age.” But Hollihan doubts talk radio will help Jones much.

“TV ads are going to reach undecided voters, and talk radio is going to reach the political base,” he said.

Boxer, who has spent more than $7 million on TV and radio ads, has done some radio. She’s been interviewed by Michael Jackson on Los Angeles’ KNX-AM (1070), and on Monday was a guest on “The Forum” at KQED-FM (88.5) in San Francisco, programs that focus more on public affairs than political agitation. Jones has also appeared on such programs, usually on public radio stations.

But Boxer has conceded the conservative shows to Jones.

Jones has an easy demeanor on these shows, speaking in a tone of emphatic common sense. It’s the kind of delivery that plays well with Roberts’ listeners in San Diego. Jones has made similar appearances with talk-show host Brian Sussman on San Francisco’s KSFO-AM (560) and, covering the Central Valley from Fresno, Ray Appleton on KMJ-AM (580).


Big audiences, these, who find fresh points of outrage every day they tune in. Sen. John F. Kerry infuriates them. Boxer, too. And don’t get them started on Michael Moore. But their passions don’t balance out. Shawn, who declined to give his last name but said he’s “so conservative I make Ronald Reagan look like a moderate,” will be voting against Boxer more than he’ll be voting for Jones.

“I would vote for Gray Davis instead of her,” he said. “She has lost touch with reality as it affects the people of California.”

In other ways, too, Tuesday’s radio appearance was not all that Jones might have hoped. Midway through it, “The Rick Roberts Show” took a commercial break. One of the ads -- for Assembly member Shirley Horton (R-Chula Vista) -- featured Schwarzenegger’s voice of endorsement. The governor has not made similar ads for Jones.

And coming out of the break, Roberts’ producer C.J. Wheeler excitedly announced over the air that Roberts would introduce the governor that night at a fundraiser that had just been scheduled.

Jones sat silently in the studio, a slight smile on his face, as Wheeler listed the names of Republican candidates who would be sharing the spotlight with Schwarzenegger.

He was not on the list.