10 Questions with ... Lisa Wexler
January 11, 2011
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
Practiced law in NY and CT for over 20 years. Decided life was short and I needed to enjoy myself and passionately express my views. Talk radio was the perfect fit. I went back to the Connecticut School of Broadcasting while continuing to practice law.
My show began as a Saturday morning 60-minute slot, and grew from there. For a year, I did a show on WYBC in New Haven as well. After two years, I moved to five days a week, then drive-time for a two hour show. This week I celebrated my first anniversary broadcasting from 4-6 PM daily.
In April of 2010, Penguin/Dutton published my first book, Secrets of a Jewish Mother, which I co-wrote with my sister Jill Zarin (one of the Real Housewives of NYC) and my mother Gloria Kamen. I also won a Gracie Award in 2010 for my interview with Gloria Steinem, and Gold Coast Best Radio Personality for 2009 and 2010.
My mission is to speak for the voiceless, including children and animals. My passion is to bring to the audience information they do not typically find elsewhere, with a point of view. I try not to take myself too seriously.
I found what I was born to do. I adore talk radio and I love connecting with the audience.
1. You're an attorney, an author (with your sister and mom), and active in your community, and you ultimately added the title of talk show host to your accomplishments. What led you to move back into the radio business for the first time since college? Why radio?
I had to get on the radio! I was so busy yelling at the airwaves during my many chauffeuring duties as a suburban mom. I even got to the point where I was drafting the occasional letter to a programming director reminding them that there was another point of view out here in the hinterlands.
I was so miserable practicing law. Every day when I woke up, my job was to solve other people's problems that they had created for themselves. What a waste of my sands of time. Really, couldn't they solve their own problems? So I turned to my husband while on vacation in Tahiti (hey, if you have to have a midlife crisis somewhere, it might as well be on a motu), and apparently my whining must have finally penetrated. Bill agreed that he would help support my adventure as I began to curtail my law practice and make room for radio. Poor thing, he has regretted that promise so many times now, but I won't let him out of it.
2. Your show isn't a typical all-politics show, but covers a range of topics; how would you describe what you're doing on your show? Who would you say is the target audience, and what kind of topics appeal to them?
I had a vision to create a show that would be political, but ignore all labels. I had been a Democrat, Republican, Independent, everything -- and now no longer cared about affiliations. In fact, I felt that the labels obfuscated dialogue, rather than clarified it for people. Moreover, I wanted my show to be about respecting the listener, rather than condescending to him or her. Civility, respect, passionate opinions, and knowledgeable guests would be the themes. Think of my show as a cross between NPR with a sense of humor, and talk radio with a healthy dose of respect for the other point of view.
My target audience is the curious person who listens to the radio to learn as well as be entertained. All ages are welcome. I find that the most popular topics are related to health (I frequently interview the top physicians in the country), science, and law. I do something on the air called "You be the Judge," which I created. The audience loves the interaction and it gives me a chance to flex my law muscles. My emails and on-air telephone calls tend to be split evently between female and male, but I understand my station has a slightly higher female to male demographic. I really get what women are thinking about.
3. Your sister (and co-author) Jill Zarin is one of the "Real Housewives of New York City." What's been your reaction to your sister becoming a reality TV star? Pride, jealousy, confusion? What's it been like?
I would say that the first two seasons "rocked my world" because I really was confused about the sudden rise to stardom. The Housewives is not the kind of program I would typically choose to watch and I did not understand the appeal. On the other hand, I only have one sister, and she has always wanted to be famous. I am extremely happy that she is getting to live her dream. When her show first began filming, I plugged it like crazy on my show and we did a great segment with me interviewing Jill on my radio show, from my home. Do you know that was Jill's first ever formal interview? She is now a real pro, but it's fun to see that the first interview was on celluloid and keeps being re-run.
I am very proud of Jill and all that she does. We support each other unconditionally and she has been enormously helpful to my career. We could not have written our book without her celebrity. The book tour has in turn introduced my show to a national audience. We have engagements to appear in Chicago, Las Vegas, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Charlotte, through May.
I am very blessed.
4. You're not easily politically pegged. How would you describe your political position, and have you perceived that not being easily labeled is a hindrance or not in the way you've been received in the radio business?
Thank you for noticing! You must have heard my show!
I'm not sure why so many people need to pigeonhole other people into categories- does everyone in the business assume people are too lazy to think? Most real people fall somewhere on the spectrum between liberal and conservative. They throw up their hands every fall and cast their ballot for the "lesser of two evils," not because they love their political party. Yes, my unwillingness to label myself as a conservative or liberal has hurt me. In fact, I know certain TV producers who refuse to ask me to sit on panels because of this. But I can't lie and pretend to align myself with a political platform. I am very opinionated on particular issues but I take them as I see them. Obamacare? A disaster, from start to finish. I believe it is unconstitutional and I hope it is repealed. Reproductive rights? Keep the politicians out of the doctor's offices and trust women to make the right decisions for themselves. The Iraq War? Don't get me started...
Character matters more than issues, because in the real world, issues are seldom black and white. The way a person thinks and the moral compass he or she adheres to are the guides that can help us determine how that person will react to the next crisis or round of decision-making. In my interviews, I try and discern character traits and patterns of thought -- is the person dogmatic or flexible? Can I make him laugh? A sense of humor is essential.
My personal belief systems adhere to what I know about constitutional law, common sense pragmatism, and a firm belief in the fundamental freedoms of speech, the press, privacy and human dignity. I believe that economic prosperity without fundamental freedoms is an illusion that will eventually topple (see: China) and that self-reliance is a fundamental aspect of that dignity. However, I also believe that some problems can only be solved together, like environmental pollution and bridge and tunnel-building. I also believe in a safety net for those who cannot work.
Incidentally, I won the American Jurisprudence Award for Constitutional Law at NYU School of Law a thousand years ago. Of course, most of those cases are no longer good law. As I said, you don't want to get me started...
5. Who's been the best guest/interview you've had so far?
Gloria Steinem was fascinating. I challenged her on the negative connotation that I perceive has become attached to the word "feminism." She would have none of that.
I loved interviewing the late, great Theodore Sorensen. That was a true privilege.
Great people have walked into my life when they walked into the studio. Vicki and Fred Modell were strangers when I first interviewed them about their foundation, the Jeffrey Modell Foundation for Primary Immunodeficiency Research. Now Bill and I are proud to sit on their Board. One day they will win the Congressional Medals of Honor for the work they have accomplished, which has directly led to newborn screening and a cure for SCID, the most severe type of this illness.
6. Of what are you most proud?
I am most proud that more people are listening every day. Their listening has turned into questioning, and questioning makes us all better citizens.
7. Who do you consider your mentors and inspirations in radio and in life?
In radio, my personal mentor is Spencer Brown. He is my "radio rabbi" because God put him there. You need to read that story in my book. Bob Bayne was my first coach and I am so grateful to him. Whenever I was insecure, he would tell me to go on air and "just be Lisa." Those words gave me so much confidence; I still replay them in my head.
On the radio, my favorite talk radio host is Michael Savage. I find him funny and compelling. Even though he is inflammatory , he doesn't lie. I can't say the same about some of the others. Another inspiration is the late, great Paul Harvey, for longevity alone! I love "the rest of the story" -- I do that myself.
8. What do you do for fun?
Other than my dream job? I watch Turner Classic Movies. I do crossword puzzles and sudoku. I play a very mean game of Boggle, usually with my daughter. My most fun thing to do is take Sugar on a leash and walk with my hubby or a friend. I pretend that I like aerobics.
I used to love to travel. My first job was for TWA- those over a certain age will still remember that wonderful company. Now I dread the airports- what a shame. But I still love Italy. How can you not love Italy?
9. Fill in the blank: I can't make it through the day without _________________.
...reading the newspaper.
10. What's the best advice you've ever gotten? The worst?
Best advice? Early in my career, a retired radio guy told me to go to the conventions. I thought that was crazy. They were always far away from me, and I had to foot the bill myself. But that turned out to be the best advice. I met so many people there, who in turn introduced me to other people. Everyone in radio has been nice (to my face, at least) and now that I have been on air four years, I find lots of familiar faces. It is not an immediate payoff, but I know that going to the conventions is a good long-term investment in your career.
The worst? Hopefully I didn't take it! I guess for me the worst advice is when people tell me to be something I am not. I can't do it. Number one, I don't want to. Because this is my second career, and because I truly feel that I finally found what I am naturally good at, I am in a big hurry to get wherever "there" is, but I will not make compromises that defeat the original intention of why I wanted to be on the radio. Number two, I am constitutionally unable to be a phony. What you see is what you get -- except with better teeth. The new version should be out in spring of 2011.
Wednesday, Jun 19th