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Columns
Michael Patrick Shiels
Michael Patrick Shiels

What Would JP Say About Talk Radio Today?

August 17, 2012

The true “Great Voice of the Great Lakes” J.P. McCarthy passed away 17 years ago this month after a more than 30-year career as the top-rated, most listened to radio personality in Michigan. I miss him. I think we all miss him.

McCarthy was National Radio Personality of the Year four times, won the Marconi Award (radio’s “Oscar”), and was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame. “But hey, was he a conservative or a liberal?”

“Who cares,” I say.

Talk radio, since J.P.’s passing, has turned into a partisan food fight.

While McCarthy was a promoter of the Motor City, the Great Lakes State, and the charities for which he is reported to have raised over $50-million, his radio presentation, when it came to politics, was non-partisan. When I authored the best-selling, fundraising biography “J.P. McCarthy – Just Don’t Tell ‘em Where I Am” in 1998, the cover featured endorsements from both Democratic Mayor Coleman Young and Republican Governor John Engler. Was there ever anything else those two were in agreement on?

Though Democrat Jim Blanchard had once made J.P. “Governor for a Day” it didn’t stop Republican President George H.W. Bush from inviting McCarthy aboard Air Force One for an in-flight interview. And when he interviewed President Jimmy Carter in his Studio D or Peter Jennings at the Moscow Summit, no one could ever guess his personal politics. He was right down the middle, with a sense of respect yet playfulness.

photo At the time of J.P.’s 1995 passing, the Michigan Congressional delegation included the likes of Fred Upton, John Dingell, Dave Camp, Dale Kildee, John Conyers, Sander Levin, and Senator Carl Levin, each of whom are still in office, and each guests on his show, regardless of party. (By the way there have been eight different Detroit Lions coaches and seven different Tiger managers since then.)
J.P. was a reformed smoker, but when Upton talked about the possibility of a nationwide indoor smoking ban, McCarthy reasoned, “I don’t see how you’re going to do that without putting the saloon owners out of business.”

McCarthy was excited by the idea of casinos in Detroit, but he didn’t wince or whine when then Mayor Dennis Archer sat across the microphone and insisted there would be no casinos on his watch.

The November morning after Bill Clinton beat incumbent President George Bush in 1992, Paul W. Smith, then hosting a partisan radio show in Philadelphia, phoned in to J.P.’s show claiming, “I am not going to call Clinton by the title of President. He’s not my President.” McCarthy’s swift and brief response was: “Grow up.” A few years later, by the way, Smith was photographed in the White House all smiles while presenting “President” Clinton with an Ashton Cabinet cigar, which he knew to be Clinton –and reportedly Monica Lewinsky’s—favorite brand.

I was also astonished at the lack of sincerity when I heard partisan radio host Sean Hannity claim that he “saved up” in order to dine occasionally at Ruth Chris Steakhouse (one of Hannity’s sponsors). Does a man earning $20 million a year—a self-proclaimed “Great American”- really expect his listeners to believe that? Are there listeners aboard his “Stop Obama Express” who really trust his political analysis?

Radio right-winger Rush Limbaugh delights in his “ditto heads” ringing into his program. Would any intelligent person really want to communicate only with people who think like them?

Liberal democrats have their radio and TV demigods, too, including Rachel Maddow, Stephanie Miller, and now, former Governor Jennifer Granholm, who has lasted longer on Al Gore’s “Current TV” than Keith Olberman.

Republican or Democrat, I am startled by the mindset of radio listeners who cannot consider—or even tolerate—hearing an opinion other than their own. Has there been any time in history when Americans were so eager to be spoon-fed propaganda?

In terms of diversity, McCarthy knew there was more to “life and living in the Great Lakes area,” (as his Focus Show open pronounced) than politics. Frank Sinatra Jr., Larry King, Dennis Connor, and Ford Motor Company President Red Poling were also on the cover of the book –each representing industries J.P. loved and promoted.

In 1993, at age 25, I became only the third producer in the 30+ year history of the J.P. McCarthy Morning Radio Show in Detroit.

“My boy, I have socks older than you,” J.P would joke to me.

Though he was a wildly successful legend –number one-rated through three decades, McCarthy was very pleasant to work for. I called him “Mr. McCarthy” on my first day on the job. “Call me ‘Joe,’” he immediately insisted.

I was careful to emulate my boss, J.P., as much as I could. I studied his approach to people and topics. I watched the way he made sincere small talk with both captains of industry and the line worker on the next stool at Nemo’s Bar. In Detroit, he was a “touchable Sinatra.” He was intrigued. He asked pointed questions without being pointy-headed.

When we took the show on the road, he made sure we would investigate local culture. We “hoisted one, by God” at watering holes in places as diverse as Tokyo’s Imperial Palace Hotel so we could “drink where MacArthur drank,” or the chic Fouquets, on the Champs-Élysées, so we could “carefully note the Parisian fashion choices.”

He taught me that “you can never go wrong with a blazer,” and that it takes an entire 24-hour period to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

If he wanted Chuck Yeager on the line, he wanted him NOW. Mickey Mantle? No problem. “Might as well get Ted Williams, while you’re at it. Bill Reedy has his number.”

By checking J.P.’s schedule, I knew where all of the important gatherings and events in town were. At those parties, events, charity fundraisers, and media announcements, I met plenty of important people in the business world. People I then also observed, learned from, networked with and, in some cases, befriended. Thanks to J.P., I built a network of successful mentors in almost every field of endeavor. To this day, as I now host my own statewide morning radio and TV show, I continue to benefit from those relationships and still talk to many of his “regulars” on my show: James Blanchard, Frank Kelley, Emmanuel Tanay, Raymond Tanter, Pete Waldmeir, Carol Cain, Brooks Patterson, George Perles, Bill Ballenger, Dale Petroskey, Lary Sorenson, and Michigan’s beloved meteorologist John McMurray come to mind.

Politics is our family business each morning. Republicans, Democrats, conservatives, and liberals are welcome, and yes, even those of us who are middle of the road moderates show up each morning. I am not in the “Golden Tower of the Fisher Building” like J.P. was, but I am right next to the Capitol Dome. Our storefront “AT&T Studio” is in the Grand Traverse Pie Company at Washington and Allegan.

We get our “turkey on the road” weekday mornings on TV in Lansing and on radio stations across Michigan, including the WDTW AM 1310 in Detroit, which, at the start of McCarthy’s era in the city, was the station known as “Keener 13.” For a full list of statewide affiliates, streaming audio, or podcasts, visit www.MiBigShow.com

Author, columnist and syndicated talk show host Michael Patrick Shiels hosts a syndicated morning radio and TV show weekday mornings from the AT&T Studio in Grand Traverse Pie Company in Downtown Lansing. It is is heard on radio stations across Michigan and seen on Fox 47 TV in Lansing. He is a nine-time published author who worked with Detroit radio legends J.P, McCarthy and Dick Purtan. He was honored earlier this year with a Senate Proclamation. See www.MiBigShow.com for a list of radio affiliates.

August 16, 2012 · Filed under Shiels Tags: , , , ,

44 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Chuck Fellows // Aug 17, 2012 at 7:46 am

    Starting every day with JP on a long commute to work made the drive interesting and upbeat. Sharing weather reports from the Atlantic Ocean off BVI was great fun.

    I don’t believe JP would just think, he would act as he did by telling Paul W. Smith to “grow up.” His message from back then is still good counsel today.

  • 2 Jeff Padden // Aug 17, 2012 at 7:54 am

    MPS –
    Terrific column. JP was the best interviewer I ever heard. The second best was Johnny Carson, of all people, for some of the same reasons JP was so great. Both were always genuinely interested in what their guest were saying and they always managed to ask the followup questions that were on my mind. Neither made their own political views a significant part of their interviews. JP managed to unearth new information from interviewees and not let them get by with canned talking points. Thanks for reminding me of the days when I could actually learn something from an interview.

  • 3 Kevin Shopshire // Aug 17, 2012 at 8:23 am

    That is such a load of crap. Michigan has been a Blue state since 1992, and Detroit is one of the most liberal cities in America, yet there is only one station in all of SE Michigan with a liberal talker. That would be the station you are on, WDTW. Of course, you can’t hear it if you are more than 15 miles away and you can’t hear at all at night. That’s in contrast to WJR that you can hear in Ohio, and it has rightwing talk non-stop, with the exception of Mitch Albom, who is also not a liberal. Why are there no liberal voices on the most powerful station in SE Michigan?

    I don’t consider Stephanie Miller a “demigod.” She’s a comedian who happens to be a liberal. She is selling out comedy shows in arenas in cities where she does not even have a station and she has the top selling comedy album. Still, you sent her to a time slot where no one can even hear her. Sorry, but you are not even close to the talent she has.

    Tell you what: when WJR or WXYT adds a liberal voice, or you move to the 10 p.m. time slot I’ll give your show a try.

  • 4 Steve Purdy // Aug 19, 2012 at 2:55 pm

    I, too, admired J.P. McCarty’s approach to talk radio. He could set up the question, ask it and get out of the way better than anyone I’ve ever heard, without interjecting any personal opinions. I was one of his occasional correspondents (from the Cannonball One Lap of America rallies) and as a newcomer to radio he always put me at ease. I later had my own radio show and did my best to emulate his technique. I profoundly appreciate being spared the partisan sniping when listening to talk radio but it’s hard to find anything but that anymore.

  • 5 Frank Walshingham // Aug 24, 2012 at 11:25 am

    JP was the best! I’d rather hear WJR rebroadcast the tapes of JP’s old shows, than I would listen to the daily drivel on the Paul W. Smith show. JP could interview anybody without injecting his own slant in to the process. He never came on the air with the nasty attitude Paul Smith can inject when he doesn’t agree with his guest. JP never put on any phony acts either. I realize there will never be another JP, but I don’t know why WJR does not get a new morning host who at least comes closer to the high standards JP set.

  • 6 Betty Howe // Aug 26, 2012 at 1:27 pm

    How wonderful to remember JP and also those days when WJR was a positive voice in the greater Detroit community. But remember that long before Rush, Sean and Dr. Laura, there was Father Charles Coughlin. WJR and its management in the 20′s & 30′s built both its own reputation and that of the right wing priest from Royal Oak . WJR was Coughlin’s vehicle for raking in contributions from the gulible and for spreading hatred of FDR and anti-Semitism. Coughlin’s links to fascism have been well documented. Looks to me like the station has simply returned to its “roots.”

  • 7 Bill Hamilton // Oct 2, 2012 at 7:46 am

    Good column – WJR used to have great local programming. JP was a great interviewer. Also David Newman, conservative but thoughtful, respectful, and one of the best radio voices ever. But Betty is right, the station has returned to its Father Coughlin root. It’s a disgrace and I’m ashamed that MSU has an affinity with the station.

  • 8 david // Nov 17, 2012 at 3:06 pm

    I have to agree with many of these comments. WJR and many other stations in the vicinity have turned into hate radio. ‘Grow up’ is indeed still the relevant comment.

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