Sunday, July 11, 2010

Morning Glory, Evening Grace: A Decade of The Hugh Hewitt Radio Show

Ten years ago this week, the Hugh Hewitt show was launched over the greater Los Angeles airwaves and I was in the audience. Although it was immediately apparent that Hewitt is an accomplished and exceedingly smart man, it was not as clear on July 10, 2000 that I was listening to what would become the second most important talk radio show of the modern era and arguably the most influential platform for new media in its formative years of the new millennium.

In July 2000, the call sign for 870 AM was KIEV, a lesser light in the southern California market made notorious by local firebrand George Putnam. The addition of Hewitt was a critical first step toward building a stable of talent worthy to challenge KFI, the LA home of Rush Limbaugh, and KABC, which carries the Sean Hannity show. Within six months, KIEV would be rebranded as KRLA 870AM, formerly the call letters of a seminal, beloved rock station in the 1960s and 1970s.

Both of his aforementioned competitors, Limbaugh and Hannity, honor Hewitt's contributions to political discourse. Limbaugh has cited Hewitt's work on several occasions and Hannity invites him to appear on his TV show frequently. Like Hannity, the Hewitt radio show follows the familiar format featuring more interaction with guests than with callers. What distinguishes Hugh's show is the caliber of the guests and the conversation. Hewitt honed his interview skills as an attorney, law professor and TV co-host on the weeknightly Life & Times, a public affairs series on the Los Angeles PBS channel. His style is tenacious and erudite but never disrespectful or condescending.

As William F. Buckley did with his groundbreaking National Review magazine and Firing Line TV show, Hugh Hewitt has been a generous advocate of the new media of his day, sharing his microphone with writers and thinkers who populate the blogosphere's center-right, his preferred terminology to describe conservatism's place in the political spectrum. Many bloggers who once toiled in pajama-clad obscurity are dressing a lot more nattily after regular promotion on the Hugh Hewitt show.

Professor Hewitt was kind enough to read one of my silly posts aloud on his radio show during the 2004 presidential campaign, which earned my eternal gratitude if not my blind allegiance. I disagreed strongly with Hugh when he aspired to be a kingmaker for Mitt Romney in 2007-2008 and stubbornly defended President Bush's nomination of Harriet Miers far beyond the call of party loyalty. But here I am, ten years later, still keeping my boom box close when Limbaugh and Hewitt come on during my workday.

Last week Glenn Beck was added to the KRLA schedule in the morning time slot formerly reserved for Mike Gallagher, who now begins his delayed broadcast during what was Hugh's third afternoon hour. Hour three of the Hewitt show airs locally at 11:00pm,  far too late even by SoCal standards to attract many listeners. Granted, that third hour of the Hewitt show is a replay of the first hour whenever Hugh has a public or TV appearance or other outside commitment, but I think this is piss poor programming that may well backfire when listeners like me switch stations at the conclusion of Hewitt's second hour. Gallagher, who may be a fine fellow, cannot hold my interest and strikes me as a Limbaugh wannabe instead of a thought-provoking original like Hugh.

Since Beck's arrival began to be heralded ad nauseam on KRLA, Hugh seems more passionate and engaged in his radio show than ever. I hope this change was consensual and redounds to Hugh's benefit. In my opinion, two consecutive hours of Hugh Hewitt are more illuminating than three hours of any other radio talker except Rush Limbaugh.

Congratulations to Hugh Hewitt and his esteemed producer, Generalissimo Duane Patterson, as they embark on another decade of broadcast excellence!

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