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Inside Ed's head: Dems and the radio

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Editor's note: This story war originally published on Feb. 19, 2006

Fargo might soon lose its only local presence in the national media.

Ed Schultz, who has been on television, radio or both in Fargo since the early 1980s, evolving from sportscaster to political commentator, is thinking about moving the home base for his nationally syndicated liberal talk show.

He says he's been talking about the potential move with station managers in some of the top markets where he's doing well, like WINZ in Miami and KPTK in Seattle.

Two main reasons Schultz may split: First, he wants to have better access to a satellite uplink so he can raise his profile by appearing on the talking-head circuit more often. He hopes the TV spots will boost the radio show. He also wants to move out of the studio he rents from KFGO, the station that dropped him in late January. He found out his work with the Fargo-based station was over on a 6 o'clock KVLY-TV broadcast.

"It was classless," Schultz said from his studio in early February. "I don't deserve to be treated like that after making them millions of dollars."

The following is an edited version of our sit-down interview with the fiery redhead.

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Q: How's the work on finding other studio space going?

A: We've got offers from a number of markets to move the show. Denver would like us. Miami would really like us. Seattle is very interested.

So you're considering putting down roots in another city?

It's a possibility. One of the things that has really hurt our growth in the last year is I've turned down about 50 appearances on Fox, on NBC, on all these talking-head shows because I can't get uplink capability in town. I didn't have a working relationship with WDAY (Channel 6). Channel 4 and Channel 11 are in the same building, so they've got limited capability. They can't drop everything for Ed Schultz. FOX doesn't have an uplink. At Prairie Public, everybody goes home at 5 o'clock, and most of these shows are on in the evening. The visibility, the brand of 'The Ed Schultz Show' has been somewhat limited being in Fargo.

Is it cost-prohibitive for you to set up your own facility?

Yes. We figured it would cost in the neighborhood of a quarter million to do it properly. We're just not in a position to do that.

What are some of the reasons to not move the show?

I've got an awfully nice lake home in Detroit Lakes. I'd like to live in it. But I'm connected to this area. ... Our kids are here, most of them anyway. I love to hunt and fish. I don't like being stuck in traffic. I mean, Fargo-Moorhead has been great to Ed.

When do you think you'll make a decision about this?

It could be several months.

So basically, you're saying you may have outgrown Fargo.

We may have outgrown Fargo, but I don't want to come off brash by saying that. I know how that will look in print: "Big-headed Eddie." That's not the case. The logistic issues of it, we may have outgrown Fargo.

Given that Schultz has one of the few Democratic radio shows with a national reach, he's got the pull to get interviews with party heavyweights on a regular basis.

For example, during the Senate hearings to confirm Samuel Alito as a Supreme Court justice, Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, called into the show during a short recess.

Schultz can knock off a quick list of Democrats he thinks use radio well. Among them are Durbin, North Dakota's two senators, California Sen. Barbara Boxer and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. He admits, however, that many Democrats don't embrace radio to reach average Americans.

Which national Democrats aren't getting it, aren't talking to America the way you think they ought to be?

I think (New York Sen.) Charles Schumer does not view radio as a vital tool. I think John Kerry had some horrible advice during his campaign, and I think he's done a 180 since the election. If John Kerry had used radio, I think he would have won. But he didn't use it. ... I think (Delaware Sen. Joe) Biden doesn't get it, because he's kind of a TV hog. I think (Sen. Diane) Feinstein has no clue about audio, from California. (Former North Carolina Sen.) John Edwards is incredibly difficult. I never understood John Edwards. To this day I don't understand how aloof he is.

When you say someone doesn't get it, do you mean they're not using the right language?

It's not so much not using the right language as it is not accessing the radio. ... When Dick Cheney comes to Fargo, N.D., he's on local radio.

You're saying they won't use radio as a tool?

There are two issues. Number one, they don't have the vehicle because there are not that many lefty talkers in America. Number two, they don't understand the effectiveness of repetitive messaging. They don't understand how audio that is played over and over and over again is like a commercial.

What do you mean by repetitive messaging?

Tax cuts. Just say it over and over. What are the Republicans about? Tax cuts. What's wrong with John Kerry? Massachusetts liberal. Tort reform. Private accounts. They get it down to the two-word culture. Democrats can't do that. For some reason, they just can't. Take the sound bite and play it over again.

Why is repetitive messaging so powerful?

If you hear something over and over, you tend to believe it whether it's the truth or not.

Schultz is quick to point out that he is on the air in nine of the top 10 media markets (only New York City holds out) and 23 of the top 25, as he's not broadcast in Philadelphia.

He's got about 100 stations now, a little more than two years after he started the show. For some perspective, that's about one-sixth the number that carry the conservative Rush Limbaugh.

Talkers Magazine said last fall that based on the spring 2005 ratings, Limbaugh had about 14 million listeners. Schultz had just short of 2 million, enough to rank 23rd on a list of America's most popular talk show hosts.

Schultz doesn't believe the longtime lack of liberal talk show hosts on the radio dial is a coincidence.

"Ninety percent of the media in this country is owned by five conservative companies," he said. "No one is mandating you carry my show. I'm winning one market at a time."

Schultz said he believes his show's liberal politics may be part of the reason KFGO was dropped. He said Jeff Hoberg - the market manager for KFGO and the rest of Clear Channel's Fargo stations - recently told him, program manager Vern Thompson and Stuart Krane, one of the show's owners, that the program was too liberal.

"I'd like to think it didn't, but it sure looks like it did," Schultz said when asked if politics played a role in KFGO's move.

Hoberg said Clear Channel has a policy of not commenting on personnel moves. He declined to discuss Schultz's claims.

"Our stance has always been that we don't go tit for tat," Hoberg said. "It's 'he said' and 'she said,' and quite frankly, Ed knows all the reasons we chose to replace his national show."

At the time the Schultz show was dropped, Hoberg said the political content of the show had nothing to do with the decision.

Hoberg said then the station wanted to make a push for more local programming.

Why do you think liberal talk show hosts have had such a hard go of it?

Schultz: I just think they tried the wrong people. You've got to be a radio person. I think it's not a question of your politics. It's a question of the quality of your show.

I think some folks who knew you when you had a radio show that was far more conservative wonder, 'Ed, are you really liberal? What you say on the radio, do you really believe it?'

I don't think you roll out of bed one day and say, 'Hey, I'm a lefty.' It was a series of grassroots experiences that I had that brought me to where I am today. ... Finally one day I said, 'You know what? I'm a Dem. I'm a Democrat. And I'm proud to be a Democrat.' I don't think it's any one thing. It was a transition over probably a two, two-and-a-half-year period.

Have you given any thought to running for political office?

I have a commitment to my partners, and I have a commitment to the employees of 'The Ed Schultz Show.' I don't foresee a political run anywhere in the near future.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535

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