And Starring Michael Smerconish, as Himself

Can a man succeed in the rabidly partisan world of talk radio by reaching out to moderates and channeling his inner Larry David? With a new national audience (and a new book), Philly’s most powerful radio personality is putting his ass on the line to find out

"DON’T LOOK SO shocked,” he says as he whips through the door of the West Conshohocken Wawa and spies me standing by a freezer, sipping hot chocolate and, I suspect, appearing catatonic. “It’s not even 4 a.m. yet.”

His eyes are, as they always are, open a tad too wide when he looks at you, which sometimes gives his face a certain Wild Man of Borneo quality. As I watch him zestfully grab a bushel of bananas, a carton of yogurt and the morning’s papers, I’m thinking it should be illegal to be this alert, this cognizant, this caffeinated, at 3:50 in the morning, before the Wawa overnight crew has even finished bathing the floor in its fetid daily coat of ammonia, before he’s even taken a sip from his 16-ounce paper cup of piping black coffee. He’s in a blue cotton oxford and well-worn jeans and work boots, a mustardy houndstooth blazer and a knit wool cap, a look accented by the square-framed glasses that are now his trademark. It all telegraphs a certain age-appropriate hipness, Ashton Kutcher at 47. We push outside into the chilly air, the sky an inky black that won’t brighten for another two hours.

This is el dia daily for Michael Smerconish, a day that begins at 3 a.m. and won’t end until 18 hours later. As we rumble down the Expressway toward the station in his mud-splashed black F-150, I ask him how long it took to get used to this horrific schedule. “Two years,” he says. “When I started this, someone said, ‘Everyone will give you strategies about how to do this. None of them work.’ He was right. The human body is not meant to get up in the middle of the night.”

We walk into the small conference room where The Michael Smerconish Program (note the implied intellectual heft: it’s a “program,” not a “show”) comes together each morning. Scornavacchi, 35, Smerconish’s executive producer since 2004 (they met when she was teaching his kids at the Gladwyne Montessori school), busily clacks away on a computer as the boss sits holding a tiny pair of blue plastic grade-school scissors, cutting out newspaper items for possible discussion topics. The show’s researcher, stocky, sedulous John McDonald, 25, suggests others: A fake baseball memoir. Someone punched McGruff the Crime Dog. Meghan McCain is posting online about her dating life. “I already knew that,” Smerconish says dismissively without looking up, in a curt style that suggests The Devil Wears Lands’ End. He pushes his people hard, of which he is aware. He tosses out requests like machine-gun ammo: for statistics, on-air guests, background, sound bites, bits of music. Balancing Scornavacchi and McDonald is Greg Stocker, Smerconish’s 29-year-old tech producer and regular on-air foil, who with his blond highlights and ubiquitous man-jewelry looks at first blush like some stoner surfer who’s mistakenly wandered in from Oahu. “Michael can be a tremendous, tremendous pain in the ass,” Scornavacchi tells me later. “There is no question about that, and he would not be surprised at me saying that. But he is also very, very fair. And he doesn’t ask any of us to work any harder than he is willing to work.”