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

If there’s one thing no one — right, left or center — can question about Michael Smerconish, it’s his work ethic. Each day he does two shows of three hours each; the time before, between and after is spent researching, taping interviews for future shows, making thrice-weekly appearances as a talking head on MSNBC, writing columns for the Inquirer and Daily News, and being a suburban dad. Somewhere in there, he managed to pen his fourth book, the just-published Morning Drive: Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Talking, a combo 10-point political “Suburban Manifesto” and chatty stroll through his radio career. “I don’t know how he keeps up his schedule,” admits his wife, Lavinia. “It’s awful.”

Of course, a sizeable ego helps. In his defense, this is somewhat of a prerequisite to do what Michael Smerconish does: How do you spend hours on the radio every day spouting your opinions if you don’t think your opinions matter? Still, it can sometimes overwhelm his show. He’ll indulgently play entire songs from the oeuvre of some obscure ’70s rock band he worships; more recently, he’s been relentlessly shilling for Morning Drive. (Touting a one-night appearance in a Collingswood auditorium to hawk the book, he had the set designer on to break down every piece of decor. Twice. In the same show.) “Absolutely he has a big ego,” says Sil Scaglione, who as general manager at WPHT worked with Smerconish. “You want him to have a big ego. That’s what makes him appealing. People want to hear his big personality. If you don’t have a big ego — and I mean this in a healthy way — there’s no place for you in talk radio.”

But does that mean there’s automatically a place for Michael Smerconish? He is seizing what might be termed the Obama Moment, as the nation copes with messy times while still clinging to the hope and change the election promised. Smerconish doesn’t want just to be a part of the Moment; he wants, it seems, to lead it. “I think 90 percent of television is passion and spontaneity,” says Chris Matthews, who sees Smerconish as embodying both. Smerconish is a frequent contributor to the cacophonous parrying that is Matthews’s Hardball. “Finding a point of view isn’t hard, but finding a developed point of view is — someone who has put thought into it, enriched it. And that’s what he does: He enriches his ideas, he thinks about them. That’s what separates the talker from the thinker-talker.” Matthews sees Smerconish as part of an emerging coalition of reason within the Republican Party, along with Susan Eisenhower and Christopher Buckley, two high-profile party loyalists with royal GOP bloodlines who also defected to back Obama.

Smerconish’s bloodline, while not quite as Tiffany, boasts parents with sparkling Bucks County GOP bona fides, and he lived an apple-pie, bike-rides-after-school childhood in Doylestown. Even at an early age he showed the force of will that now defines him. In his mid-teens, Smerconish begged a pal whose dad ran a pool business to let him tag along to deliver chlorine to Larry Kane, at that time Philly’s most popular TV news anchor; at the house, Smerconish snowed the maid into believing Kane had to sign for the delivery himself. As a sleepy Kane staggered to the door, Smerconish introduced himself and took a commemorative photo. Kane later helped Smerconish break into radio.