Review: Dick Morris’ Philly Talk Radio Debut

Remember when CBS Radio put David Lee Roth on the air?

Local radio station WPHT, for mysterious reasons, has handed its afternoon drive-time radio show over to a man who’s never hosted a radio show, has no ties to Philadelphia save for a few long-ago political consultancy gigs, and whose credibility—for a myriad of reasons—is at an all-time low.

Dick Morris, whose job titles over the years have included political strategist, pollster, columnist, author, White House aide and political commentator—but never radio host—took over Monday as 1210’s new afternoon host, for a Monday-Friday, four-hour show co-hosted by longtime WPHT hand Gary R’nel.

Morris, who replaces Michael Smerconish, who left for Sirius XM, will come into town for the show “a couple of days per week,” a CBS Radio vice president told the Washington Post. He also told Dom Giordano Monday that he plans to do daily theme shows, with every Friday known as “Hillary Day.” (Though for Morris, since some time in the mid-’90s, every day is Hillary Day.)

I listened to the entire first show on Monday, and while I admit I was skeptical about his chances at success before I listened, after the first day, I’m even more skeptical. And that was before Morris leapt to the conclusion, minutes after the Boston Marathon bombing, that Obama policy must be to blame.

For its first hour, the show was pretty clearly trying to position Morris not so much as a brash conservative crusader in the Limbaugh or Hannity mold, but rather as a seen-it-all political insider and raconteur. Morris told a lot of stories about his days in the Clinton White House and advising candidates abroad, but not so much about his media career. The show didn’t spend much time on anything local or topical—not even the Kermit Gosnell trial, a local story that’s as much in the conservative talk radio sweet spot as anything I can imagine.

There was no attempt at any type of social media synergy and no mention of a Facebook or Twitter page. Indeed, a Twitter search found that only a very small handful of people were talking about the show on the social network.

Morris took a few calls; nearly every caller wanted to talk about guns, immigration or both. (Morris, in the unlikely event that any candidate ever takes his advice again, appears to favor a more moderate approach to both.) In a segment about Obama’s allegedly profligate personal spending, Morris repeated the statistic, multiple times, that the Obama White House has an annual perk budget of $13.1 million—a stat for which no sourcing was provided, and none can be found online anywhere.

For a news and political talk show in Philadelphia, the first guest, naturally, was … Fran Tarkenton, the NFL Hall of Famer who retired in 1978 and has nothing to do with Philly or the Eagles (he was a Minnesota Viking and New York Giant.) Tarkenton’s interview was the usual “in football as in life … ” business spiel that Tarkenton has likely been giving in corporate speaking engagements for the last 30 years, although he did note that Michael Vick is “not the solution” at quarterback for the Eagles.

The tone of Morris’ show changed abruptly—and much for the worse—about an hour into the broadcast, when news broke of the Boston Marathon explosions. Now, I don’t envy anyone having to cover a fast-breaking news story, especially one this horrific, much less on their first day hosting a new show. But Morris didn’t crown himself in glory, repeatedly and tastelessly tying the attacks to Obama Administration policies, minutes after the bombs went off and long before any concrete facts were known.

Almost immediately, Morris uttered the particularly false and malicious statement that “we can expect more and more of this” because “we are dismantling the security apparatus,” through such policies as the end of the enhanced interrogation program. That dismantling, apparently, failed to prevent the decline of al-Qaeda or the death of Osama Bin Laden, and even if a “lack of torture” somehow turns out to be directly responsible for Boston, it was way too early to say so at 3:15 on Monday.

Probably the nicest thing Morris had to say was that “I’m not blaming Obama, yet.” Though, for good measure, Morris repeated the bald-faced lie that the president had refused to refer to the Benghazi attack as terrorism.

It’s important in radio to know what you’re doing, and that’s a skill that comes with experience. I may listen to the shows hosted on the same station by Giordano and my Chris Stigall through gritted teeth, but they’ve both been doing this for a long time and it shows. They’re pros who are naturals on the air. A couple of local media big names—Buzz Bissinger and Larry Mendte—recently tried their hand at talk radio, and both were gone within a year. Morris’ problem is that and much more—he just plain has no business hosting a local radio show in Philadelphia.

Morris’ show reminded me a bit of the post-Howard Stern period when CBS Radio gave a talk show, on several East Coast stations including Philly’s WYSP, to David Lee Roth. The idea was that a guy who’s been around rock ‘n’ roll for decades would have an endless supply of stories to tell on the show. But Roth was clearly a rock frontman and not a radio host, he ran out of stories early on, was unnatural and uneasy on the air, and he too was off the air within a few months. It’s hard to imagine Morris’ show not meeting a similar fate.