On Radio Row

A peek inside the Talk Radio factory

MANCHESTER, NH - On the second floor of Manchester’s Radisson Hotel, a gaggle of gawkers clogged the blocked-off entrance to the second-floor Frost Room, peering inside, jockeying for views, whispering. “It’s Kucinich!” a woman whispered to her neighbor, who whisper-squealed in response, digging a small camera from her coat pocket. “And…”—another whisper—“wait…I think…yeah, Elizabeth’s with him!”

“Oooh…” came the whisper-reply. “I haven’t seen her yet.”

“Duncan Hunter was here earlier,” a man whispered to the general group.

“I know, I saw him,” whispered another. “I didn’t realize how tall he was. The guy’s huge.”

Beyond the whispers, through the double doors marking off the Frost Room from the rest of the hotel, voices hummed, some barely audible, others making themselves heard in that unmistakably booming way of the Talk Radio Host. The din was loud: about ten hosts, along with their guests, were packed into the Frost Room—which had also, this week, adopted the pseudonym of Radio Row.

We sometimes forget the power of radio, but politicians don’t, and a peek into Radio Row provided a reminder. The hosts’ tables (white-clothed, studded with mics that cocked at contrasting angles) sat in neat lines throughout Frost Room (a standard hotel function space, decorated in standard Function Room Chic). What happened there was like speed dating meets musical chairs. From 5 a.m. to 1 a.m., January 6 through 9, guests moved from table to table, from faded-red-velvet chair to faded-red-velvet chair, making the jovial-but-formal conversation that is the bread and butter of talk radio. More than thirty radio hosts, overall, from around the country (Tom Finneran of Boston’s WRKO, Davey D from LA’s Hip Hop Radio, Jerry Doyle from Talk Radio Network, Jon Elliott of Air America Radio, Laura Ingram, Neal Boortz) interviewed a revolving door of guests: presidential candidates (Giuliani, Romney, Paul); political luminaries (Steve Forbes, Bay Buchanan, Sidney Blumenthal); media celebrities (Alan Colmes); general celebrities (Viggo Mortensen, advocating for Dennis Kucinich); and several other campaign advisers and staffers—making the Frost Room the nexus of the New Hampshire primary’s talk-radio coverage.

I spoke with some of Radio Row’s coordinators around midnight on primary eve, after the hosts, guests, and producers cleared out, and after the controlled chaos the Frost Room had adopted during day had given way to an after-the-party look of happy dishevelment. They were exhausted (“I’ve been here since four yesterday morning,” said Dan Patterson, Talk Radio News’s chief U.N. correspondent) and cold (“All the equipment in the room, and all those people, makes it really hot in there,” explained Lovisa Frost, Talk Radio’s news director—“but when they leave, it’s freezing”).

But they seemed to have some fun in there. Before Radio Row closed shop earlier today, Patterson told me, (liberal host) Ed Schultz interviewed (conservative host) Laura Ingram on his show. Afterward, the two posed for pictures together.

“And they actually seemed to get along,” he said.

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Megan Garber is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. She was formerly a CJR staff writer.