NEW HAMPSHIRE — Rich Girard, former Manchester alderman, is the host of Girard at Large, a Manchester-based current events talk show that broadcasts every weekday on 1250 AM. Tonight—primary night—Girard is hosting a fifteen-hour broadcast that’s simulcast on Manchester Public Television. Around five o’clock, when I duck into the MPT’s fourth-floor studio off of Elm Street, the city’s main drag, Girard is feeling the strain of an already-long day. Alongside three panelists and an assortment of special guests, Girard is talking election returns, with a local focus. “This hour is sponsored by the Manchester City Republican Committee,” Girard says. “Go to manchestercityrepublicancommittee dot com. I’ve been getting it wrong all day, saying dot org.”
“I think it’s supposed to be dot org,” says one panelist.
“Well,” says Girard, “we’ll find out.”
The simulcast is a low-budget affair. The studio is one big open room with the set in one corner, the board operator/technical director/phone answerer in another, and the cameras in the middle. People walk in and out of the studio at random (like me!). There is plenty of off-camera talking, and I suspect that listeners can hear it at home. Girard and his tables sit at a pair of desks set at a ninety-degree angle. Whenever a new guest arrives, one of the existing panelists has to give up his seat in order to make room.
Nevertheless, the resource limitations don’t prevent Girard and his guests from talking seriously about primary politics and the issues at stake. “There’s nothing better to my mind than a substantive… substantial?” Girard fumbles for the right word. Joe, the board operator, chimes in: “Substantive.”
“Substantive,” repeats Girard. “Well, I only got up at 3:30 this morning. A substantive discussion on the issues.”
They’re doing their best, and they’re keeping things fresh. New guests show up every twenty minutes or so: gubernatorial candidates, local dignitaries, state senators. Vote counts from various towns and wards are announced as they come in. Near six o’clock, a special treat: “Mayor Ted Gatsas has arrived!” The mayor, a hearty man, is a Romney backer. Why? “He looks presidential, he walks presidential, he talks presidential, and he’s a leader!” 6:00 chimes. Two hours until all the statewide polls close, and the night is just beginning for Rich Girard.
Five minutes away, on the other side of Elm Street, the Radisson in downtown Manchester has also become a broadcast hub. While I just walked right in to Girard at Large unannounced and sat there for ninety minutes, I’ll have no such luck here. The NBC staff have assumed control of half the lobby, literally cordoning themselves off with a red velvet rope and engaging a private security guard to patrol the entrance to their space. (If I were a paying customer of this hotel, I would be angry at this limitation of my lobby access. But then, all the paying customers are probably rival journalists or campaign staff.) They’ve constructed a rudimentary set in front of a fireplace in the corner, and Lawrence Kudlow is sitting in it, yelling into the camera for no particular reason. Dan Rather and HDNet have another room off the lobby with another security guard. I guess if I were Dan Rather, I would want a security guard, too.
One flight up, overlooking the NBC encampment, the mezzanine Radio Row is busier than ever, with broadcasters setting up shop in various conference rooms: Sirius XM, The Jeff Santos Show on Revolution Radio Network, NRA Radio, the Guetzloe Report with Doug Guetzloe (weekdays 11 to noon on 1190 AM). This last room is shared by a bunch of programs; at the front, a flipboard lists what I’m assuming are guests who have already passed through: Jackie Gingrich Cochran, Rep. Michael Grimm, Michael Meehan - Candidate (“Goliath never saw us coming!”). I feel sorry for Doug Guetzloe.
In the Dartmouth Room, Dan Rea, host of NightSide with Dan Rea on Boston’s WBZ-AM, takes callers and talks politics. Rea, a jovial man in a red Boston University sweatshirt who looks suspiciously like Manchester mayor Ted Gatsas, transitions into a top-of-the-hour news break by dispatching an attitudinous caller who insisted on delivering a speech in an insufficiently conversational manner. “Chris was a brand-new caller. He didn’t know how to play the game,” declares Rea, who comes over to chat as the WBZ update man gives listeners an overview of the primary returns.