Liberal Woman Cracks Shock-Jock Circuit
An Interview With Radio Host Arnie Arnesen
Sharon Basco is executive producer of TomPaine.com.
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Arnie Arnesen is a liberal woman who's spent most of her political and broadcast career among conservative men. A state legislator throughout the '80s and early '90s, she was the first woman to win New Hampshire's Democratic gubernatorial nomination (she lost to Republican Stephen Merrill in 1992). Since then, Arnesen has launched a broadcast career, which has burgeoned to include a daily morning talk show in Minnesota (broadcast from her home studio in New Hampshire), a daily afternoon talk show in New England, and a Sunday cable TV program. It all began, Arnesen says, when she filled in for a radio talk show host...
Arnie Arnesen: "He got sick one day. I showed up to replace him while he was ill. He never came back. And the love affair with AM radio began, and I have been continuing that love affair since 1988.
And today as we speak in 2002, I am a radio talk show host on a morning show in Minneapolis-St. Paul on a very large station there. And it's called the new FM-107, and I do morning drive time in the mornings in Minnesota. And then in the afternoons I replaced Rush Limbaugh on four radio stations, and I am doing political talk for three hours a day from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m., on four stations that air in both New Hampshire and Vermont. And on Sundays you can see me on one of the large cable stations because I have a political show called Capitol Ideas.
TomPaine.com: I wonder whether your "shock jock" colleagues -- like Imus and Howard Stern and Limbaugh -- might say that a schedule like that would make a man of you? Well, it's unusual to find a woman hosting AM radio drive time -- how did that come about?
Arnesen: This is a brand new radio station -- 25,000 watts -- it was designed with a targeted market, where for the first time in 15 years they thought that they could orient an entire talk station towards a female audience. No one has dared to do that in decades, in part because 60 percent of talk radio's listening audience is male. And you don't obviously want to discourage 60 percent of your audience. And since I had been this sort of feminist who had always tried to prove herself in circles that included mostly men. At first I was slightly offended, but it has turned out to be the best love affair I have ever had.
TP.c: How do your female-oriented programs differ from the usual drive time talk show fare?
Arnesen: What I do for this sort of female-oriented talk station is, I describe myself as "U.S. News & World Report meets Redbook." So what I do is, I give people practical, policy, political, educational information in a package that both informs them and entertains them on a daily basis.
TP.c: Being a female and a liberal on talk radio is kind of a double whammy against you, isn't it?
Arnesen: You know what? I never apologize for it, and in fact I celebrate it. And the great news is, is that, most things you do, you don't do it with a conservative jacket on, or a liberal jacket on. Because it's about information. And if you can do things in a way that both informs and entertains, and if you do things in a way because people get a sense of your curiosity and your eagerness to share the information, that kind of curiosity is so infectious. And that's exactly what happens, Monday through Friday, on my radio program.
TP.c: What kind of response are you getting? Do you hear from people who aren't part of your target women's audience?
Arnesen: You're going to love this. A couple of cops were listening to me the other day. And one of the guys e-mailed me that night, and he said to me, "You know, Arnie, we were sitting around and we suddenly realized that we were attending Arnie's Academy. That was my radio show. And in a way, what they love about it is I don't offend them, but I do inform them. And I think that's the sort of neutral ground where we all can sort of maybe appreciate and value each other.
TP.c: So you've attracted listeners who'd ordinarily be tuned in to "jock shock" radio?
Arnesen: I have. I mean, I have a running conversation going on right now by e-mail, because a lot of the folks that listen to me e-mail me. One is with an engineer from Honeywell. One is with a deputy sheriff. And what I think they appreciate about what I do is that even shock jocks after a while get kind of exhausting. And they also tend to sort of talk to the same subject over and over and over again. And what I describe what we do in the morning is, it's kind of like a smorgasbord of life. And that's where I think there's tremendous value. Because we're not predictable. Because there's a range of subjects that we'll talk about. And by the end of the week, the reason you want to come back is, you don't want to miss something.
TP.c: Hosting for a Minnesota audience in the morning and a New England audience in the afternoon means you're reaching two quite different constituencies with different interests and priorities, doesn't it?
Arnesen: We're beginning to cross-pollinate in the different venues, information and the ways people address different issues in Minnesota, I'm able to sort of bring them back, and bring them into a New Hampshire audience and vice verse.
And what is so exciting about those two locations is that, for example, in New Hampshire, all the presidential candidates come. I mean, this is the place where they genuflect in even the tiniest of radio stations because they want to influence the New Hampshire voter. What that means for Minnesota is, for example, I just put a call in to Howard Dean, and I said, "O.K. Howard, you just talked about the fact that you would recognize gay marriages if you became president of the United States. I want you to talk about that on my New Hampshire station. I also want you to talk about gay marriages on my Minnesota station. So they understand the impact of civil unions on the state of Vermont.
It's a win-win for both places, and it's a way for me to sort of, in a back-door way, especially in Minnesota, give them exposure to policy and issues and people that would never normally happen.
And it gives an opportunity for all sides to come to the table and express their opinion. It's not just about one perspective and a monologue that happens every day. It's about recognizing that everyone comes to the table with a bit of virtue and a bit of liability, and what a great place to express it, and what a great place for people to make up their own minds.
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Published: Sep 25 2002