BRIAN LAMB, HOST: About a year ago when your program went off of ABC, somebody I’ve never heard of named Chuck Boyce, who is a blogger, wrote the following. He says, ”I cannot tell you how much I will miss the show.”
And then he said, ”Think of the best ’New York Times’ or ’Wall Street Journal’ article you’ve ever read. Think of the best glass of wine you’ve ever enjoyed. The finest cup of coffee. The coolest place in Europe. The most brilliant song.”
He’s talking about you. What happened to the radio show?
JOHN BATCHELOR, NOVELIST AND RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Well, it’s show business, Brian. The show was cancelled. Plays close, movies end.
In this case, ABC Radio Network was sold. ”Business conditions” is what I was told. And there were complications that I lost track of. And I was told that the show would end, and it did.
And since then, I’ve enjoyed hearing from people that I never had a chance to pay mind to. I didn’t have a chance to answer or respond or read the folk who had been listening all those years.
I was on for five straight years, and I was with you many mornings …
BATCHELOR: … after doing a show. You don’t have time when you’re doing a news analysis show six nights a week to listen very carefully. You’ve got to respond immediately to the news.
So what happened is that I got my life back. And I returned to the library.
The day of the attack I was at Butler Library, Columbia University’s library.
LAMB: The day of – 9/11.
BATCHELOR: Yes, working in the manuscript division where I returned to. And I saw the attack on – in those days we weren’t all wireless – I saw the attack on one of the computers that was in the front of the room. And I saw the first plane go in. It was a Yahoo! news flash – pre-Google. And I turned to the librarian and I said, ”This is strange.”
And when I saw the news of the second attack, I got a phone call from Washington saying three words. ”It’s an attack.”
And that changed my life.
The next day I went on the air, on WABC in New York, with my colleague, Paul Alexander. And we were on the air every night for the next three months. We were working Saturdays and Sundays then, as well. I finally got a Sunday night off, I think, sometime in December.
And I didn’t have a chance to reflect on those months until the show ended last year. And now that I’m back in the same place, in the same library, happily reading old newspapers, I think it’s all a dream – part nightmare, part dream.
Every night the news, especially those first three months, that was strange time, Brian, here in New York. The first day – it’s one of those days that goes on forever. My parents had a day like that December 7, 1941. Well, ours was September 11.
I got on my bicycle and rode down the West Side Walkway that goes all the way down to the end of the island. And you could go and go and go. No one was there. There was no one directing traffic, no one stopping you.
I went all the way to where the firemen had parked their vehicles. Not all the firemen were hurt or were killed in the collapse. A lot of fire companies were coming in. And they were covered in dust, and people were wandering around. And there were no police.
And I stopped myself, and I looked at it and realized that what it means – what a disaster means – is no one’s in charge. And you feel the absence of authority. You feel that order has vanished.
And now, five years later – six years later – I think that what I contributed, what Paul and I contributed those first three months, especially, was starting the story again, the story of New York, the story of the United States, the story of liberty – after that event, because that was a hole in the ground and a hole in the nation’s history.
And so, every night we would talk to people all over the city, all over the country. Eventually, I talked to thousands of people over five years. And always the reference point was, we begin again. We begin again on September 12.
And now, a year after stopping the show, I can see that. I’ve gone back to the library, and you have the advantage of sitting with books and thinking about what you’ve done, as opposed to doing it every day.
LAMB: Let me talk a little inside baseball here for a moment, and then we’ll go on to the other stuff.
You had good ratings, didn’t you?
BATCHELOR: Yes. We dominated New York for five years. Yes.
LAMB: But how many different cities around the country? And I know you’re on XM Radio.
BATCHELOR: There were four big cities, and then lots of other markets. Radio has 10 major cities, 10 major markets, and then there’s everyone else. Everyone else, of course, is America. But those 10 major markets dominate.
And I was chiefly on in New York, Washington, Boston – the three 9/11 cities – and San Francisco and Los Angeles, the five. Because the planes took off, and they were headed from those five cities.
And the conversation – what I discovered in five years – the conversation for those cities and for the people that live in those parts of the country is the same as it is in New York. That it isn’t that I was parochial; it’s that the country became a New York country in those five years.
We cared about – always cared about 9/11 and the site. We cared about security. And everyone accepted the case that the next attack will be directed at New York, as well – the one in ’93, the one in 2001, and the next one.
LAMB: Why – and I know ABC-Disney sold the station to Citadel. But why did they – did they ever tell you why they dropped you?
BATCHELOR: Business conditions, that it was …
LAMB: What does that mean?
BATCHELOR: I don’t know. I didn’t ask.
LAMB: They never explained it beyond that?
BATCHELOR: Fault me. I didn’t ask. You know, I asked so many questions in five years, I didn’t ask that question.
But the moment I was told, Brian, I smiled and said, ”Show business.” Because I’d read for so long that things don’t need explanations, they just happen. And I accepted it. It’s fatalism.
But at the same time it occurred to me within moments that I was going to do the show for a few more months and then stop, that now another door opened and I was free, and that I could become the novelist again, because I come from novel writing.
BATCHELOR: I published seven novels, yes, and I’m writing a new novel now. And in a novel, you finish the story and you’re immediately dissatisfied. And the reason you write another one is because you’re going to get it right this time.
And the way I did the radio show for five years was that it was my novel. It was every night I was telling stories. I was a narrator. I was ”once upon a time.”
It was a series of interrelated stories, because every theme connected to another theme. It never felt as if anything stopped. It felt like there was another episode.
For example – and this is not meant to be controversial, so I’m going to go to it, because I loved it. When we sent the two rovers to Mars in 2003, and we landed in 2004 – my memory, forgive me for the dates being wrong – they were supposed to last for 90 days. That was all the battery power was going to work. NASA was going to be happy with Opportunity and Spirit.
Instead, they’re still going. And so, for the three years of the show, I talked to my colleague, David Grinspoon, in Colorado, about the rovers, our little buddies. They became our friends. And it was, instead of Ozzie and Harriet, it was Spirit and Opportunity.
And that story, that little piece of these two robots wandering around on the surface of Mars, became a way of talking about America’s recovery, America’s strength, America’s curiosity. And my audience cared about it a lot.
LAMB: But you know, the thing that – and you see this on the blogs, and I listened, as you know, to your show. It was on the evening in Washington …
BATCHELOR: You liked it best when it was on in the middle of the night and the early day.
LAMB: I did.
BATCHELOR: Because of your wonderful sleep habits.
LAMB: Exactly. I did like it. And they stopped repeating it.
But I think you can say that no one apparently worked any harder to put together a nightly four-hour show. You had this tremendous amount of research.
And it was different than anybody had ever heard. You used what kind of music?
BATCHELOR: I used Hollywood music. I used soundtrack music, the stuff that paid a lot of money for, and then they bury it. They throw it away. But it’s written to have talk on it. And it’s written for drama, or the perception of drama.
I also used a song that became my theme song, accidentally. It never occurred to me that you could have a theme song being the last moments of the show.
It’s ”Midnight, The Stars and You.” Ray Noble orchestra recorded it in 1934, and it was sung by a man named Al Bowlly. Al Bowlly I discovered after I chose the piece of music.
For memory’s sake, there is a Stephen King novel made into a wonderful scary movie with Jack Nicholson. And the end of the movie has this song play as you’re imagining that Jack Nicholson didn’t just create the monster problem in this movie. He did it once upon a time years ago. It’s meant to be a ghost story. ”Midnight, The Stars and You.”
And I played it for a long time before I learned that Al Bowlly, the vocalist, had been reading a Western thriller in a hotel room in London. And it’s sad, because he died, but he died in the Blitz. A bomb fell on the building and killed him.
And someone wrote me that and was sure that I chose him, because he had been killed in urban warfare and had been destroyed like 9/11 had been destroyed – you know, bombs from nowhere. It was an accident, but it’s one of those pieces of fate. And music is like that.
LAMB: I want to ask you, though. I know we’ve talked about this before. I bought that. I sought it out on Amazon, or something, and I bought that.
Did you ever find out how much – how often you sold – how many copies of that you sold?
BATCHELOR: Anecdote. One time – Tower Records is now closed here in New York, because everything has gone to the Internet and download – but one time I was in Towers to buy new CDs for new movie music. I was just in a mood to get the latest thrillers, the bang, shoot-’em-up stuff that’s just terrific for warfare.
And I was standing in line waiting to pay. And the clerk, a longtime clerk there was in front, and somebody was talking to him. And he pulled his hair.
”Do you know how many people ask for that? We don’t have it! We don’t have it! We’ve never had it! It doesn’t have a CD.”
And I, you know, and then I realized they were talking about Al Bowlly, and I slinked away.
That’s my …
LAMB: But you can buy it as a – with old 1930s music. You can buy it as a …
BATCHELOR: I’m told now that it’s available in many places, and I’m sure that it’s on download everywhere. I know that.
But in those days, back in the days when it was just CDs, it didn’t have a CD by itself. There was an Al Bowlly collection. There was a Ray Noble collection. But the way I’d come across it was that it was collected on a movie music – a compendium of many songs.
LAMB: Excuse me if I keep asking these questions, because there’s been still no explanation. Was this an expensive show for Citadel to keep running?
BATCHELOR: It was ABC Radio. It’s now Citadel.
To my knowledge, it was not an expensive radio – it required me to eat and sleep. That was the …
LAMB: How many people worked with it?
BATCHELOR: I had a wonderful engineer and eventually a wonderful producer – not originally – and a wonderful researcher. And then the help, the alliance, the generosity of the hardest and smartest working journalists on the planet.
LAMB: Was that all free to you?
LAMB: Was John Loftus free to you?
BATCHELOR: Everybody. Everybody. Nobody charged. Whether the editorial board of the ”Wall Street Journal,” the ”Financial Times,” correspondents around the world, the ”Economist.” You understood. Brian, I talked to those people. I would e-mail them during the day.
And in many instances they’d get up in the middle of the night, because I’d be talking to Europe, or it’d be morning in Asia …
LAMB: Or China. I remember …
BATCHELOR: … or late here in America, and they’d be doing it on their cell phones. And folk wanted to talk. They wanted to talk about something they’d just published, and they wanted to talk about the story. Because we’re telling the story of our civilization, our culture.
And they were always generous with their time. And no one ever, ever didn’t do it, because he was tired, or she had children to feed. They always found a way to fit it in. It was very generous.
And I came to count on them. I hope I never took them for granted. And I miss them. I miss that conversation, although I read their articles now, and I see that the conversation is going on.
However, the advantage I had was that, though they would publish a piece – oh, let’s say it was about Katrina that day, or it was about Afghanistan. Let’s go back to the early days of Afghanistan and the operations in the mountains. They would publish a piece that day, but between the time they published it – between the time they wrote it, the time it was published and now when I’m talking to them, things have happened. Things have occurred to them. So, there was a fresh perspective.
Also, the events now that they’re recording – because newspapers write about the day before or the week before – those events are now charging into the next day. And we could, because it was nighttime in New York, I could see the morning. I could see noontime in Beijing. I could see the morning headlines in Europe. And I could look over the remains or the ruins of the U.S. news cycle and pick at it for what’s coming at everybody in the morning.
That was the great advantage. East Coast time it was 10 p.m., West Coast it was 7 p.m. The great advantage was, I could see our morning. You know, nine hours is a long way to look into the future.
LAMB: I have read – maybe you have – on the Web sites that you are doing a program with Hoover Institution. You’re doing a program with the Hudson Institute. You’re doing a program with the Heritage Foundation.
BATCHELOR: I know, all those different things.
LAMB: What is it?
BATCHELOR: The fact is, I’m not doing the program right now. I’m writing a book. I did a couple of – I did two subs this week – this summer. I was invited to do a substitute for the Drudge Report on Sunday night. And I enjoyed that, and I did my format.
But I’m not doing any radio now. It’s possible that I’ll do it. I didn’t know I’d be off-air this long. However, it’s show business, and it has its own calendar. Plays open, plays close, plays re-open. When it happens, it’ll be right.
LAMB: Did you have a contract at the time they dropped it?
BATCHELOR: Yes. Contracts are, as I understand – because I’m not show business. You know that, Brian. I’m a novelist. I learned all this in the media biz (ph). Contracts end when the company that gives you the contract ends it. That’s when contracts end.
LAMB: Anything to do with your ideology?
BATCHELOR: No. No, no.
LAMB: Not at all.
BATCHELOR: No. No. If they know my ideology, they should send me an e-mail, because I didn’t have time for ideology. Every day the news made me feel like I was bouncing around. And I would talk to so many different nationalities, so many different perspectives, and from the points of view of where they were.
You talk to a man who is born in London and becomes a premier journalist for the London ”Times” and then moves to Washington, and is at the Carnegie Institute. And then he’s on a sat phone, just coming out of the Khyber Pass, and he’s almost run down by a dung cart early in the morning in Peshawar. What ideology is that? There’s no way that I would – it would not only be immaterial to have ideology, it’s too wonderful of a story not to follow it where it was.
And that’s how the show developed for me. I was listening. And every time I would come to an assumption – oh, well, this is how it’s going to go – it would be unpredictable. The measure of the journalists I talked to was that you couldn’t predict where they were going to take you – not that night.
LAMB: Can people listen to the archives of the show?
BATCHELOR: There are sound archives of individual interviews, because at the end – the Internet developed while I was doing the show. When I began in 2001, it was dial-up, and now it’s broadband everywhere, so that there are individual clips that are on the Web site.
The best example of the show is the Drudge Report has made available on its archives, very generously, the two shows that I did this summer. And that’s the format. And I had many of my favorite standby guests. Loftus was back with me, and Larry Kudlow, who was my co-host for many years, and Malcolm Hoenlein was on with me. So, it was kind of a reunion.
And I suspect, I anticipate that, if I begin the show again, I’ll use their talents, because they’ve all gone on in their lives, and learn more of the story.
It’s surprising, though, a year later, Brian, how little the major themes have changed that were developed. Not just the war, but the political food fight and the struggles of the classes in this country, and the emergence of China and India, and the tantrums that Europe throws, and the mystery of the development of Latin America. All the stories are still there, that you can just pick them up.
I’m sure there are new ones. The moment we have a new hurricane like Katrina, there’ll be a new story. But in the year I’ve been off, I haven’t found – I haven’t said to myself when I looked at the news, you know, ”This is totally new. I’d have to go to this.”
I mean, look who’s running for president – Mayor Giuliani and the first lady and Senator McCain. They’re all my people. I mean, I feel like it’s a – oh, sometimes I feel – oh, I know what it feels like. It feels like, as a child.
My children have stuffed animals. And you don’t want to throw them out. You can’t, even though they’re grown up and they’re teenagers. So, I put them in plastic bins in the attic. And every once in a while I open up the plastic bin and I look in, and they’re my friends, because I looked at them with the children.
That’s what these political actors seem like to me, my old stuffed bears, that every night we’d hold up the stuffed bear and say, ”What are they doing today?”
LAMB: For those who have never heard you and not seen you, because you used to do the morning show all the time – this is on primarily at night – you grew up where?
BATCHELOR: I was born in Philadelphia, in Bryn Mawr, outside of Philadelphia, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. And I grew up entirely in the Lower Merion Township.
LAMBS: Parents – what did they do?
BATCHELOR: My father and mother – my father was born in Indiana. He’s a Hoosier. My mother was born in New York, in Yonkers. And they met and married after the Second War, in the war. They met because of the war. They both served in the United States Army.
Father saw a deal of combat and survived accidentally, luckily, thankfully. And mother was in the Women’s Auxiliary Corps, the WACs, at Fort Benning in the Army school. And they married right after the war, and I came along several years later.
And so, I grew up with two World War II veterans, who informed all of us – and I have four younger brothers, and we are very lucky. Five boys grew up healthy in America, in suburban Philadelphia. We were informed always about the respect for the United States of America and the debt to the United States of America for our freedom.
Because although father didn’t talk about the war – and as I’ve learned, few combat veterans do talk about war – and mother really didn’t talk about the WACs, because she didn’t feel empowered to talk about them. And for many years – now there’s a monument in Virginia to the women who served in the military, but there wasn’t that monument for decades.
They didn’t talk about it, but I learned about it and I read about the edges.
And so, when I come to talking about what we now call national security – what just used to be called patriotism – I find my father’s voice and my mother’s voice telling me, ”Now, John – now, John, be careful.” And I pull back from generalities and theory talk, and try to look to the history of this country.
To say 9/11 is the first time America has ever met a crisis is foolishness. So you can find your emotions, your assumptions, your mistakes by reading history and by reading the remarks and the thoughts of people at those previous instances when America has been faced with a crisis.
LAMB: What did your parents do once they got out of the service?
BATCHELOR: My father went back to the company he’d served with before, Union Special. It was – in those days the apparel industry, clothing was entirely here. Now it’s in China. But it was entirely here. And it moved from the North to the South. And he followed that as a salesman, selling machines. And mother was at home with us.
Mother – my mother is another flavor that I didn’t appreciate growing up and I came to later on. My mother was born of the Assyrian community, which we now know as Iranians, Persians. She thought of herself as Persian. And I learned from her and her sisters about this strange, faraway place that they had all left as children, or their parents had left as children, and come through Ellis Island.
And I never paid attention to it. And I didn’t – I knew it was odd, and I knew it had this other language, but I didn’t listen. And mother was in the ’50s keen to Americanize us. She didn’t want us being half anything. She wanted us being American.
So, I didn’t get the Assyrian language, and I regret that. Nor did I understand where, oh, this odd place Tehran was until I was a teenager.
And many years later, of course, doing my show, as the Afghanistan stepped into the background and Iraq emerged on the front stage, and this troubled neighbor next door became more and more sinister and more and more mysterious, I told my audience very carefully that it was an accident of history that a half-Persian is sitting here talking to you about the contest, the profound contest, between the United States of America and the Islamic Republic of Iran – a contest now that a year on is dark and threatening and very troubling.
And now when I react to the news about Iran, I hesitate, because those are my mother’s people. And if I had it in me, I’d say they were my people. But it isn’t in me, because I’m an American.
But I feel now, because I read about it, I feel now what the Japanese Americans, or the German Americans would have felt in 1916 and ’17, or in 1941 and ’42 – this hesitation about your loyalty, because you’re half of that other world. At least genetically you’re half, or culturally you’re half.
It’s an odd bifurcation. True, there aren’t too many Persian Americans who ever had a microphone the way I had a microphone. But still, I would always be keen to tell the audience, ”You know, my dad’s a Hoosier. But my mom’s one of them.”
LAMB: When did you first know you could write?
BATCHELOR: I discovered how to write a novel as I was finishing seminary. I’m a seminary graduate, as you know. I’m married to a pastor.
LAMB: Where? What seminary?
BATCHELOR: Union Theological Seminary in New York. I graduated in the mid-’70s. I do not have a calling – or I did not then, do not now. And a calling is critical to becoming a member of the clergy. And it didn’t come to me.
And so, I turned to the calling or the avocation I did discover, which was that I like to tell stories. And then I like to tell them on paper.
In those days we dealt with these things called typewriters. And I remember – because you don’t have very much money when you start writing novels in New York in the 1970s – I remember saving up money from the pieces of work that I had and buying this thing called an IBM typewriter, an IBM electric typewriter – this great big, heavy thing that would take all my strength to carry to the typewriter store and back whenever it would break, which was frequently.
And I can remember thinking the first time how romantic it was to type on an IBM typewriter that turned up in the black-in-white movie, ”Seven Days in May,” because there in the White House you can see them typing on the same machine in 1960 that I’m typing on in 1978-’79.
And after that, after the typewriter I moved to the computer. And after the computer now, I am back to my MacBook. You know, I can take my machine anywhere. And soon, I imagine, my children or my grandchildren, they’ll write by just rolling a piece of cellophane on the table and just using keyboards and what, you know. Something fantastic will go next.
LAMB: Where did you meet your wife?
BATCHELOR: In seminary. But we didn’t marry for many years, because I was stubborn about being independent. Foolishness. No novelist is independent. You’re successful the moment you can write novels. Waiting for money is folly.
LAMB: What year did you marry?
LAMB: And you’ve got two children.
BATCHELOR: I do.
LAMB: What are they doing?
BATCHELOR: They’re teenagers. They’re successful teenagers, which is a full-time occupation. And I learned the other day from my son, who is at high school, who is a junior in high school, that he was rejecting all of his short-sleeved shirts – I wear short-sleeved shirts – because short-sleeved shirts are just not worn – he has to wear a tie and jacket every day – just not worn where he is. They’re for dorks. And the protest from my wife.
And he said, ”Well, daddy’s a dork.” And so, I accepted, Brian, that I’ve made the transformation. I have a successful teenager, who regards me as square, as old-fashioned. And it’s a joy.
LAMB: Any conclusions after your radio show was stopped about what the American people want when it comes to radio?
BATCHELOR: No conclusions. Observations. Observations.
My audience – the puzzle – and I was told this was a puzzle. This isn’t just me. Because I’m not a radio guy. I didn’t come to media. I was a novelist. And I’m a novelist now. I was an amateur in radio, so I listen to the pros.
The puzzle is, who is the audience, and who do the advertisers want to talk to? That’s the puzzle for them – always. And radio is going through a transformation now – as all media is, as television is, this medium – because of the Internet, because of broadband, because in your home with wireless at night you can get everything just right there on your machine. I do.
So, the puzzle is how to get that audience, where its eyeballs are or where its imagination is.
Well, I didn’t know about that. I didn’t approach it that way. I approached it in terms of you’re thrown into a fight and you fight with what you’ve got. So I had a telephone, and I would call up smart people.
And here’s what I learned. The largest audience the largest, smartest audience, the largest, smartest, youngest audience, the largest, smartest, youngest audience that wants to make something of themselves or that has authority or wants to exercise authority better in the morning – those people are really smart. Really, really smart. And they’re smarter than they know until they listen to somebody else who’s just smart like them.
That’s what they wanted. They wanted the smartest people out there talking about stories that they saw in the news, because they’re smart. And there was no generality that worked.
I have a devoted taxi cab driver in New York, and he corresponds with me. But oft times, I would be coming back. You know I traveled to Israel many times in those five years, 15 or 16 times. And I would broadcast from Israel, and I would travel around Israel where I had a lot of fans. They would listen on the Internet eventually.
But I would be coming back into New York through Newark Airport or JFK, and I would give my passport at customs control, what became ICE. And more than once, I would have a very friendly ex-New York Police Department guy, now with a really good federal job, saying, ”Welcome back, John.”
And I didn’t know why he knew who I was. But of course, it made sense. He had overnight duty, he listened to the show.
So I learned that everybody listened. There was no generality that worked. Doormen listened. ICE supervisors listened. Airline pilots would tune in while they were waiting.
I get correspondence from airline pilots now who live in very unusual places. Airline pilots are wonderful. They might fly between Washington and Paris, but they live somewhere in the woods in Montana. They would listen when they can, because it was a conversation, and it was an ongoing conversation.
I told it as a ”once upon a time,” a narration, with real smart, interested people, curious people. I avoided politicians. Maybe that was part of it. I avoided politicians as much as possible, because politicians are not paid to take risks, and politicians do not give you anything new. They give you what is already on the books. Or they give you their prospects for raising money. They don’t tell you what they’re curious about.
Whereas, if you talk to the, say – I’ll pick an example here – the transportation editor of the ”Financial Times,” writing about the largest ports on the planet and who runs them, and how the sudden – well, you remember; we all remember the flap about whether a particular part of the Port of New York was going to be sold to so-called foreigners – whether he’s curious about how all those companies finance themselves, why they’re able to make money, where the money really is going.
He doesn’t have the answers. He’s curious. He’s writing a report about it. And I talk to him that night.
And it’s possible that you could say now, when it’s not in the news, that it’s dry. But that night it wasn’t dry, and the audience cared about it. And they cared about it for the eight or nine minutes I talked about it.
And I think that, more than anything else, is my observation about what works on radio. Smart people, men and women on all five, six – I never talked to Antarctica. It was a disappointment. But I think I talked to all six continents – moving. People who are moving. People who have active lives and who are on this cell phone or on a hotel phone or on a sat phone. And you can feel the energy.
And the folk at night – here in the East it’s 10 o’clock, and in California it’s seven – folk at night who have lost a little energy, because they’ve thrown themselves into their day, like to hear how curious other folk are. That works.
And it works for C-SPAN, it works for anyone who has discovered that smart is good business.
Now, does that make sense to modern American media? I wonder. Five billion dollars for the ”Wall Street Journal,” $5 billion for the ”Wall Street Journal.” I talk to the ”Wall Street Journal.” They’re my friends. They’re wonderful people.
Five billion dollars? Who knows. Maybe. Sure. Fine. But they’re not going to sell that many newspapers.
However, they represent the ”Wall Street Journal,” ”Financial Times” – we could name all these publications. They represent the product of decades of education and teaching, and the devotion of parents, and the struggles of travels. All of that comes together in one editorial board, or in one managing editor, or in one newsroom. All of that comes together.
And you get a piece of that for eight minutes on the radio or on C-SPAN. You feel it. The audience feels it. They know it. It’s respectful to treat the audience as human beings who are involved in the story, and not – not – to talk down to them.
LAMB: But you used to – what was unusual is that your first – I don’t know, maybe even as much as 15 minutes. But you would start with your music from Hollywood, some theme. And then you would drop in the voices of people that had made the news that day.
How long did it take you to put that kind of thing together?
BATCHELOR: Hours. Hours.
LAMB: Did you do it yourself? Or did you …
BATCHELOR: No. I started out doing it myself. I trained myself how to do it. I was sloppy.
And then I had wonderful researchers, a series of wonderful researchers, who would come in, and I would tell them what I want. They would come in to me and I would doing the stories and throwing things up in the air. And they’d say, ”What do you want tonight, John?” And I’d go, well, and then I’d make up a list. Find this, find that.
And the BBC was wonderful giving us news clips, just wonderful. So we would use sound clips, you know, 10 seconds.
And what happens when you put a story up of one event – an event right now is the attorney general, the new attorney general of the United States, Mukasey – that is being reported around the planet. And it’s being read to audiences. Billions and billions of people are listening to this, because China listens in English. India listens in English. Everybody’s listening to it.
And Russia has an English news service. China has an English news service. All the major countries have – Iran has an English news service.
We would just go around the Internet and take that report from all those different voices and play it again and again and again. And you get the understanding that this is a small planet, and that it’s paying attention to major events in the United States very carefully.
And I would play that for the audience, to give them the understanding that this is not neighborhood. This is planetary. And all these news readers and all these newsrooms care about this. So, your caring about it is correct.
And it would give me energy to start the story.
LAMB: What are the chances that this will ever come back?
BATCHELOR: Very good. Very good.
LAMB: And …
BATCHELOR: Well, I mean, show business, Brian. You’re number one for five years in the toughest market on the planet, you don’t go away. You don’t ever go away. I can’t get away from the fact that I did the show.
I can’t get on an airplane without being careful. My producer very carefully says to me sometimes, ”Lower your voice. You’re attracting attention.” It’s a distinctive voice.
I remember one time, I didn’t used to – sometimes I could afford cabs, not much. I’d usually take the subway home late at night when I lived in Manhattan, or then I’d walk to Grand Central and take the train to Westchester. I would get into a cab and I’d kind of mumble, because I was tired. I didn’t want to talk.
And invariably, there was a hot period when Pakistan was much in the news and there was lots of strife. This was after the attack on the India Congress in December of ’01. Gosh, why do I remember these things? It’s like burned in my memory.
So, you couldn’t get in a cab in New York and use your voice without a Pakistani driver turning around and saying, ”You’re John Batchelor.” And then they’d launch into Karachi news or Lahore news or Islamabad news, or why those really bad guys were trying to start a war.
And though what they had was wonderful, and, of course, I wanted to book them as guests, because they knew a lot, I was tired. So, I’ve learned to mumble. Mumble.
One time I got in an aircraft going to Israel, and I was on the cell phone. I got a cell phone call. I don’t like to get cell phone calls on airplanes. And I took the call. And when I finished the call, I had this very nice rabbi come up to me. And he said, ”My father’s on the phone, and he doesn’t believe you’re here.”
So he handed me the cell phone, and I talked to his father. I don’t know where he was, whether in California or in Florida. And I said, yes, it’s me. And he said, ”It’s John Batchelor. It’s John Batchelor.” Because the black hats – the orthodox – were very keen on my show for all the times that I went to Israel, and the times that I broadcast from – well, I broadcast from Gaza right at the end – but the times I broadcast from the really troubled period.
You remember, before Arafat died, the bombings were very commonplace, and the buses. And I would ride the bus routes that would be bombed, and not tell ABC I was doing it, because I felt that it was wrong to take a driver everywhere when you’re in Jerusalem, that it was necessary to ride the buses. I ride the buses in New York, I should ride the buses in Jerusalem.
So, I’d take that. And the orthodox community, especially here in New York. And then the orthodoxies everywhere became very generous towards me and remained that way.
LAMB: This is a tricky question. What would it cost – what would it cost to do it again on a yearly basis, everything thrown in the pot?
BATCHELOR: I don’t have that number, but it’s not large. It’s not large.
LAMB: Is it $1 million?
BATCHELOR: I think that when you come to building a studio, it is, if you’re starting fundamentally from a studio. However, when you start from the point of view of what the Internet can now do, and what the video can do on the Internet, you know, we could put a video camera here and do this show on video, and not concern ourselves with television sets and all of that.
I don’t know. I don’t have those numbers. I do know costs. You know, I heard that word two ways. There’s a dollar cost, but it is a – you do this so much, Brian, you know that it’s draining to talk to many, many people. And when you’re a one-man performance of the news, and you have all these people, it’s draining.
Now, it also gives you energy. It gives you strength. It’s the adrenalin.
I remarked to you, if you and I were doing a show tonight, we would talk about Mukasey, the new attorney general nominee, nominated, because the fun begins – welcome to the Judiciary Committee of the United States Senate – and Mrs. Clinton’s health care plan, Health Care 2, Hillary Care 2.
We talk about both those things tonight.
Well, here it is. It’s time to go. The clock is demanding. I’ve got to learn everything, so that I can ask intelligent questions and find guests. And then we plow into it, and you don’t have time to say, ”Well, um.” You charge into it.
So, the cost is great in terms of my peace of mind. Oft times I’d finish a show at one, and I couldn’t calm down. I couldn’t – you know, I was going too fast. And I had to slow myself down when people would ask me a question, because I’d give them too much information. I had too much.
Other times, weeks would go by, and a conversation would start again, and I would hear these voices in my brain, and I would start repeating. And I wouldn’t – it wouldn’t be polite, it wouldn’t be human to have so much information. You’re supposed to have a conversation. It’s supposed to be a dialogue, not a monologue, not a narrator.
Also, other cost. I like being a novelist. I really like it. I like the pace. I like the control. I like the characters. I like the feel of this other world.
Doing a radio show, I was never, ever out of the world. I was always in this one, all the time. And the most violent, the most upsetting, the most challenging and the most draining parts of it.
Sometimes I would have – we talked earlier about ideology – I would have partisans on, often. I enjoyed them. A number of partisans became good colleagues.
BATCHELOR: Oh, I think that you could say the ”Wall Street” journalists, every one of them are partisans in terms of …
LAMB: Except they were reporters …
BATCHELOR: No, the editorial board.
LAMB: Editorial board.
BATCHELOR: Editorial board, right.
Every one of them are advocates of positions – very strong positions. And I could name names, but I don’t want to pick out – a partisan is a good thing. However, there’s a fire to partisanship. And I feel it. I feel the heat.
And afterwards, I’d be rattled. I’d have to calm myself down. I’d have to.
And I know that you’ve had her on as a guest, so I can mention her. Katrina vanden Heuvel, the editor of ”The Nation,” is a wonderful partisan for a position that doesn’t really have one party. Katrina, you’re closer to Max Eastman and Eugene Debbs than you are to any character now running for president. Maybe Kucinich.
In any event, Katrina is a partisan. And she’s wonderful. She’s generous. She’s extremely deft, but she’s a partisan. So, when I would talk to her on the radio, this fire would come through the microphone. And afterwards I’d take a drink of water and I’d think, ”Well, now we’re going to move to Mars.”
You know, I’d have to calm down and move to the next subject, because part of the way I got through the program, a four-hour program with – oh, I was averaging 12 guests a night – part of the way I came through that was to arrange the guests so that I didn’t follow fire-eater after fire-eater and fire-eater, or war after war after war. I’d take a break for myself, just to let the brainwaves calm down.
And I’ve heard from listeners that, oft times, it was – the conversation would start going and they’d want more. And they’d want that guest to come back. But then in the course of things, they understood that your brain needs to take a break. Your synapses are firing, and you’ve got to calm them down, you know, just cool off a little bit.
So, back to costs. It would require a lot of me. My family didn’t see me for five years, for example.
LAMB: Was that good?
BATCHELOR: Probably not. I couldn’t tell, though, because it was a job, and I felt – you know, it’s important to say how I got into this. I was drafted.
I was doing a weekend show, kind of a novelty show on WABC, and it was fun – it was great fun – with Paul Alexander.
LAMB: Who is Paul Alexander?
BATCHELOR: Paul Alexander is a playwright and a non-fiction writer. He wrote a very good book about John Kerry and the 2004 election, and worked for the Kerry campaign. And he is now writing plays and books again. And he’s also a journalist. He writes for a lot of magazines.
LAMB: And where he would be a Democrat, you would be a Republican?
BATCHELOR: Yes. Paul was raised a good Democrat in Alabama. And I was raised a good Republican in Pennsylvania. And, of course, both parties have changed profoundly since that was true.
So, what happened on the air is, while he was a good Alabama Democrat and I was a good Pennsylvania Republican, nobody was listening to us anymore. The parties had moved on to these other positions. And so, while we were technically Democrats and Republicans, we were a lot closer to everybody else sort of wandering around in between.
The way we got on is that, the day after the attack – I mean, three days before the attack I chose – we were doing four-hour shows on Saturday night. I chose the topic of who attacked the USS Cole, October of 2000, and why hasn’t anything been done about it? Why are they still at large?
And we had guests. We had guests for four hours. Chiefly, we led off with Admiral Nader (ph), who was commanding the 5th Fleet at the time of the attack, and is still commanding the 5th Fleet and the 2nd Fleet in the United States Navy – active command. And we talked to him about why haven’t we caught the people who attacked the Cole. Who are these people?
And George Friedman of Stratfor.com came on and introduced my audience to this very unusual, odd character called Osama bin Laden. And other people came on and talked about this organization called al Qaeda, al Qaida – we didn’t know how to pronounce it.
And this was September 8, 2001 – four hours.
And we even talked to the mother of one of the dead sailors from the Cole, and how she didn’t feel closure, because they hadn’t caught the man who had done it. And the president had said, no expense would be spared to catch the men who killed her son. And John McCain said, ”We’ll catch them.” And I had all those news clips.
Three days later, the attack.
I’m called the morning of the attack by the man who – by the board op who ran my show that night. He called me up. And he says, ”Who did this? You know.” And the reason he was upset was, his sister was in the building.
She’s OK, but he doesn’t know that. So I told him. I said – or I was smart enough to say – well, suspects, Osama bin Laden, number one. PFLP is number two. Hezbollah, Mugniyah is number three, because I knew these things. Who knew why I knew these things? I did.
On September 11, 2001, there may be 50 people in the country who know these things. But I’d – spend four hours with it, you’ll learn.
The next day, the program director of WABC, Phil Boyce – who is still there, now at Citadel – called me up, and I was on Central Park with my children, because we didn’t have school that day. I could see the cloud, the debris cloud. We all could. And the wind had shifted, and so we were smelling it that day. It was an awful smell, and you didn’t know where to go.
He called me up and he said, ”John, I understand you know something about who attacked us.” Phil is pretty easy then. He didn’t want to keep threatening – he didn’t want to threaten me with what he was about to ask me. He said, ”We can’t play Dr. Laura Schlesinger tonight.” You know, she does this self-help show at 10 o’clock.
And he said, ”How about you and Paul come on and do the show until we figure things out?”
And I said, ”Sure, Phil.” I’d never done a daily news show before. I didn’t have any idea who I was going to have on as guest that night. I was then on for five straight years.
So, when we come back to doing the show now – it was right at the time to respond like you were called. Like you just, you know – ordinary people get pushed into extraordinary circumstances, and they respond with – if they’re lucky, they respond with their health and with their character and their parents and their learning. And they call on their colleagues and they make new friends.
That’s what I did, Brian. You became one of my friends through the show. And I depended upon what you were doing. I would look at C-SPAN, and I would look at those arguments in the morning. You know, you had the journalists in Washington. And I would learn, and I would read the transcripts.
Now when I go back on the show, I don’t know whether there’s that feeling, that fire. I do know that the audience demands it. I do know that. And I do know that I have a responsibility to the audience that I didn’t September 11, 2001, because the audience didn’t exist.
So, I’m of two minds. I want to be responsible to the audience. I’m of an age – I’m a baby boomer – that my fellow baby boomers are now running for president of the United States. They now dominate the Congress. They dominate the Pentagon. They’re in leadership positions in Europe, Gordon Brown. On and on and on, you can see men and women my age.
And I think, you know, John, it’s time that you stopped being a student and started taking some risks here.
So, I think that that’s why, when and if it comes, I’ll do the show again. It’s a feeling of responsibility to the younger people, who get to listen to us oldsters make mistakes.
When I read history, Brian – here’s another example – when I read history – and I read a lot of it now, writing again. I’m reading a lot of 1916 and 1917.
LAMB: Are you writing a novel about …
BATCHELOR: Writing a novel about this country’s entrance onto the world stage. It isn’t the Spanish War that puts us on the world stage. It’s when the warring powers in Europe appealed to Wilson, Christmas of 1916, to make peace. That’s what begins America’s role as a world security state.
I see that those men – and often younger than I am – didn’t have any guides, nobody was holding their hands when things just fell on them – that you don’t get to go to someone and say, shall I do this? You know, is it OK? Do I know enough? It just happens. It happens to you.
Why did I do a show on Osama bin Laden on September 8th? Why did I do that, Brian? Why did that happen? There’s no answer to that. You accept fate. You accept the fate of it. That the morning of the attack, I knew who did it, and I knew where he was.
And that is enough for me to do the show again.
LAMB: Well, for those who have joined us in the middle of this conversation and have never heard you, I want to read the quote I did at the beginning, so they can get a sense of what others say besides what you’ve been saying.
And Phil Boyce – I guess no relation to Chuck Boyce, who is this blogger.
BATCHELOR: Not to my knowledge.
LAMB: He said, ”I cannot tell you how much I will miss this show.” And then he said, ”Think of the best ’New York Times’ or ’Wall Street Journal’ article you’ve ever read. Think of the best glass of wine you’ve every enjoyed. The finest cup of coffee. Coolest place in Europe. The most brilliant song.”
I mean, you cannot get it better than that. And there is a world out there that’s felt the same way about this.
When do you start?
BATCHELOR: Yes, I know, I know. I know.
You know, there are a lot of people who are really working for this show back on the air. And I don’t want to name names. I don’t want to name companies. But it’s not not happening. It’s just, I’m not on the air yet.
And I’ve learned to tell myself – I’ve learned to say to myself, when I’m on the air, I’ll know it. When somebody says, you’re going on the air, I’ll have a date, then I’ll know it. And everybody will know it.
The Internet is wonderful.
LAMB: You’ve got to be heard in New York, got to be heard in Washington?
BATCHELOR: Right. But the Internet means that I’ll be heard everywhere. But yes. Yes, I’m talking about what is called terrestrial radio, yes.
LAMB: Over-the-air radio.
BATCHELOR: Over-the-air radio, commercial radio. I was a …
LAMB: XM, Sirius …
BATCHELOR: Yes, XM, Sirius. I was a commercial success. I mean, the show was the right – let’s acknowledge the fact that the audience knows what I’m talking about. Twenty-five to 54 is the demographic that radio cares about.
The reason? Because the advertisers, who pay a lot of money for those minutes that they buy, presume that the younger you can find a consumer, the better, because they’ll still change products. The older the consumer, the less likely to change products.
So, television likes 18 to 34, because people are still shopping to find their identity. Radio likes 25 to 54, because people are now buying homes and everything attached to it, or buying cars and everything attached to it, or buying consumer goods.
WABC and talk radio, which is what I was, although I wasn’t a recognizable, orthodox talk radio host, because I didn’t take phone calls – well, my phone calls were my guests.
And I didn’t – oh, how to characterize talk radio fairly – I didn’t tell one side of the story, because I don’t know how many sides of the story there are. I’ve never stopped counting how many sides of the story there are – as many people as want to talk about it.
In any event, talk radio cares about 35 to 54, that very narrow band – homeowners, car owners, prosperous people.
And the show was enormously popular, I mean, just – you know.
LAMB: I saw a figure somewhere of five million. Is that a weekly …
BATCHELOR: I don’t know. They gave me those numbers, and I would say, you know, does this add up to anything? And then the radio professionals would lean forward and say, ”John, your numbers are really good.” And what they’d be talking about are those little things inside, those demographic numbers, not the great ones, but the small things.
LAMB: But they never really – I mean, I’m still baffled by – Phil Boyce didn’t call you aside and say, ”John, this is what happened?”
BATCHELOR: Well, Phil Boyce is not ABC Radio Network. The network was sold.
LAMB: I see.
BATCHELOR: WABC is a very prominent talk radio station. It’s a local …
LAMB: Did they replace you with Mark Levin?
BATCHELOR: No. No, the replacement is a re-feed, Laura Ingraham, the Laura Ingraham show for the morning, here in New York.
LAMB: And she’s a popular name …
BATCHELOR: Very popular.
LAMB: Was that the reason, it was cheaper?
BATCHELOR: I don’t know. You know, I didn’t ask, because – I told you Brian, I really was. After I got liberated, I learned that I was free in a way that I could never have gotten free myself. And in the year since, I’ve had a chance to reflect over what I was doing.
I’m not complaining. Lord knows, to have that microphone – phew!
LAMB: What does your wife, the reverend, think of all this? And what’s her church, by the way?
BATCHELOR: It’s the United Church of Christ.
BATCHELOR: Which is the Congregational Church. In Briarcliff Manor, in New York. And it’s a beautiful church built at the end of the 19th century – 1896, I think, is the stone, the foundation stone – in a part of Westchester that is still very lucky and hasn’t been overrun at all by commercialization or franchises.
LAMB: What does she think of you going back on the radio six days a week?
BATCHELOR: She thinks that, if that’s what’s going to happen, that’s what’s going to happen.
LAMB: What do your kids think?
BATCHELOR: They’re high school, so they don’t see me that much.
LAMB: Do they listen to you when you’re on?
BATCHELOR: No. Not to my knowledge.
LAMB: Did your wife listen?
BATCHELOR: Their teachers did. Their teachers did. So, my son, when he got at school, where he is at school now, in Kent School in Connecticut, the first day they had an introduction, meet the headmaster. And the headmaster shook Sam’s hand and told him that he listened to his father every night on the radio, and when’s he coming back on the radio?
And Sam’s response to that was, ”I don’t know.” And then he turned to me and told me about it. And he said, ”Well, I figure I’m in, because he loves your show, daddy.”
And so, that was a reason – well, here’s a – I’ve talked to folk in Connecticut, when I meet them when I go up there, and they listened to the show every night. You know, the Housatonic River Valley.
And I talked to them. Why, you know, 10 o’clock at night after a school day. And it was a way of not just catching up with the news, but hearing the conversation.
LAMB: We’re out of time. Will you let us know?
Thank you, John Batchelor.
BATCHELOR: Thank you, Brian.