A Very Fine Line
January 7, 2014
Two weeks ago I was killing time in my Chicago area hotel room waiting to conduct a focus group down the hall. The TV audio was off but looking up, I saw a still-shot of Congressman Trey Radel. Thinking "Trey's getting another cameo in prime time," I turned up the audio. Bret Baier was breaking the news about Radel's cocaine bust.
In stunned disbelief my mind went spinning back to my first meeting with Trey. Our firm had just engaged Meridian Broadcasting (now "Sun Broadcasting") where the talented Mandy Connell had just left our morning show for WHAS, so it would be Radel, a TV guy within the WINK Radio/ TV consortium who would become the morning anchor for our highly-rated News-Talk client 92.5 WFSX. Sun Broadcasting is a quality operation having cultivated a number of luminaries across the years. As I sat down with Radel at a Panera Bread store between Ft. Myers and Naples, it seemed obvious Trey was a competitive and coachable warrior, though coming from TV there were some challenges. As our ADG colleague Tommy Kramer puts it, "TV is from there, Radio is from here." So it began.
Radel worked hard; he accepted coaching like an enthusiastic rookie. He knew what he didn't know and always sought the next step; an advanced technique or some polishing on rough edges. With each ratings sweep it was apparent Radel's development was translating to numbers; if we had to lose Mandy Connell, Trey was the anodyne.
Then in late 2011, Radel was tapped by party hierarchy to run for Congress in quest of the venerable Connie Mack's seat. Mack was retiring and Radel polled well, no doubt due in part to his burgeoning radio popularity across the conservative Florida Gulf Coast. Candidacy declaration meant separating from 92.5 Fox News Radio. The Sun management team and the station's leadership accepted Radel's decision and faced the future wishing Radel well. He won Mack's seat decisively and began his congressional career in 2012.
Newspapers here are filled with Trey Radel news; double-truck columns and pictures and letters to editors at the Gannett and Scripts' dailies. Though he has taken a leave of absence to enter one of the preeminent treatment centers in the field, haunting questions linger. Radel's political career is possibly beyond reparation, his family and friends in shock. How could someone with so much promise become so distracted? As I thought about this, some Joe Walsh lyrics came to mind...
My, but we learn so slow...heroes they come and they go,
and leave us behind as if we're supposed to know...why.
Sentiment here ranges from anger to empathy. Like many I remain equidistant between the two. I'm angry at Trey Radel's judgment but hope for his redemption. We human beings are flawed; and this is a classic case study in self-sabotage ... the subconscious voice that says, "You don't deserve it, so screw it up."
Congressman Radel's fall from grace is hardly unique, nor is it necessarily permanent. Instead, it's a personal tragedy; a reminder to each of us that all glory is fleeting and as a caution to us all the Latin caveat: Memento Mori. Life is fragile, our time here is limited. We humans are guided by the face of our own flaws and mortality. Live your life but step carefully.