February 7, 2012
In a way, Mancow Muller needs no introduction. From his early days in Kansas City to the notoriety he generated at KYLD/San Francisco and later in Chicago, Muller has turned the word, "outspoken," into an understatement - at times running afoul of the FCC. Nevertheless, he continues on in syndication with several outside projects in the works. Here is the latest stream of Mancow's consciousness.
So how is "The Mancow Experience" different than your previous Talk incarnations?
"The Mancow Experience," as a label, doesn't exist anymore. We just call it "Mancow." The show itself changes every day. It has always changed and will continue to change.
Describe the current Talk radio environment. Has the competitive situation made your job tougher?
Look, almost everything in life is tough right now. The economy is tough; everybody's having a tough time ... and radio is no exception. But I'm a long-term guy. I love radio; it's my life, so I'll continue to slug away and keep doing it. I remember the advice of William Shatner, who once told me, "There are always going to be peaks and valleys. Just don't stop in a valley." I don't; I just keep going. And for a while, I've had to eat at the table with my enemies. I eventually had to walk away. But there are always going to be good situations and bad situations.
How did you deal with things when, as you put it, you were "at the table" with your enemies?
I've worked with a lot of people in this business over the years. There have been some great people and there have been some awful people - and at times, I had to get away from the bad people, to remove them from my life.
Now I'm in a good spot. The Talk show is cooking and I'm working on other things. It looks like I'll be doing four hours of primetime TV on a major network this spring. I can't divulge the details yet, but I can say that I've got some good stuff going on.
In an election year with such polarized views, is talking politics essential to succeed as a Talk host these days, or do you feel the reliance on polarized politics is close to going overboard?
Oh God, the situation in America is so ugly and depressing these days. When you immerse yourself in it, you feel like you've been hit by The Blob or something. This is an awful time to be covering politics in America, but certainly with some of the things going on, you have to address them. We've doing more of that now because of the debates, but all that's up in the air right now. Even so, we may be doing a lot of politics today, but tomorrow it could be something Charlie Sheen does or Oscars talk. Either way, you have to be prepared to talk about whatever people talking about.
Reality TV "stars" seems to be the latest new staple of Talk show conversations. Is it tough to keep track of all of them - and are you using them more and more on your show?
It seems like we've had all of them on. Look, I've had presidents, politicians, superstars and legends on. Some we play for laughs and some we don't. But after having a Bruce Willis or Arnold Schwarzenegger on the show, it can be tough for me to put Vinnie from "Jersey Shore" into that category. Reality stars happen to be hugely popular with a good number of our listeners, so we have those people on, too. Yet the notion that Kim Kardashian is considered a star is beyond me.
You used to do a lot on Fox TV. How is your relationship with them today?
I still have a gig with Fox. I was on Huckabee last weekend. I was doing show after show on Fox, but then my wife had twin daughters. It just got to be too much, so I thinned out what I was doing. I still do occasional Fox segments.
Sounds like balancing your work and family is becoming more difficult these days.
Yes, it's absolutely like spinning a bunch of plates and a couple of chainsaws at the same time. I try to do it this way ... and it's probably flawed, but this is how I do it ... I will go through huge bursts of time with my kids and then spend huge bursts of time on the show. Today, for instance, it's all work, work, work. On other days, I shut out the world and focus on our daughters. It is a balancing act. So when I went to New York to be on Huckabee, thankfully the girls have a great mother -- my lovely wife - to take care of them. I've got a great family, so it all balances itself out. At times it's been rough for me, but it's rough for all men who go off to work or on business trips. It's been that way since the beginning of time.
One thing I do realize now more than ever: I respect my father a lot more than I thought I did it in my teen years. I understand where all this stuff comes from. My kids don't understand where all American Girl dolls come from - and that's from our paychecks.
Considering the tough radio climate and your time management challenges, how do you maintain a positive energy for your work?
It's a challenge every day when the alarm goes off at 2:30a, because I still have "The Bachelor" and the latest Presidential debate to go over - and then the kids get up and start making noise all day. Every day I wonder, "Why am I doing this?" -- until the second the red light in the studio goes on. I turn up the mic and it's show time ... and it's a beautiful thing.
Those who've never done it may not understand this, but turning on that mic is like seeing a beautiful girl naked for the first time. It's that exciting -- every time I click on that mic. Every day, it's just like when the panties hit the floor. Now I realize that women won't see it that way; they need an audio or emotional cue. But men are visual - and that's our stimulation.
You've done your share of "stunts" over the years. The "haircut on the bridge" brought you national notoriety, but also FCC scrutiny. Although it would be inappropriate to describe being waterboarded as a stunt, how did that experience impact you personally - as well as your career?
It was actually horrific. I made nothing but enemies by doing it that. Bush and Cheney and Pelosi ... everybody signed off on it, so when others came out and said that it's torture, I wanted to prove them wrong. I did it for me; I was going to prove that it was not really torture. I thought, what's the big deal ... you hold your breath while you get a little water down your goozul. Well, I was wrong. It is torture.
Thing is, I didn't make friends with anybody by doing it. All my right-wing listeners hated me for saying it was torture, but that's what it was. Keith Olbermann had me on his show for two hours, but he missed the point, too. Yes, I was wrong and it is torture, but if it comes to doing it to one of those crazy devil-worshipping maniacs to even save a single American life, I don't care if they use it.
I don't make any friends doing this stuff. Sometimes I think I'd be better off just doing double entendres, then hitting the cut.
You also had your indecency battles. There was that guy in Chicago who constantly complained; the FCC sued your show and Emmis eventually settled. Looking back now, do you regret some of the things you did that attracted that scrutiny?
Hell, no! I don't regret any of it. Lemme tell ya something about a powerful life moment. I'm sitting at William Shatner's Super Bowl party one year - and he and Leonard Nimoy were fighting over the avocado dip. It was crazy; Capt. Kirk was complaining that Mr. Spock was double-dipping. Then all of a sudden, we're watching the halftime show and ... hey, did her top go off? It was the Janet Jackson situation...
And the next day, the government starts going after ... radio?
It's was complete bullshit. The government started curtailing our freedoms and free speech. Pedophiles were taking naked pictures of our children, but hey, Janet Jackson flashed for a second!
This was the beginning of something really horrific in America. And they came after people like me because I moved the needle. People listened to me. Meanwhile, a friend of mine who was a morning host on a Spanish station was doing filthy stuff in the air - a lot worse than what I was doing. And they didn't go after him.
What's worse, if I did the stuff that Oprah did, the FCC would essentially put me in jail. [In fact, the FCC fined other radio personalities for discussing the same topic Oprah discussed.] The FCC basically went after white radio hosts that moved voters. It was a political move by the government to shut down free speech.
One time the FCC went after me because I ran a bleeped Bill Clinton parody song! Bleeped! We even told them it was bleeped and they said, "Well, people could still tell." No kidding! Who can't tell anything that's bleeped? But who had the money to fight the FCC? I didn't.
Sounds like the wounds of that experience hasn't healed...
Do the wounds heal? Not when you bleed red, white and blue ... and you care about freedom. When I first came to Chicago, there were dozens radio owners to work. For there's barely a handful of station owners - and they get their licenses from the government. Free speech has to be curtailed on the radio to keep your license.
In such an environment, have you considered going into podcasts? There's no censorship, and some air personalities claim to be doing quite well that way.
You know, I've talk a lot of the guys who claim they're making all this money off their podcasts, but I think they're all liars. If I could make the money I make on radio by doing podcasts, I might consider it.
But there's something else I consider. I went to do some work at WOR last week - and I remember a little show out of WOR called "The Shadow." When I was a kid, my father would play these old CBS radio mysteries. These shows created a three-dimension fear in me. It's what I always loved about radio; when it's done right, radio can create more theatre-of-the-mind than Industrial Light & Magic.
Unfortunately, radio in 2012 is largely controlled by a bunch of people who don't get that - and who don't really like it. It's not art or entertainment to them; it's an investment. They've got a loser mentality; it's as if they've been playing a Pacman game of gobbling up stations. And when it doesn't give them a return they want, they throw in the towel. They really have given up radio as an art form. That's why we've come to a point where there aren't a lot of true radio people left.
You've seen to be weathering this storm rather well. Why do you think others aren't?
After a while, people get sick of having their hearts broken. A lot of good people have been fired over and over. Anytime someone new buys a station, good people get fired -- and at a certain point, they get sick of being treated like garbage. They don't want to be PD and GM of multiple stations in more than one market. That's why a lot of people leave. It's almost as if their chosen profession has turned into being in an abusive relationship. You try hard as you can to maintain it, but you get kicked around so much that you just have to leave.
Looking back to where you started, in Kansas City and San Jose, to where you are now ... after all you've been through, how do you view your career?
I don't think my career has really been written yet. It's not that I feel my team and I are just beginning; I just don't think we've reached our potential. We should be much bigger than we are -- and we will be much bigger. I'm happy to be as big as we are now; I just believe that we can and will get bigger.
This has been a crazy 2012 already. I've been offered so much TV; I've got four Mancow primetime specials in the works that should begin in March. I can't say where yet; we'll just see what happens. There are several stations that want me to televise my radio show on a daily basis. That interests me -- having people see my show will hopefully reach a new audience. The more people who see the show, the more people who'll listen to it. I've got to keep my name out there ... and keep doing what I love.
So how do you ultimately judge your own success - by the quality of your radio show, by ratings, by the growth of your entertainment offerings, or what?
Hmmm ... that's a tough question. In a way, I guess I'm an abject failure because real success, to me, is achieving peace of mind ... and I don't have any of that. I have zero piece of mind. I'm terrified of the boredom ... of silence. I try to let that go and I still have great moments, but I'm not able to do that consistently, so I guess I'm not a success.
I really don't know how to answer that question. Look, success is not solely measured by popularity. The masses are asses and I can't live for strangers. I live for myself and my family - and success to me is peace of mind. I don't have that yet, so I'm not a success. It's like that U2 song ... "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For."