Skip to comments.Rhodes' rage retains fury on new national stage left (Includes Randi's Christmas Tree Incident)
Posted on 07/27/2004 8:28:19 AM PDT by PJ-Comix
NEW YORK -- On the biggest day of her professional life, radio talk-show host Randi Rhodes, the liberal firebrand who's been a fixture on South Florida's airwaves for more than a decade, did what she does best.
She ranted about a pricey pair of shoes. With independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader, no less.
The occasion was the late March debut of the Air America Radio network, the fledgling left-wing counterpunch to Rush Limbaugh and the wave of conservative talkers who have long dominated the AM band.
It was also Rhodes' national debut: After years of honing her craft at West Palm Beach's WJNO-AM 1290, the fast-talking Brooklyn native was being given the chance of a lifetime: to take her 3-7 p.m. top-rated show to New York-based Air America, the network that was otherwise relying on political satirist Al Franken and actress and activist Janeane Garofalo to preach the liberal gospel.
Rhodes' conversation with Nader wasn't really about shoes, of course. It was about Nader's campaign and how it might siphon votes from John Kerry, the presumed Democratic candidate. But given Rhodes' signature way of melding the political with the personal, it was only a matter of time before she got around to footwear.
"Listen, Ralph," she said in her been-around-the-block-a-couple-of-times manner. "Sometimes I look at a really fabulous pair of shoes, but I can't afford them. I can't afford you. I'm not saying you're not fabulous. I can't afford you! Why you don't get this, I don't know."
Within a few seconds, Nader hung up the phone in disgust.
But with that call -- and the buzz it generated in the national press -- Rhodes had done the deed: She had proved she was ready for prime time. And ready for New York.
To quote no less an authority than New York magazine: "Rhodes is the only one who has the liberal-rage thing down pat." The publication went on to praise her "confident, rapid-fire delivery -- like a smoky, low-pitched Marisa Tomei."
Or to quote Franken, who is still a newcomer to radio, despite his fame: "She is the veteran here. She is the person that actually knows how to do this.... She has an incredible work ethic and knows what she's talking about all the time."
Weeks later, Rhodes is still trying to make sense of it all.
"It wasn't planned, it really wasn't," she explains of the Nader exchange during a recent dinner at her Park Avenue apartment, itself a sign of her newfound success. "I heard his voice and it was like a visceral reaction to hear him be so cocky.... The nerve of this creature."
But some might say the 46-year-old, chain-smoking Rhodes -- all 5-feet-4 of her -- is a nervy creature herself. She has needed that attitude to survive the transition from South Florida to New York.
As much as going national has long been a dream of hers, it also has turned into something of a nightmare.
Almost from the day Air America started broadcasting -- it is heard in more than a dozen cities across the country, including New York -- it has been plagued by financial problems.
The network has lost its affiliates in Los Angeles and Chicago. Its corporate office, high up a Manhattan skyscraper, looks like something out of a college fraternity, replete with a main reception desk that is literally held together with Scotch tape.
Even worse, Air America couldn't make its payroll at one point, leaving Rhodes to pay a producer she brought from West Palm Beach out of her own pocket.
"It's been very upsetting," Rhodes says. "I said, 'We're staying put. We're going to pull this out of the ditch.' "
But she's not going it alone. The network is benefiting from new management and financing: Its chief executives, Guam-based entrepreneurs Evan M. Cohen and Rex Sorensen, resigned in May, after reportedly misrepresenting the amount of money Air America had raised by millions of dollars.
The network also is enjoying some strong initial ratings and is primed to spread to other markets: It just started airing this past week on Miami's WINZ-AM 940. In West Palm Beach, only Rhodes' 3-7 p.m. show is carried -- still on WJNO -- but there is speculation the rest of the network's 17-hour daily programming bloc, including Franken's noon-3 p.m. and Garofalo's 8-11 p.m. shows, will be picked up soon on another local station.
And yet, regardless of how far Air America goes, it is clear that Rhodes is having the time of her life. She is being followed by reporters. She has been pursued by publishers and agents with book offers. She has been interviewed by CNN's Wolf Blitzer.
Rhodes also is earning a good chunk of money. She won't reveal figures, except to say "it's more than I thought I'd ever make." But to look at her tastefully furnished two-bedroom apartment, with the banana plant from her Lake Worth home, is to know she is living the life she always wanted.
Especially for a woman who was raised in the purely middle-class environs of New York's outer boroughs: Brooklyn and later, Queens. Early in her radio career, she also did a stint as a disc jockey at a New York rock station.
"I said I would never come back to New York unless I could live in Manhattan. I wanted to come back like a real New Yorker. I didn't want to be from the provinces anymore," she says.
The point was driven home when Rhodes showed up for her first day of work and realized that the building is where she worked as an office temp, long before she began a career in radio that would take her to Texas, Alabama, Wisconsin and South Florida (she started at Miami's WIOD-AM 610, before moving to WJNO in 1994). "When I saw the view of the Chrysler building, I nearly burst into tears," she says.
But just as important as being in New York is being given the opportunity to take her political views to a national audience. During a typical show, Rhodes, an Air Force veteran who believes patriotism and liberal passion go hand in hand, will find plenty of targets.
She goes through a laundry list of Republican politicians, from Strom Thurmond to Rudy Giuliani, noting the sexual follies of each.
"These are your family-values people, people," she says.
She advises her listeners that, if they get any solicitations from the Republican National Committee, they should stuff the return envelopes with "something really, really weighty because (the Republicans) have to pay the postage."
But she saves most of her ire for President Bush and his policies on a range of issues, from Iraq to the economy. She fantasizes about a possible encounter with Dubya. "I'd treat him like (a) dog and rub his nose in it and tell him, 'Stop it now. Stop it. You have to listen to people that are suffering because of what you've done.' "
Wide range of targets
Then again, Rhodes' rants don't end with policymakers. Part of what has made her show such a success is her ability to weave in the details of her everyday life: how she recently got divorced, how she's raising the teenage daughter of her late sister, how she can't find her favorite brand of beer (Michelob's Amber Bock) since she moved to New York.
Or even how she can't stand The Palm Beach Post.
"Pretty much anything mulch can do is what that newspaper can do real well," she says over the air, while pictures were being taken of her to accompany this story.
Her beef has largely to do with a 1995 story the paper did on her undergoing cosmetic surgery. After Rhodes commented on the piece during her WJNO program, she was sued for her remarks by a plastic surgeon also featured in the article. A judge later dismissed the case.
The bottom line? Rhodes doesn't bother playing nice. And given her penchant for spewing forth -- on air and off -- it comes as no surprise she's not particularly beloved by some folks in the South Florida radio community.
"She is just low-class," says Linda Marx, widow of the late WJNO talk-show host Jack Cole.
Marx recalls an incident at a Christmas bash the couple threw in 1999, when an inebriated Rhodes squatted over the Christmas tree as a party antic. Rhodes admits she had a few martinis, but insists she didn't urinate.
"I pretended," she says.
Marx indicates otherwise. "I'm just happy the tree was on tile and not carpet," she says.
Listeners lavish praise
In either case, Rhodes' listeners seem to love her all the more for her candor and unpredictable behavior.
"She is my soul sister," says Susan Hathaway, a Long Island music promoter who recently flocked to a New York bar for a political-comedy show that Rhodes was helping promote. Tony Maldonado, a writer also in the crowd, likened Rhodes to "a best friend you hang out and have that last drink with."
And in South Florida, Rhodes' popularity continues to remain strong -- so much so that U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Delray Beach, a longtime fan of the talk-show host and occasional guest on her program, says, "I've often told Randi that, if she ever decided to run for the congressional district I represent, I'd just quit."
For Rhodes, Air America was the necessary next step in a career that seemed to be stalled in South Florida. After her show shifted in the late '90s to an increasingly more political format -- in part, Rhodes says, because of her disgust with the Republican-led attacks on Bill Clinton's administration -- she began pushing to be syndicated and to bring liberal talk-radio to the national airwaves.
She says it had gotten to the point that she didn't care whether she was on the air herself; she just wanted to hear another point of view. "If I got to be Rosa Parks, great. If not, that was great, too, as long as there was one."
Taunts without a net
And now that she's made it to the national level, she clearly sees her crusade as starting to take shape. On the surface, the show is not much different from the one Rhodes did from West Palm Beach. But the national imprimatur has given Rhodes access to guests, from Clinton to former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean, that were well beyond her reach at WJNO.
Ultimately, Rhodes seems to work best without a net, playing off callers with sexual taunts, waxing poetic about her favorite films (she does a mean impression of Jodie Foster's bewildered FBI agent in The Silence of the Lambs) and finding new ways to zing it to the president (on her first show, she compared the Bush family with the Corleones of The Godfather movies, likening Dubya to weak and clueless brother Fredo).
Rhodes' only problem? She may not know when to keep her mouth shut.
Rhodes has gone public with her frustrations that Air America has not given her the same level of support and promotion as its big-name talents. And she's more vocal in private, directing most of her disappointment at Franken.
The reason? He never mentions her name when he's promoting his show.
"At first I didn't expect it. But then I grew to really think it was inappropriate," she says. "I started harboring a lot of bad feelings. It would have meant a lot to me to have Al Franken say my name on TV to Jay Leno."
Some wonder whether Rhodes' penchant for speaking her mind could end up jeopardizing her career.
"She's very self-destructive," says Bill Newgent, Rhodes' first producer at WJNO, who adds that, after a few months of working with her, "I went to management and said, 'She's nuts. I can't do this.' "
Not all of Rhodes' former bosses are lined up against her. John Hunt, who oversees WJNO as part of his duties as West Palm Beach market manager for Clear Channel Radio, says you have to appreciate the what-you-see-is-what-you-get factor with Rhodes. "To know Randi personally is to know her on air," he says.
Hunt is so taken with Rhodes that he has made her a signed promise to hire her should things unravel at Air America. Of course, part of that is also good business: Rhodes' program brings in the listeners.
But Rhodes says she appreciates the gesture. "He gave me a safety net.... That was amazing to me."
Still, even if Air America shuts down, Rhodes could end up having a life in syndication. She's becoming a sensation in a few of the cities her program is airing. "I'm killing in Portland," Ore., she says.
She's also killing in New York. For Rhodes, the surest sign came on a recent cab ride home. She struck up a conversation with the driver, a Lebanese-born man who's a regular Air America listener.
"I said, 'Do you know that crazy girl that's on in the afternoon?' He goes, 'You know, she's very extreme,' " Rhodes recalls. "And I said, 'That's me.' And the guy turns around, looks at me and he goes, 'You're Randi Rhodes!' "
Then came the ultimate New York moment: The cabby refused to let her pay the fare.
FYI..there's an article somewhere here today about how Franken has had her barred from the convention floor..
Not only has Franken barred her from the convention floor, but the VERY JEALOUS Franken has barred her from even entering the Air America studios when he is there. PLUS Randi is forbidden by Franken from even talking to his guests off the air.
why?...I though Al is running for the Senate from MN ..he's gonna need her support..
Randi Rhodes is proper piece of excrement.
Did she leave that on the tree too?
RR has some devastating audio clips of President Bush sounding, uh, less than intelligent. I don't know where she got them but they are brutal.
Some women get pretty mean and nasty when the ol' plumbing dries up.....
Does anyone know how the ratings are for Air America with some breakdown for the individual Talkers...They started slow and I was hoping for a long slow crash and burn, have they turned things around? Whaddup...anyone?
I recently saw on Drudge where they are doing well in NYC. But the city is so fragmented because of its size that it is understanable. Besides, it's a bastion of liberalism where Bloomberg can pass himself off as a republican.
That speaks volumes.
Why, that would be... gasp... censorship be the freedom and rights loving left, wouldn't it?
Why, that would be... gasp... censorship by the freedom and rights loving left, wouldn't it?
To all, can anyone imagine what would happen if she had squatted and peed on a Hannukah bush, or peed on a Menorah, extinguishing the flame, I believe Randi is Jewish, which is extra sad if true. I am floored she would do such a thing. But worse, it is a measure of how utterly blind the major media is to outright bigotry against Christianity. She peed on a symbol of my religous heritage, and it is all fun and games, just a bit of a laugh. I am not laughing. This is an outrage. Peeing on a religous symbol is no different than throwing a burning cross on the yard of someone of another race, or defacing Jewish tombstones, it is the same outrageous bigotted behavior, with the saem intention, it is done to intimidate. To express hatred and to threaten. She deserves to be charged with a hate crime. Of course she will not be. Personally, I don't believe in hate crime laws, but they exist, they protect other groups from this kind of behavior and they should protect Christians also. Someone should bring a civil suit against her. She should be exposed nationally as the bigot she is.
Um...not really. Christmas trees are a pretty recent innovation. Nothing about them in the Bible. However, even if Randi peed on another indoor plant, it is pretty gross. I mean, was she so drunk that she couldn't just go to the bathroom?
What does a CHRISTmas tree represent to you? Is urinating on one merely "pretty gross"?
Christmas Trees are a symbol of Christmas, they are a symbol of Christianity. It has nothing to do with them being in the bible or not. We can have a stupid conversation here, that amounts to no more than obfuscation, but a Christmas tree is not just another plant, Ms Rhodes is not just gross, she is a bigot. Christians should not have to watch bigots like her do their thing, while being lashed endlessly for acts of bigotry perpetraded against non-christians. Any less than even handed enforce ment of theese laws is no better than Jim Crowism or the Nuremburg Laws of Nazi Germany. Ms Rhodes needs to live by the rules she proposes for others, namely tolerance and respect. We need to insist that our governments not selectively promote bigotry by enforcing laws unevenly. The Christmas Tree is the focal point of the main Christian Holiday, it has a definate secular side to it, if that is your point, but that changes nothing. Again, the "Christmas Tree", so named because it is part of the holiday "Christmas", so called because it is the day (not really) of Christ's birth. It is a Christian thing...to pee on it is not just peeing on a plant, anymore than turning over Jewish tombstones is just rolling a rock, or burning a cross on a blackmans yard is just roasting hot dogs.
She sounds gross. I noted that Rex Sorenson misrepresented money for Air America. Is he related to the other Sorenson? Shouldn't these guys be investigated? Find out exactly how they do business.
My guess is that Randi was so drunk that she urinated on the nearest available object in sight. It could have been a Christmas tree or an orchid or a birthday cake.
Recent. If you're about 600 years old.
"And yet, regardless of how far Air America goes, it is clear that Rhodes is having the time of her life. She is being followed by reporters. She has been pursued by publishers and agents with book offers."
I never knew there could be such a buzz over someone whose radio program is only carried in a handful of dinky markets on a handful of dinky stations and garners such dinky ratings. The problem with Randi in print is that her loony rantings aren't as funny to read as they are to hear.
She's not a good voice-to-text conversion...
...gardeners interested in Randi's unique method for watering Christmas trees.