Mike Huckabee fell short four years ago in his quest to become the Republican presidential nominee. As of this week, the former Arkansas governor has a new job: national radio talk show host.
The Mike Huckabee Show started Monday with an anticipatory flourish.
"Welcome to the community of conversation. You've just made a right turn, and you've arrived at the corner of conservatism and common sense," he said. "In this show, we're going to be confronting the issues — not the listeners."
Huckabee is no media novice. He has been on the radio since he was a teenager. And that introduction was no accident, as he says when he stops by NPR's bureau in New York.
"One of the trademarks that we are putting on this show is that it's going to be more conversation and less confrontation," he says. "If anyone has watched my television show, they know that I don't bring people on the set to see if I can yell at them and push their buttons and raise everybody's blood pressure. I have people on my show that are as polar opposite of me philosophically as someone can be, but I'm always going to treat them with respect."
The Limbaugh Factor
Raising temperatures, pushing buttons? That sounds an awful lot like that other guy who broadcasts in the noon to 3 p.m. slot — Rush Limbaugh.
Limbaugh found himself in hot water last month after accusing a Georgetown law student of being a "slut" because she testified in favor of health care coverage for birth control. Limbaugh ultimately backpedaled, and apologized, which is rare for him.
Huckabee has been doing daily radio commentary for Cumulus Media, the producers of his new show, since 2008 and says planning for this radio show has been in the works for a while.
"In some ways, it's serendipitous for us to have national controversy brewing at a time we're entering into the marketplace," he says. "It's almost like, you know, during the Tylenol scare, it's a great time to be Bayer aspirin right then."
Cumulus Media recently acquired hundreds of radio stations.
"Now that they have 570 stations across the U.S., it makes sense for them to invest in programming," says Amy Yong, a vice president and equity research analyst at Macquarie Bank. "They can use the programming on a much, much greater scale than they can before."
Yong says The Mike Huckabee Show should help Cumulus keep more revenue.
"It also makes sense just given the size — relative to someone like Clear Channel, who's been historically the 800-pound gorilla in the industry," she says.
The rival Clear Channel Communications is Limbaugh's distributor, so Cumulus has to carry off its challenge to Limbaugh with some finesse.
"Rush is obviously the undisputed king of talk radio. He invented the game," says John Dickey, co-chief operating officer of Cumulus. "But not everybody can have Rush or wants Rush."
'Eat Our Own Cooking'
Indeed, Cumulus runs Limbaugh's show on dozens of its own stations, and Dickey says his company intends to be in business with Limbaugh for quite some time, but it wants to develop its own roster of stars.
"Well, the quote was, 'We eat our own cooking,' I believe that was mine," Dickey says. "We've got the governor's show on, give or take, 40 radio stations in 40 different cities out of the 120 we do business in."
On Monday, Huckabee had a pretty big get: Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. There were other familiar figures, including Fox News commentator Dick Morris and Republican strategist Ed Rollins, both former Huckabee consultants.
But there was also a ringer on the first show: Mike in San Francisco.
"Well, governor, it's great to have a different opinion and a different person on the radio," the caller said, "and I'm very, very happy that you're doing this radio show."
Mike the caller was actually one of Huckabee's new bosses, Mike McVay, the senior vice president for programming at Cumulus. His call was revealed by the conservative publication the American Spectator, which blasted Huckabee as a RINO — a Republican in name only.
Cumulus said the staged call was an impulsive mistake by the programming executive — the implication being that Huckabee was unaware.
Huckabee says people mistake his civility for centrism.
"Four years ago, when I ran for president, I told people that I'm a conservative, but I'm not mad at anybody over it," he says. "And I'm not. I'm a very happy guy."
Now we'll find out if Huckabee's brand of conservatism will inspire enough Huckabeetniks to rival the audiences of Limbaugh's Dittoheads.