BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Randi Rhodes, can you remember the first time you wanted to be a talk show host?
RANDI RHODES, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: No.
RHODES: I don‘t think anybody ever wants to be a talk show host. I can‘t recall ever meeting somebody that said, when I grow up, I want to be a talk show host, so.
LAMB: When did you first start listening to radio?
RHODES: Ah, see, now that, I started listening very, very early when I was a teenager. I grew up in a loud house. And, you know, just to calm down, you know, music and of course, things like that. But late at night -- I grew up in New York, and late at night from 2:00 to 6:00 in the morning on the rock station was a guy named Alex Bennett.
And he had the only talk block on that rock station. And he talked about crazy stuff. I mean, he talked about blue movies and he talked about the music scene and sometimes, you know, these rock stars would come and they would be trashed, and it was just fascinating to listen to them just talk.
And they were on from 2:00 to 6:00 in the morning, and of course, I‘m supposed to be sleeping because I had school the next day. And I had a very serious dad. And he would come into my bedroom and go like this: Uh-uh, turn it off.
So I would turn off my little pink transistor, it was under my pillow. I turned it off and wait until I heard his little footsteps go down back to the -- and his door would close, turn it back on. Twenty minutes later -- I mean, this went on, you know, for years.
And I remember one night wanting to sneak out of my room so badly and go to -- Alex Bennett loved Nathan‘s hot dogs, and I swore I was going to take the subway, I was going to go to Coney Island, and I was then go to Manhattan and I was going to bring him Nathan‘s hot dogs.
It was like a fantasy. I never did it, but I used to dream about it. And I actually -- the only talk show I ever called in my whole life was his, after listening for maybe a year or so I called. I remember his phone screener‘s name was Randy, wherever he is, and he told me I was a kid and he didn‘t want me on the show.
But, yes, that‘s how I got addicted to it.
LAMB: So what works in talk radio? And what‘s your pattern? What do you do differently than others?
RHODES: I tell the truth.
RHODES: Yes. I tell the truth and I care, you know, I really, really care about what I‘m doing. You know, I started out doing entertainment talk, just flat out pop culture. But I made sure that my take was, you know, something that you probably thought of but didn‘t write down.
You know all those great thoughts you have but you don‘t -- so I started writing them down. Then I went to the tape recorder so I wouldn‘t forget details. And I would tell the story I think, you know, better than anybody else could. I was a great storyteller, always, so that‘s what I started doing different.
And then when it got to be politics, I just wanted all the details. I wanted just every little last thing. I didn‘t want to forget anything and I wanted to make sure it was, you know, in your face, but also accurate at the same time, and entertaining.
And you know, you put those things together, you have got something, I think, you know. Although I‘m addicted to C-SPAN.
LAMB: Air America is where? How many places in the United States can you listen?
RHODES: Well, there‘s -- I think 65 carry me and pretty much the whole line-up. And then there is an additional 20, I think we‘re up to about 85 nationally. And they have started to branch out, carrying guys like Thom Hartmann, which is great, he deserves a platform. This is a really great, brilliant guy. And Jerry Springer brought in some affiliates as well. So it‘s 85 total, I‘m on about 65, 67 of them.
LAMB: When can you be heard?
RHODES: If they carry me live, on the East Coast it will be afternoon drive. It would be 4:00 -- 3:00 to 7:00. And then some places only take a couple of hours, which I‘m not happy about. And then some places do it so it‘s in the afternoon drive slot, but it will be a couple of hours earlier.
It just -- it varies but it‘s most -- it‘s afternoon drive. That‘s where my show is heard.
LAMB: You appeared on our 25th anniversary…
RHODES: I loved it.
LAMB: … call-in show.
LAMB: Went 25 hours. But there was a moment -- and now, I mean, before we show the clip I want to ask you, there was a moment where you changed the mood. Do you think it was you or was it Janet Parshall?
RHODES: I tried to be very respectful of C-SPAN. I had never done it before. I testified -- well, I didn‘t testify, I gave information to a forum that John Conyers had, because Democrats aren‘t allowed to have hearings, and that was, I think, the first time I remember being on C-SPAN.
But that was, you know, giving information about media, you know, in a panel of people talking to John Conyers, who we weren‘t allowed to call chairman. But this was the first time I was ever invited to be on C-SPAN. And I was really excited. But I also wanted to be respectful of your sort of, hey, let‘s watch paint dry…
RHODES: … kind of format, you know. And so I came on just really wanting to be respect to Steve Scully, who was the host. And I found out, you know, maybe five minutes before that I was going to be paired with Janet Parshall who I don‘t respect.
And so I tried to be deferential and let her talk. But there was a moment when she was just lying and denying -- and she stuck her fingers in her ear as if I was so repugnant and so offensive that the truth to her was just something that she had blocked out.
And it was very upsetting to a grown woman do the "la la la can‘t hear you" thing. But the good part of it was that someone captured that moment. You have got a lot of viewers. And somebody captured it and put it on a coffee mug. And you can buy them on the Internet now. And I have one.
LAMB: Of Janet Parshall holding her ears.
RHODES: Of the split screen of Janet with her fingers in her ear, and me. And I forget what the slug line is, but it‘s something like, "they can‘t handle the truth" or something. It is just a great little thing that came out of that.
And I‘ll tell you, I got more response on the phone on my show -- I‘ve done other TV shows, you know, when I first started, "Inside Edition," because it was entertainment. And a lot of the -- you know, like little hits on TV. But I never got a response like I did from that C-SPAN.
LAMB: Well, the interesting thing is that we got more response out of that particular happening than anything else in the 25 hours, which might say something about what people really want?
RHODES: Well, yes, I‘ve talked to you on the radio and I told you -- you know, did you try a little crawly thing on the bottom like a week ago or so? Did you try adding graphics?
LAMB: We do.
RHODES: Because I noticed it and I thought, maybe Brian listens.
LAMB: Now Janet Parshall is not here to defend herself or to talk about this but…
RHODES: Well, her husband attacked me in writing after that.
RHODES: They have a Web site and he went crazy and said that Janet had answered the question directly. Actually, I was wrong. He suspended Davis-Bacon, he didn‘t repeal Davis-Bacon. And if she knew anything about that incident, she could have said, no, he didn‘t. And she would have been right.
Because it was -- I misspoke, I said "repealed" and I should have said "suspended." Obviously she didn‘t know that he had repealed -- or suspended Davis-Bacon, which was a serious matter because he did it by executive order.
And what it said was that if a man was a construction worker and the prevailing wage in New Orleans was $9 an hour, which it is, which is low, it‘s $360 a week for a 40-hour work week, that he didn‘t need to get paid the prevailing wage. He could get paid less.
LAMB: But the point that this shows that you could just feel the tension on either side. If you‘re a conservative, you say, oh, I can‘t stand Randi Rhodes.
RHODES: Yes, but she was lying.
LAMB: But I mean, she‘s really not here to defend yourself. But on your side, if people like you, they say, go for it, didn‘t they?
RHODES: Well, because they I know that I had the facts. They know that I know that Davis-Bacon was suspended. They know it was a disgusting thing to do to New Orleans in the wake of Katrina, that the response promised and that the response given were polar opposites.
So here was somebody actually saying, well, do you know that the president suspended Davis-Bacon? And she should have said -- I said, repealed, she should have said, no, he didn‘t, if she was up on the information.
Obviously, they‘re opining all day long. And because we were new on the national stage, liberals are, we don‘t get to opine quite as much. I mean, you have to have your facts in order or you‘re going to get popped, period.
So it was fascinating to me that somebody is so relaxed into their job that the facts don‘t matter.
LAMB: Well, we will get both of you back some day and do this again.
RHODES: Love to.
LAMB: But in fairness to Janet Parshall, we‘ve got to move on because she‘s not here. Air America is owned by an individual or a corporation?
RHODES: It‘s a corporation called Piquant. And we have a board of directors. There are three main board members. Chairman of the board is Rob Glaser, who invented RealPlayer and RealNetworks and the Rhapsody music libraries. And then we have got Terry Kelly (ph) who is a fantastic guy from Wisconsin.
He‘s basically a meteorologist. And he made his imprint in providing radio stations with weather, you know, hurricane forecasts, you know, really, seriously -- he‘s a meteorologist. He‘s a total geek and I love him. And his wife is also involved, Mary.
And then there is this guy, Tommy Ambresha (ph), who is like a gazillionaire, who is just into everything. You know, Tommy is just all over the place. And they basically ponied up. They‘re the ones that saved us when we first launched and we thought we had money in the bank and it turned out we didn‘t have money in the bank.
These guys came in and said, you know, we heard what you‘re doing. We think it‘s right. We think it‘s fun. We think it has got a business future. So, OK, we‘re in. And they literally pulled us out of the jaws of death.
LAMB: And what time did they do this?
RHODES: We started and I think we were in trouble within the first, what was it, a month or so? It‘s -- there‘s a great documentary that HBO did called "Left of the Dial." And it documents the whole debacle at the beginning. And it kind of ends on a sort of semi-happy note where they show how we‘ve finally been put on, at that point, 50-something radio stations.
But it tells the struggle. It was a struggle. It was rough. We didn‘t know if we were getting paid. We didn‘t know what to do about these staff members we had who really were kids, you know, and just wanted to be in it for the love of what we were doing.
LAMB: How did you sign up for?
RHODES: I did three years.
LAMB: When is your contract up?
LAMB: And you started in radio in Palm Beach?
LAMB: Oh, no, no, no, but that‘s where you were for 10 years.
RHODES: Yes. I worked there -- well, I worked in Miami and Palm Beach for a total of nine years -- or, no, you‘re right, it was nine years in West Palm and four years in Miami, something around there.
And no, I didn‘t start there. I started in -- I started radio in general in West Texas, in Seminole, which is a dry town, 62 miles north of the president‘s hometown. He‘s from Midland. I lived in Odessa. Midland-Odessa is a twin city situation. Midland is the rich part, the guys who own the oil wells in the Permian Basin, you know, and all the resources and riches that are there.
Odessa is the blue collar where you lose your fingers working on those oil wells, and all the support staff are in Odessa, and that‘s where I lived. And I was looking for a job as a bookkeeper and I opened up the newspaper and before "B" came "A," and it said "announcer wanted," and I went, hmm, so.
LAMB: How old were you then?
RHODES: Oh, I was young, I just got out of the Air Force. I think I was 21? Twenty-one. I was young.
LAMB: That was two or three years ago. Let‘s go back -- go back to, you were born where?
RHODES: Brooklyn. And then raised until I was 11 in Brooklyn. And then taken to Queens. So I have the world‘s worst accent, the Brooklyn-Queens accent. So I always say I make a living in spite of the way I sound.
LAMB: You talk a lot -- just like we talked to Laura Ingraham last week, she talks a lot about herself on the air. You tell people a lot about yourself.
RHODES: You know, it‘s funny. I tell people just about everything. I don‘t know, I don‘t want to talk about Laura Ingraham. I wish her well. I‘m shocked -- that she has been so brave. She has had breast cancer, and my sister died of breast cancer. So first I want to wish her well.
LAMB: This is your sister Ellen?
RHODES: My sister Ellen. Oh my God, Brian, you do your homework. Yes, my sister Ellen. She died at 44.
LAMB: What year?
RHODES: I guess that was seven years ago, eight years ago.
LAMB: And you raised…
RHODES: I raised her daughter, Jessica Merrill Hannah Madonna (ph), that last name we‘ll leave out, and she‘s a great kid. She‘s amazing. She could have been a really angry kid. This is -- you know, this is why you talk about yourself because you see this kid who lost their mother, has got this big hole inside of them, and you realize that this kid is filling this hole up with anger.
You know? You watch somebody mourn and the first is shock, and there‘s this anger that‘s just unbelievable rage. And she was 10 or 11. And you know, we went through a really, really hard time. And -- but we were so committed because we knew it was something that we could replace with something better.
And Jessica could have been a kid that fell through the cracks real easily, real easily. And she‘s in her second year of college, and she‘s a fun girl and she‘s a bright girl. And she‘s the funniest person I know other than my sister who was hysterically funny.
You know, people say I‘m funny, you know? And I take it as kind of a compliment, but it‘s hard to own because if you knew Ellen, oh my God. That -- see now, she was funny. She was hysterical, and glamorous, and gorgeous, and a dance, and, oh, just an amazing woman, really amazing.
And so, yes, I raised her kid, I had the privilege of raising this kid. And it teaches you a lot. So why not share this, you know, stuff with other people?
LAMB: People can hear you on Sirius and XM?
RHODES: No, we‘re not on Sirius anymore. We did an exclusive arrangement with XM only. So there is no more Sirius broadcast.
LAMB: Can they listen to you on the Internet?
RHODES: Yes, oh yes, absolutely.
LAMB: Do you sell that?
RHODES: I don‘t.
LAMB: It‘s wide open. People can listen every day?
LAMB: All right. I want to show some from -- we recorded earlier in this week, actually it was on Tuesday, part of your radio show. Let‘s look at a minute of that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RHODES: Have you ever been through a hurricane?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I‘ve never been on a hurricane, but…
RHODES: OK. Well, I will tell you this. I lived in Florida for 15 years and I still have my house there. And it was just damaged in the last hurricane, Wilma. It still has its roof tiles off, and it still has the window un-repaired, OK?
And let me tell you something, people didn‘t even board up because they didn‘t think it was serious enough. And not everybody is going to get on a bus, that‘s number one.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I figured the people at the Superdome…
RHODES: So unless you want people to be shackled and collared and dragged onto to 250 school buses…
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I‘m talking about the people who were in the Superdome who were dying to get out.
RHODES: Well, after they were in the Superdome, the buses were under water.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right. That was second point, Randi. Why didn‘t he get those buses to higher ground?
RHODES: Why would he?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So he could use them to evacuate people, Randi.
RHODES: They don‘t do that in Florida. They don‘t take my kids school buses and bring them to higher ground. We had 10 storms, they have never taken the school buses and moved them to higher ground.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Randi, you‘re yelling at me, I‘m not yelling at you.
RHODES: Because you started off insulting me, number one.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I did not, I love you…
RHODES: And number two, you don‘t want to...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I said, I love you, that‘s…
RHODES: You love me because you think I‘m helping your side of the ridiculous war argument.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are the…
RHODES: Listen, here is the thing. Do you think Michael Brown did a good job?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, he sucked.
RHODES: Then your president lied to you, because he said, "you‘re doing a heck of a job, Brownie."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAMB: This isn‘t substance, but the first thing I noticed was you hold the microphone. I‘ve never seen anybody do that. Why do you do that?
RHODES: You know who taught me that? When I went to Miami, that was my first talk job, there were some great talents there. And there still are. There is this guy Neil Rogers, I don‘t know if you‘re aware of him, but this guy is amazing. And he came in and took pity on me the first night I was auditioning.
It was the longest audition in the history of show business. It was a week, a whole week of not knowing if you had the job. I lost 11 pounds that week just sweating. The back of my knees were sweating. I was never so terrified in my whole life because I didn‘t even have the confidence that I had the job.
And Neil was the -- well, he still is. He‘s the godfather of talk radio in Miami. And if he doesn‘t like you, you don‘t work. So I was terrified. He came in and he saw me and I was wearing this really bad floral dress and my round glasses and I had frizzy hair. And he looked at me and he went, you look like a burnt-out Stevie Nicks. All right, here‘s what you‘re doing wrong, because I was leaning into the microphone and I had the headphones on.
And he said, take off your headphones. I go, well, how am I going to hear the callers? He said, there are speakers in the ceiling, you can hear everything. And he said, and take the mic out of the standard (ph) hold and relax, bring it to you, because a girl like you going at something shaped like this for four hours is going to make you angry.
So he just did it so I would relax and it worked for me. It just -- and so I‘ve always done it that way ever since.
LAMB: The second part of this, you took a caller who didn‘t agree with you. How often do you do that?
RHODES: Always. If they‘re there, we take them. And in fact, if somebody‘s hostile I try and get to them faster, because I know half of them are cowards and they will chicken out and hang up. And I really want them to show people, you know, what is your side of the deal, you know? What is your argument? How -- what is it that makes you vote against your own best interests over and over again?
LAMB: A couple of days ago I heard you -- I think the guy‘s name was Marvin. I may be wrong, some guy out in Miami or down Florida called up and you said, oh, Marvin, I haven‘t heard you for a long time. And then you just went after him.
RHODES: Marvin is a coward. I‘ve talked to Marvin for 10 years. Marvin has been calling me for 10 years, which proves that we don‘t screen out people who disagree with me. I refuse to do that. I think it‘s a lie. I think it‘s dishonest. I think it -- hosts do it because they don‘t have good arguments. I think they do it because they‘re afraid of their audience because they are working -- I mean, look, national radio has been conservative forever because of the copycat principle.
They had one guy, Rush Limbaugh, who did well, you know, like TV, everybody copycatted. So there‘s like 400 Rush Limbaugh‘s out there and maybe three of them are making money?
But truly, they don‘t take hostile callers. They always want to work off these talking points that if you would flesh it out with somebody who disagreed with you, it would make no sense what they‘re saying, none whatsoever.
So I like the callers that disagree with me. Occasionally, very rarely, but occasionally they will have a point that I need to consider and I will. And I will thank them. And that‘s a great call, that‘s a really good one.
LAMB: But you competed against Rush Limbaugh…
LAMB: … in West Palm Beach.
RHODES: For five years.
LAMB: Did he really say that if Clear Channel radio, the big company with 1,200 stations, put you on, he would leave?
RHODES: Yes, yes.
LAMB: What did he say that?
RHODES: He had told senior managers at Premiere Radio Networks, which is part of Clear Channel, it syndicates him, that if they syndicated me nationally, he would just take his show and go elsewhere. And…
RHODES: Because he just didn‘t want me to have any success. First of all, I spent a good time working against him, beating him, badly. And then when Clear Channel bought the station I worked on, they realized that I shouldn‘t compete with Rush. It was taking away from what Rush could do. So they put me on after him, and said, oh, you‘re being promoted to afternoon drive.
So I realized what was going on. So I thought, OK, let me work for Clear Channel for a year or two, let me see what I can do in the ratings without Rush in the mix. And of course I was number one.
And so I went to them. It took me six months to get the meeting, maybe more, nine months to get the meeting, and I got it with a middle manager. And he literally had me in his office for two-and-a-half hours, hysterical, crying, he liked that I was crying, telling me over and over again, we will never ever, ever never, ever never, ever never syndicated you.
And when I finally just said -- well, at the end of the meeting he told me why. And it was this -- the Rush story. And then I confirmed it up the chain and I got to the point where they said, look, he makes a billion dollars for us. You make money for us, but we don‘t know how much you can make if we syndicated you nationally. So why would we give up the know quantity to take a chance on you? It doesn‘t make sense and he will leave.
So I said, do me a favor and let me go shopping. Could you put a paragraph in my contract that says that I could go outside the company and see what there is to see? And if I do that, I won‘t lose my job. I won‘t be penalized. Because usually if you do that, you get fired.
So they said yes, and we put in a paragraph, paragraph five, and it said that I could do this and I did this. So -- and I still work for Clear Channel in West Palm Beach. I still have a really happy relationship with the people that run the -- in Clear Channel they call it pods. So that pod, I made a lot of money for that pod. And I love those people. I mean, I worked with them for nine years. They‘re my friends.
My general manger there, John Hunt (ph), is one of my dearest friends. My program director, John Nanzo (ph) came with me to New York, and he is the vice president of the Randi Rhodes Show.
LAMB: Let‘s cover some personal stuff quickly. Have you been married?
LAMB: Once, twice?
LAMB: A fellow named Robertson (ph)?
LAMB: How long were you married?
RHODES: Well, we lived together for probably 10 years, and we were married -- we got married when we took Jessica because we -- there were so many last names. There was Rhodes. There was Bueten (ph), which was my maiden name. There was Robertson, which was his name. And then there was Jessica‘s last name, which I will choose not to say.
And so there was like so many -- I said, OK, we need to streamline the last names. So…
LAMB: Is Rhodes a stage name?
RHODES: Yes. It‘s made up. It‘s actually -- I named myself after Ozzy Osbourne‘s guitar player. And people think they‘re making some joke when they say, oh, your named after -- I did it on purpose.
Actually when I was in New York I worked for Doubleday -- I worked Doubleday PP (ph). And they call you up with your name. When I was in West Texas I was Randi St. John. My mother said, oh, great, you‘re a holy toilet.
So I got to New York and they thought pretty much the same thing, so they said, we‘ll call you later with your name. So they liked alliteration. So they called me Randi Rolex. I said, I am not going to be a watch, OK? It‘s a great watch, but I‘m not going to be a watch.
So they said, well, then pick something that means something to you. And so I thought of Randy Rhoads, who was a consummate professional. He had long blonde hair like me. He was -- but he always practiced. I mean, he practiced eight hours a day. He lived to be the best.
So I just loved his legend and I loved his professionalism and I loved Ozzy and I loved everything about that band. So I named myself Randi Rhodes.
LAMB: How much school do you have?
RHODES: Not much.
LAMB: What does that mean?
RHODES: You know, I almost dreaded this, but now I actually feel sort of proud of it. I‘ve always been intimidated by -- you know, Al has got a Harvard degree, and I saw Laura has got Dartmouth. And I graduated high school when I was 15. I got a proficiency diploma in California.
I transferred -- when my parents split up, my father went to California. So I went with him. And I transferred from New York schools to California high school. And they give a proficiency test to see what classes you need. And the education system was so bad there, that I needed California history, because obviously I had never studied California history, service for the nurse, typing, and gym.
And my father, who was very pragmatic, said -- that‘s when we had the talk where he said, look, you‘re not very pretty but you are very smart, and guys don‘t like that. Your sister is going to marry well. You need to get a career. You need to get some job.
So I took the proficiency test and it allowed me to sign myself out with parental approval. And my father went to school and signed me out of high school. So that was it. And then I didn‘t go to college until I was 30. And I did while I was in talk radio because I wanted to start to be more political, and, Brian, I really wasn‘t sure how a bill became a law.
So I went for a year, maybe a year-and-a-half, when I got to statistics, I cried and I said, OK, I‘ve had enough. And I just started teaching myself. And that‘s C-SPAN. That‘s why C-SPAN.
LAMB: Where did you go to college for that year-and-a-half?
RHODES: Broward County Community College. But I had a great professor there named Dr. Schindler (ph) who actually taught American politics the way it‘s supposed to be taught. He is the guy -- I remember the first day of class, he said, why would you want to be a congressman?
Nobody knew. And he said, because you want to know where the new road is going to be built so you can build the Burger King at the exit. I thought, I loved this guy, this is exactly the kind of stuff I wanted.
And he really had an impact. I had him for two -- I took him for two terms. And so he was my political science guy and just told me what to read and how to read it and gave me some historians that he liked.
He turned me on to Michael Beschloss and Doris Kearns Goodwin and he -- McCullough. And I just started -- and he gave me Howard Zinn as a present. He gave me this big giant Howard Zinn American History: 1492 to the Present. And the real…
LAMB: "People‘s History."
RHODES: "The People‘s History." And there are stories of the labor movement in there. And there are stories of people literally dying for the rights that, you know, little snot-nose me was taking for granted. And it just changed me. It just changed me. And then I couldn‘t get enough. And then I just -- I couldn‘t get enough.
So then I started watching. And the more I watched and the more I realized the process is mind-numbingly boring, but I learned roll call, "Mr. Akaka, Mr. Allard, Mr. Alexander."
LAMB: Go back to…
RHODES: First B, Baucus.
LAMB: One of the things that pops up in all of the stories that are written about you was the Air Force experience.
RHODES: Yes, that was a great experience.
LAMB: How many years?
RHODES: I did two, maybe three. I can‘t -- I did two regular and then I did a year in the reserves because I moved to Ohio. And so they told me that I could report to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. And I lived in Portsmouth, which is really a ghost town. That‘s one of those Rust Belt -- that‘s one of those cities that every man made his living on the Mississippi -- on the Ohio River.
And when all that commerce dried up, a good job for a 45-, 50-year-old man in Portsmouth now is pumping gas or working at McDonald‘s. So it really became a depressed area. And I lived in the hills there.
LAMB: You were enlisted.
RHODES: I was enlisted.
LAMB: What was your highest rank?
RHODES: My highest rank was airman first class. I was about to become a sergeant but I just wanted to go with this guy.
LAMB: What is that story, once and for all, the story of you just leaving the Air Force?
RHODES: I did just leave.
LAMB: Just walk out the door? Where were you?
RHODES: Here‘s what happened. I went through basic training in Texas, Lackland. And then I went to Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls. And I was being trained to be a flight engineer.
And the first you have to do is be an aircraft mechanic. So I had just gotten done with that and then I got -- my permanent station was going to be New Jersey. And this was the way I was going to see the world, because New Jersey is the point of exit and entry into the United States.
I went, but it‘s Jersey! It‘s Jersey! Yes, I wanted Germany, I wanted -- you know. So I got there and there was really not much that they would use me for. There were 300 guys in my squadron and me.
And so I lived in the men‘s barracks, but I had the room next to the door so if I had to run out I could, kind of thing. Anyway, the guy that lived across the hall from me and I became friends. And this guy was from Ohio.
And he wanted out really badly. And he got to the point where he wouldn‘t talk to anybody in military clothes -- wearing military clothes. And the Air Force was looking to help the guys accept me, I think, or to say, women can do this.
So in 1979 I was made most outstanding woman in maintenance in the Air Force.
LAMB: The entire Air Force.
RHODES: There were about three women in maintenance, it‘s -- you know, it was…
LAMB: But it still was the entire…
RHODES: It was a big deal in that the dinner was amazing. I‘ll never forget this dinner. I felt like Cinderella. It was the first female pilots and the women from World War I and the -- I sat next to my base commander, Colonel Forsebray (ph), who was a fabulous guy. I was allowed in the officer‘s club for the first time. I mean, it was an amazing night and they gave me this plaque and it said for outstanding service. I still have it. It‘s on my wall in my office at Air America.
And then after that, this guy and I, I kind of fell in love with this guy. And so he said, we have to leave, we have to leave. They‘re never going to do anything for you. It was all -- you know, and because they had given me this award, I think I became an embarrassment to them. Do you know what I mean?
Where we just honored her and she wants to leave. So they made a deal that if I wanted, I could go something called Palace Chase where you do twice the time you have left in the reserves. I said, OK, I‘ll do that, because I don‘t want to disgrace what I‘ve accomplished. I don‘t want to make it bad for other women. But there‘s really nothing for me to do here.
I mean, they -- I had a speed handle and I was taking panels off of airplanes. And so…
LAMB: But you didn‘t go AWOL.
RHODES: No. I went Palace Chase. And so the deal then was if you were 100 miles away from your reserve base, you would go to one drill and they would tell you when you had to come back. And they would tell me, you don‘t have to. So I got an honorable discharge and that was it.
LAMB: I want to show more of your radio show because I want to get into the politics of this and what -- the way you approach your audience every day. Here‘s another clip. About a minute.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RHODES: And don‘t call me "retreat and defeat." Bush, Cheney, they retreated, as soon as they called their name for service in Vietnam, bye-bye! Retreat and defeat, yes, bye-bye! Time to serve in Vietnam, retreat and defeat. That is what is happening to the Bush inner circle, don‘t you see?
Rove, Libby, Cheney, indictments, retreating into the White House, refusing to answer questions about starting an illegal war, except with little three by five index card answers, bumper sticker answers to what he lied about, how many we‘ve killed too. I mean, it was just -- but does defeat refer to Bush being caught in lie after lie.
Even the ones that sound good are lies. "Oceans no longer protect us." They‘re not wet enough anymore. They used to be wettier. They‘re not that wet anymore. Now they‘re drier and they don‘t protect us.
Anybody seen New Orleans? The oceans didn‘t protect them, and he had his way he would bomb it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAMB: Again, a non-substantive thing…
RHODES: That was funny.
LAMB: You have the music very quietly in the background all the time, what is that about? What are you…
RHODES: That‘s cueing me to shut up.
LAMB: But I hear it all the time when I listen.
RHODES: You do? Oh, you shouldn‘t, you shouldn‘t hear music all the time.
LAMB: But I hear a lot. I mean, more than you…
RHODES: It‘s probably another station bleeding through
LAMB: Yes. Well, let‘s go on to the substance of this. I hear you say a lot of times that George Bush lies, that Dick Cheney lies, that Don Rumsfeld lies. When did you first feel that -- and why do you use the term "lie"?
RHODES: Well, they lied. They -- Donald Rumsfeld literally said he knew where the weapons of mass destruction were, they were in Tikrit and Baghdad and places north, south, east, and west. I mean, they lied.
They said that we -- I mean, up until recently, the president changed his language. We were fighting terrorists in Iraq. People believed that al Qaeda had flooded into Iraq or that they -- he said that he had proof that there were meetings in Prague between Mohamed Atta and Iraqis -- senior Iraqi officials.
All of this was just patently false, it was untrue.
LAMB: Does your audience like it when you say the president lies?
RHODES: Yes. They don‘t understand and I personally don‘t, either, I don‘t understand why is it so hard in America to call a liar a liar when obviously they don‘t have any problem calling Democrats liars. They called Bill Clinton a liar for eight years. They called him a murderer. They called him a drug dealer. They said he was a rapist. And they said he was a liar.
But for some strange reason, Democrats have a very tough time with the L-word. And yet the president lied about the one thing that we always believed as an American -- it was sort of an America compact, we all lie about politics. George will lie about whether or not he served his full term in the Texas Air National Guard.
You know, it‘s painful to say he didn‘t serve the whole thing and he didn‘t do it the best and you weren‘t a general or you didn‘t make office or whatever. It‘s hard to do that, but it‘s honest to do that.
But he‘ll lie about war? That was always the compact. The politics ended at the water‘s edge. People never knew really what that meant. It meant you didn‘t lie about reasons to go to war.
Obviously the president chose war. He promised to go to the U.N. for a second vote. He lied. He promised war would be a last resort. It was his first plan. He lied. He -- even the resolution, which I don‘t really understand why Republicans don‘t hold him accountable, I mean, they have majority in both houses so it would be up to them to hold him accountable.
But what happened to the days when Richard Nixon broke into the Democratic headquarters, and it was bad, at the Watergate, and George Herbert Walker Bush, as chairman of the RNC, said, jig‘s up, you can‘t serve, you have been disgraced, and went over and told him, it‘s over. Republican telling a Republican. Whatever happened to the integrity that they did have?
LAMB: Let me -- folks, when they want to hear your politics can listen to the show, and I want to get some more of the background on Air America. There was a dinner held once in Washington that you were invited to by Mary Landrieu, the senator from Louisiana.
RHODES: Yes, at her house, it was lunch.
LAMB: When was that?
RHODES: That was way before Air America. That was right after I got that little paragraph from Clear Channel, I called a man named Norman Wayne (ph) who owned a chain of radio stations, Metroplex, and he had sold them to Clear Channel.
And Norman lives both in West Palm Beach and in Cleveland. And when he was in West Palm Beach, I was his favorite on the show and he just liked my spunk and humor, apparently my politics.
So Norman called me and Norman actually was the one that got that paragraph for me. And Norman said, now we‘re going to see if we can raise some money to syndicate you, because the best way for you to go is self-syndication.
So Norman had some good connections with some people who might have an interest in this corrupt media system that we had. And next thing I knew, I was invited to Senator Mary Landrieu‘s house.
LAMB: In Washington.
RHODES: Well, this happened second. The first thing that Democrats in the Senate did was every Thursday they have a Senate caucus meeting of the Democrats. And it‘s a really cool thing, because it‘s in LBJ‘s old office. And it was really weird because I happen to have been reading LBJ: The Senate Years, that big book. And…
LAMB: Robert Caro?
RHODES: Yes. And that‘s where I ended up. I had no idea that this was the -- and I walked in. But it‘s a Thursday meeting that they always have. And I was invited to it.
LAMB: Who invited you?
RHODES: Dick Durbin and Dorgan and Daschle.
LAMB: What year?
RHODES: That must have been, well, it was before Daschle. It must have been, what…
LAMB: Before Air America?
RHODES: Oh, it was before Air America.
LAMB: 2002 or ‘03?
RHODES: Yes, I would say 2002.
LAMB: And were you -- did you come by yourself?
RHODES: Yes. Yes.
LAMB: And why were they inviting you?
RHODES: They wanted to find out once and for all why it was that big companies didn‘t think liberal talk could succeed. Do you know? Like Corzine is a businessman, and that was his question to me. If it makes money, and it does, why wouldn‘t they do it? I explained to Corzine in a cute way, I gave him -- I love "The Godfather," it is for me the allegory for all business.
You know? All of business. If you want to understand -- you want an MBA, watch "Godfather" I and II, III is a joke, watch I and II over and over again, and you‘ll understand what goes -- so I had already explained that make money through Clear Channel and I explained that media is a copycat business and that why do you think you have all these reality shows now?
And next year, they‘ll say reality is out, now we‘re into dramas. And then after that everybody will do dramas. And then after that they‘ll say dramas are too expensive, we need to do sitcoms again. You know, it‘s just a copycat business. There‘s really very little innovation in media. Everybody copycats what‘s successful.
And I tried to explain all of that. So he‘s a business man, of course, he‘s like the richest guy in the Senate. So he was like you‘ve got to explain it to me again, if it‘s good business, why won‘t they do it? So I have him the Godfather analogy. I said, Senator, you know, the heads of the five families they were all Sicilian, they were all Italian, but let in Heiman Roth (ph), who was the only Jew. Now why did they let in a Jew? Morta (ph) and Sicilian was like the thing that bound them together, the old country. Because he always made money for his partners. I‘m the Heiman Roth (ph) of Clear Channel. I always make money for my partners. And I guess they understood the copycat thing. And I guess they understood the whole, you know, logic of yes, it makes money. Yes, liberals work. We were always working. We just didn‘t have a national platform, because there were five media companies. And they were all copycatting the one thing.
LAMB: And you were in West Palm Beach on the radio at the time that you were invited to talk to them.
RHODES: Number one in a Clear Channel situation who would do nothing with the fact that I was number one. I‘m not talking number one of talk radio, I‘m talking I was number one in the whole of the market. There‘s like what 25, 30, stations, music, easy listening, which is typically our number one because it‘s on all day, eight hours a day, in doctor‘s offices, so times that listening matter. I was number one of all of the stations. And I couldn‘t make that into a national – it was crazy.
LAMB: Go back to the meeting, how long were you there?
LAMB: With the Senators?
RHODES: I think they gave me an hour or so. And it was very – we ate lunch, which of course, I didn‘t eat, because I was terrified. But 30 Senators showed up. I was amazed. For me it was like, I kept saying, when I got on the air, I talked about it and I said it was like being at Walt Disney World. Do you ever got to like the good Disney hotels in Disney and you see your favorite characters? Like Mickey comes out and Donald comes out. I go, well I watch C-SPAN, so like these are my characters – these are my TV characters. And it was like, you know, here comes (INAUDIBLE). And you know, let‘s face it a lot of Senators aren‘t recognized by people.
I was going oh my God, that‘s (INAUDIBLE). Oh my God, that‘s Dick Durbin. Oh my god, that‘s Dorgan. Oh my God, that‘s Tom Daschle. Oh my god, and, you know, everybody knows Hillary, obviously, she was First Lady of the United States. But how many recognize Barbara Mikulski and know that she makes a mean crab cake.
You know, so it was fantastic. I was too nervous to eat. I guess they liked me. And so then they organized a lunch at Mary Landrieu‘s house. And I was invited to this lunch. And again, it was, you know, democrat senators with an interest in media and getting our message out. And they thought that – they had had 30 people that they had spoken two, and it came down to two that they really liked and thought could do it. And it was me and this guy at Schultz (ph).
LAMB: From North Dakota?
RHODES: Yes. And he was there because Daschle was scarred.
LAMB: He‘s South Dakota, but he‘s from that area.
RHODES: Yes, I do that too. Anyway, I …
LAMB: And they were going to select one of the two of you?
RHODES: They were – I don‘t know exactly what the plan was, I do now. I didn‘t that day. And all I know is that Ed got up and he made this big presentation. And then they looked at me and I thought was just there to have lunch. And I remember being terrific. I don‘t like public speaking, all that much. It‘s weird with people, you know, I‘m so used to my little cubicle.
And so I remember, I didn‘t even get up to the front of the room, I was too scared. I was sitting next to Senator Durbin who‘s very funny. I mean he was – he had me entertained the whole lunch. On the other side of me, I won‘t say who it was, it wasn‘t a politician, there was a man who explaining my lunch to me, like oh you poor sweet little country mouse, you won‘t understand the fancy Washington food. This is squash.
LAMB: In the Senate?
RHODES: No. It wasn‘t a politician.
LAMB: This is Mary Landrieu‘s house.
RHODES: It was at her house. It wasn‘t a servant either. It was an invited guest. And he was saying OK, this is a squash, and in it is squash soup. And they just serve it in the squash. And I was like, I was so insulted, plus I was nervous. And then all of a sudden I hear my name, and applause, and I‘m like so I put my knee on my chair, and I just – I stood up and I was like I was shaking. I didn‘t even know what I was supposed to be talking about. And the next thing I know I hear 250, 350. I hear and I think they‘re giving dollars, a silent auction, a charity. You know, they‘re giving to rescue aid. It turns out it was 250,000, 350,000.
LAMB: So these are business people in the…
RHODES: What it was, it was the best donors that the Senate could find for me. And this is the way Washington operates, so they were being kind.
LAMB: Did you like that when you saw that all of that?
RHODES: I hated it. I actually got on the air, and said I feel like I just got off the Amistad. I feel like I‘ve just been on the slave auction block. Now I know what it feels like to be auctioned off.
LAMB: What were they going to do with the money?
RHODES: They were going to start a syndication for us. They were going to give us, you know, the money we needed to start it up.
LAMB: And Ed Schultz (ph) is now on Air America.
RHODES: He took the money. I actually gave him the money that day. I stood outside. I did my broadcast in Washington that day. And I went downstairs and I said, you can have it. Whatever they raise, I don‘t want it. I‘m just – first of all I‘m not going to be mouthpiece for the party. I don‘t agree with a lot of the things that they say and do. And I need to be free to say so. I don‘t walk – I‘m not a republican. I‘m not a trained sheep. I‘m not a lemming. I don‘t just follow.
The reason why democrats are democrats is because we‘re born leaders. We don‘t want a strong leader. That‘s why we can‘t even agree on a meeting. Democrats will meet for 15 minutes about how to meet because everybody‘s got the best idea. We‘ll serve Danish. No I think Danish could be sloppy. Let‘s do a cracker. This is democrats everybody‘s got the big idea, which is why it‘s so insulting when they say democrats have no ideas. We have great ideas, but we have too many of them.
LAMB: How many times have you been to the Senate like that and had meetings?
RHODES: So I went the first time to LBJ‘s old office, which was great. That was the best time. Then I went to Senator Mary Landrieu‘s house, so I wasn‘t actually in the Senate. I did my show from the Dirkson Building (ph) I think, that day. And then I went to the house. I‘ve been invited to the house to talk about media issues in John Connor‘s (ph) forum which was great. And then, I went back to the Senate just recently. I was there about three weeks ago, I guess.
LAMB: I heard you talking on the air about Joe Biden. Did you sit next to him?
RHODES: I had a fight with Joe Biden.
LAMB: About what?
RHODES: Why he won‘t – this was before Air America, too. They had all of the committees – when 30 of us first started out as liberal talkers and they were trying to pick, you know, would be the one that they wanted to apparently fundraise for, they had 30 people. And so they had a very nice presentation, I thought it was very smart. Every committee put a couple of people in front of a podium to talk about what their committee did. So they had foreign relations. They had armed services. They had just every committee you can imagine. And Biden was there. What is he? Foreign Relations.
And he was giving a talk, and this was before the war, and, you know, after the attack, though. And I‘m sitting in the audience, and he gave this presentation which was eloquent. He‘s a speaker. He‘s a fabulous looking man, too. I mean he‘s really almost you, Brian. And he – I‘m serious. I said something about, you know, they haven‘t been truthful or, you know, just so I said to him – he said any questions. So I respectfully raised my hand and I said, can you – Senator can you tell me why the democrats have such a problem calling him what he is, he‘s a liar. He‘s a liar. And he said, you can‘t call the President a liar. Why do you have to pick the hardest things to do? And I said to him, are you kidding me? They called Bill Clinton a liar. They called him a murderer. They called him a rapist. What is – and he said democrats have a higher standard. Which I kind of liked, but, you know, I was upset, because I knew no good could come from this. They were in the build up to the – it was January of 2003. That night was the night that I was invited by the democrats to watch the state of the union speech. And I walked out when he said we have information that, you know…
LAMB: You were in the gallery?
RHODES: No, I wasn‘t allowed in the gallery. I was in Mike Mansfield‘s (ph) room, which is just right outside the Senate doors, you know, the layout. And so I…
LAMB: That‘s 207.
RHODES: Yes. And I walked out. I was just furious. I was so upset. I knew we were going to war. And I spent the day trying to explain to them that they‘ve got to stop this before it just spirals out of control. They‘ve going to deploy our troops to Iraq, why Iraq? You notice that like for eight years of Clinton, we had no fear of Iraq. We had no fear of really pretty much anything. We had peace. We had prosperity. And we were a pretty selfish and fat. Then all of a sudden Bush comes back and it‘s like the 12 year old fear is back. It was crazy.
LAMB: Air America is it going to make it?
RHODES: Yes, absolutely.
LAMB: How are your ratings?
RHODES: Well we just got some yesterday, and I‘m really excited about them. They‘re great. These were just for New York. And bye-bye Bill O‘Reilly, he‘s done. He‘s become the punch line to the joke, as I said he would.
LAMB: In what way has he…
RHODES: He‘s gone.
LAMB: You‘re talking about the radio…
RHODES: The radio ratings are off, just gone. He‘s missing in action. And Sean Hannity, I‘m tenths of a point behind him, and this, with his television show to support his radio show and book deals to support, and a giant marketing campaign. I have no marketing dollars. Air America doesn‘t advertise.
LAMB: You‘re on WLIB in the New York area?
LAMB: Is that still deliverable (ph)?
RHODES: WLIB (ph). No, it‘s just we inherited them and it was kind of, you know...
LAMB: Is that Long Island, LI?
RHODES: No, you know, I don‘t know. You‘d have to ask - we lease that time from ICDC (ph), and you‘d have to ask them why they got those call letters.
LAMB: So, what about the rest of the country, your other 65 stations, 64 stations?
RHODES: Well, I‘ll tell you, it‘s going really, really, really well. I know that we have over a million listeners, this without any advertising. We‘re on a good deal of Clear Channel stations where they‘ll pair us with their powerhouse AM, with their conservative talkers and they‘ll give us the low power signal.
And we‘re killing in a lot of markets...
LAMB: Like in Washington, lower power signals.
RHODES: Yes. We‘re the low power signal. We‘re on all the little AMs that couldn‘t. Do you know what I mean, where they‘ve tried everything and they stuck us on...
LAMB: So, what do you...
RHODES: ...we‘re just doing....
LAMB: ...do? Do you do anything specifically to keep building this audience? What do you, Randi Rhodes, have that, say, the rest of them don‘t have? How did you get here?
RHODES: Talent. That‘s so - I don‘t know. You know, I just, I think I have a real love for talk radio. I think that once I got that mic in my hand and the headphones off my head - and see, I still have to wear headphones here, which is a little odd. If I take them off, I‘d be even faster (ph). But...
LAMB: Well, you just have a plug in your ear so you can hear the - hear.
RHODES: Well, now I have your IFB, which I hate. I want it out so bad.
LAMB: Yes, we don‘t like it either. But you have to hear the clips that are...
RHODES: Yes, you have to hear the phone calls. And the way we‘re set up, it would feed back, so. But I just love it. I just - it‘s like, it‘s like my niche of something I know I do really well every day.
LAMB: Can you tell that your ratings go up when you, say, rant? When you go off?
RHODES: Oh, no. I wish we had like people meters. I do. I wish I could see, like, what elements of the show people really love. But they, you know, we have open message boards on the randirhodesshow.com, which is free.
And the reason why it‘s free is I want everybody to take advantage of it.
LAMB: Let‘s listen to just a - last clip...
LAMB: ...today (ph). We only have a couple minutes left if you...
RHODES: Wow, that was fast.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RHODES: You know, the 9/11 commission gave a really startling and stunning report last week, and I don‘t see anybody talking about it. I don‘t see where everybody, you know, isn‘t screaming about, "What do you mean we don‘t check passengers on airplanes against the terror watch list? What do you mean we don‘t? Why don‘t we do that?"
And, you know, I was watching McLaughlin Group because it‘s just like the best, really. And he‘s sitting there and he‘s going, "Issue a one. The terror watch list not being checked. 9/11 commission gave a great arm (ph) F. Pop your cannon (ph). Well, you know, we don‘t even know whose names are on that list. L (ph) it off (ph)."
I‘m on that list. Ted Kennedy‘s on that list. Randi Rhodes is on that list. Who the hell knows who‘s on that list? People don‘t even know they‘re on the list until they go and fly home over the river and through the woods to grandmother‘s house and they‘re on the list. Is it crazy (ph)?
Do you know that on September 11th, they say on the terror watch list there were 16 names. About a year after September 11th, there were a thousand names. In 2004, there were 40,000 names, and as I‘m sitting here today, there are 80,000 terrorists on the watch list, or names, on the watch list.
Are we making more terrorists? Or are we defeating the terrorists? Or is the terror watch list 80,000 strong full of Ted Kennedy and me?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAMB: A couple of quick things. It‘s...
RHODES: How come I didn‘t crack up (ph)?
LAMB: ...the humor, do you ever worry?
RHODES: Do I ever worry?
LAMB: That it‘s a serious topic and you add the humor to it?
LAMB: What about the swearing?
RHODES: I find I don‘t (ph). I caught myself yesterday so...
LAMB: Explain that (ph).
RHODES: There is a list of words that you can‘t say.
LAMB: Seven dirty words? Or is there more?
RHODES: There‘s more. And then there‘s some that people just have asked me not to say so I don‘t. There‘s words you actually can say but people say, "Coming out of your mouth," and I‘ve listened to it and I said, "Yes, girls don‘t talk that way."
So I don‘t say it. But sometimes I just get so into it that I say, "Shit." And I have to dump it. And once in a blue moon I will say the F word, drop the F bomb, you know, because I‘m from Brooklyn. And so I‘ve dumped myself.
LAMB: Why are those words so sensitive?
RHODES: I don‘t know. I don‘t know. I mean, it means for unlawful carnal knowledge, maybe, or sex obsessed or repressed. I don‘t know. But everybody has their words that they don‘t like.
And there are words coming out of my mouth that make a creepy (ph) sound, just wildly awful.
LAMB: Have only a minute and a half left. Where do you want to be in five years?
RHODES: I want to be on - I want to have an audience of 22 million. I want to have written a couple of books, maybe something personal and something meaningful about politics. And I want to be in the movies. I do. I‘d love to be in a movie.
Actually I made a bad movie. We can talk about it one time. It was called, Where in the Hell is Robin Goodfellow? Catchy title. I played - it was a modern adaptation of Midsummer Nights Dream and I played Titania.
LAMB: 2008, who do you want to be president?
RHODES: Whoever the democrats want to be president.
LAMB: No matter who it is?
RHODES: No matter who it is.
RHODES: Because I can‘t take any more of this republican nonsense. I don‘t think the country can. I was watching the GAO last night on C-SPAN. I was watching Walker, and he‘s standing there going, "This cannot be sustained. We are going broke. This president has borrowed more money from foreign governments than the past 42 presidents before him, combined."
And I‘m thinking, what‘s his angle? He works for Bush. And then I realized he‘s just doing his job. He‘s a 15-year government employee at the GAO, the oversight - the only oversight we get.
So, if the only oversight we get is saying, "This is not sustainable. My kids are -" for every 50 cents we‘d have to earn $350,000 a piece to pay off this debt and that the average American makes fifty.
I was like, "This has got to end."
LAMB: We‘re out of time. Thank you, Randi Rhodes.
RHODES: You‘re welcome, Brian.