Geraldo Rivera, the famed television journalist, will debut a weekday… (Donna Ward / Getty Images
In an effort to expand both its ratings and its spectrum of viewpoints, talk station KABC-AM (790) is turning to an award-winning journalist, a personality better known to television viewers than radio listeners over the last 40 years: Geraldo Rivera.
Rivera will debut a 10 a.m. weekday talk show on Jan. 30 in which he'll take calls, interview guests and discuss the day's news, with an emphasis on Southern California.
"I think I represent a big swath of the middle, and it's kind of drowned out, or nonexistent," said Rivera, who calls himself a liberal Republican with a far different stance on issues such as abortion and immigration than party orthodoxy. "It's almost as if talk radio is setting the agenda politically, and that agenda is extremely partisan. It's carving up the country, it has a strong racial undertone, and I don't think that's good for anybody."
Rivera said he read comments last fall from John Dickey, chief operating officer of Cumulus Media, parent company of KABC-AM, WABC-AM in New York and other stations, saying that he wanted his stations to offer a more centrist view than most conservative-leaning talk radio. Rivera got in touch.
It was that sameness of ideology that prompted him to try a new medium after a varied television career that included work on the ABC network shows "Good Morning America" and "20/20," his namesake syndicated talk show, the ill-fated TV special when he opened Al Capone's vault, cable programs on CNBC and, since 2001, Fox News, or even his groundbreaking exposé 40 years ago, of the mistreatment of developmentally disabled patients at Willowbrook State School in New York City, reporting that won him a Peabody Award.
"I felt a definite need — there is a sameness to a lot of talk radio," Rivera said in an interview Thursday, adding that the topics pushed on Rush Limbaugh's nationally syndicated show could just as well be Republican National Committee talking points. "It's like an echo chamber.
"I want another voice to be heard. I think that will be good for a lot of people. I guarantee you, we're going to stir the pot," said Rivera, who will continue to host a weekend program, "Geraldo at Large," on Fox News Channel.
Rivera debuted his radio program in New York on Jan. 3, on KABC's sister station WABC-AM, and rumors flew that he'd soon be on the air in Los Angeles too. However, it won't be in the way most had assumed — via syndication or tape-delay. He'll broadcast his New York show live from 10 a.m. to noon East Coast time, and then will do another live show for KABC from 10 a.m. to noon Pacific time.
Though he's a born-and-bred New Yorker, Rivera had a home in Los Angeles from 1976 to 2001. Most of that time was in Malibu, a couple of doors down from comedian and actor Cheech Marin, who will be the first guest on his KABC show. Rivera also cited all the time he's spent in Southern California covering news events — from trials to fires to civil unrest — and even commentaries he recorded for KLOS-FM (95.5) in the early 1970s.
"It's not going into foreign territory for me," he said.
Marko Radlovic, general manager of KABC, said he's excited to add Rivera's "star power" and "broad audience appeal" to the station's evolving lineup. "I think this guy is going to be a game-changer for KABC."
John Phillips, who currently hosts weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon, will be reduced to the 9-10 a.m. slot. Rivera's addition is the latest move by the station, once the dominant talk-radio outlet in Southern California, to reverse its dwindling ratings. In the December ratings, KABC finished in a four-way tie for 35th place, averaging only 0.7% of the Los Angeles-Orange County listening audience ages 6 and older. The station was 30th a year ago, and was last in the top 25 in April 2010.