PUH-LEESE! Radio Pschologist Laura Schlessinger Doesn't Take Any Guff from Callers
Patton, Charlie, The Florida Times Union
The hottest new show in talk radio begins each hour with Patti
LaBelle's vibrant rendition of I've Got a New Attitude .
"I'm in control, my worries are few," LaBelle sings, by way of
introducing Laura Schlessinger, America's new favorite radio
psychologist cum moral philosopher to a daily audience estimated
at more than 10 million listeners, including an estimated 8,900
each morning on Jacksonville's WOKV (AM 930).
The song "expresses my belief that it is attitude, infinitely
more than circumstance, that determines the quality of life,"
Schlessinger wrote in the introduction to her most recent
bestseller, How Could You Do That?!
And Schlessinger certainly brings plenty of attitude to her
daily three-hour radio program. Frequently impatient, often
demanding, she's intolerant of excuses and unwilling to listen
to long, rambling explanations of the problem. "I preach, I
teach and I nag to the best of my ability," she is quoted as
saying in a brochure describing her new syndicated newspaper
"Puh-leese" is her favorite on-air expletive, conveying
exasperation with callers who make excuses for why they aren't
responsible for whatever has gone wrong in their lives.
"Take it like a man," she exhorts the callers, an expression
she uses without regard to a caller's actual gender.
Not everybody admires this approach, particularly from someone
who is perceived, not completely accurately, as a psychologist.
Her doctorate is in physiology.
Schlessinger is "holding up the promise of simple, easy, direct
answers to complex questions in life" and creating confusion by
dispensing "moral philosophizing" to callers in search of
practical help, said David Levy, a psychology professor at
Pepperdine University who has written on the
subject of radio psychologists.
But, judging by the faxes she reads during her show and the fan
letters she reproduces in her book, Schlessinger's often-dogmatic
approach to advice giving is what her growing legion of fans
find exciting. They like her uncompromising advocacy of personal
responsibility and traditional morality.
Certainly Schlessinger considers that the essence of her
appeal. "I started talking about honor, integrity and ethics in
tandem with the more traditional psychological approach and
BANG!!! My radio program took off and became an international
phenomenon, while purely psychology-oriented shows have more or
less dropped by the wayside," she wrote in How Could You Do
That?! (Schlessinger did not respond to requests for an
interview for this story.)
EAR OF THE MASSES
Schlessinger's show, which went into national syndication a
little more than two years ago, now airs on more than 300
stations in Canada and the United States. An estimated audience
of 10 million people makes her the second most-listened-to host
in AM talk radio, surpassed only by Rush Limbaugh.
WOKV began airing Schlessinger's program in Jacksonville
earlier this year, after focus groups responded enthusiastically
to her theme of family values.
Currently, WOKV airs her three-hour program from 7 to 10
weeknights, then repeats the last hour the next morning from 11
to noon as a lead-in to Limbaugh. From 11 to noon, her show is
listened to by an estimated 8,900 people each quarter hour,
including an average of 5,300 in WOKV's target audience,
35-to-64-year-old adults. That's 2 1/2 times the audience for
any other Jacksonville AM radio station at that hour with that
That response prompted the decision to expand Schlessinger's
morning slot by an hour (10 a.m. to noon) next January, Schwartz
said. The ratings haven't been as good during the evening and
WOKV officials aren't sure whether they'll continue airing the
Schlessinger isn't heard live here. The problem is that her
show is broadcast 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in Los Angeles, where
Schlessinger lives and works. That's 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. here in
Jacksonville, and to air it live here would require bumping the
last hour of Limbaugh's show and The Ken Hamblin Show, which
WOKV won't do.
Although Schlessinger has been working on-and-off in radio in
Los Angeles for two decades, her emergence as a national figure
is a recent phenomenon. "She came on very strong, very fast,"
said Michael Harrison, editor of Talker magazine.
TWO DIFFERENT ANIMALS
Harrison is not altogether an admirer of Schlessinger, who he
describes as a "showboater," more an "entertaining personality"
with an "in-your-face" style than a true psychologist.
But that opinion is influenced by Harrison's enthusiasm for the
work of Joy Brown, the New York-based radio psychologist who
pretty much dominated the field until Schlessinger's emergence.
In Jacksonville, Schlessinger bumped Brown off the air on WOKV.
"Joy was doing OK," said Mike Dorwart, WOKV's operations
manager. "But Laura had really, in a lot of markets, come on
very strong. She was doing really well in a lot of places, much
better than Joy Brown ever did."
Dorwart said there were a few complaints at first from Brown
loyalists but the overall response has been "very positive."
"Our audience has really taken to Laura pretty well," he said.
". . . People did like Joy Brown a lot, but they didn't
particularly like what she had to say. Laura may not be as
likable, but listeners like her message."
Brown is still heard here; but WIOJ (AM 1010) has a tiny
audience compared to WOKV, so small that it wasn't recorded when
Arbitron last surveyed Jacksonville's radio audiences.
Harrison said comparisons between Brown and Schlessinger are
unfair. "They are not really in competition, anymore than the
Beatles or the Rolling Stones were in competition," he said.
"Both are excellent at what they do."
In fact, as both Harrison and Levy noted, technically
Schlessinger isn't a psychologist. The "Dr." in "Dr. Laura"
comes from a doctorate she earned in physiology from Columbia
University Medical School.
After a marriage ended in divorce, Schlessinger left New York
and moved to Los Angeles where, following post-graduate work at
the University of Southern California, she was licensed as a
marriage, family and child counselor and as a sex therapist. In
her books and on her shows, she refers to herself as a
Besides, she told the Los Angeles Times in 1994, she doesn't
consider what she does on the air to be therapy. "What I do has
many therapeutic parts to it. I'm expressing my views, my
attitudes, my experience, my education, my beliefs. I'm
clarifying things for people based on all my training and
experience as a therapist. But this is not a couch. This is not
an hour with each person."
What it is is a bully pulpit. Having come of age in the 1960s,
the 49-year-old Schlessinger blames many of the social and
psychological ills of contemporary America on the
"if-it-feels-good, do-it" philosophy of that era.
Instead, she argues, the right decision is often the least
comfortable, most painful decision. In practical terms, much of
her advice is in step with conservative social philosophy:
She's opposed to sex outside of marriage.
She's opposed to divorce.
She's opposed to abortion (advocating placing unwanted children
up for adoption as an alternative, although not as good an
alternative as taking responsibility for the life you have
She argues that mothers of young children should not work
outside the home and that the single greatest responsibility any
person has is to his or her children (she identifies herself as
the top of each show as "my kid's mom").
She argues that women should delay marriage until their late
20s and that no one should marry a person they have known for
less than two years. (She knew her current husband, Lou Bishop,
a former college professor who now manages her career, for 10
years before they married.)
She decries the psychology of victimization and argues that, at
least on some occasions, adult memories of childhood sexual
abuse are false memories.
Alan Caruba, a New York-based expert on media trends (he writes
Power Media "Selects," a directory of influential media
personalities), said it is this philosophical approach that
accounts for Schlessinger's rapid growth in popularity.
"She makes a lot of sense," he said. "She takes a very
straightforward point of view. She urges people to stop
wallowing in self-pity. She tells people that if you've got a
problem, it's probably your fault . . . I think she's very much
in tune with the mood of the times.
"Americans are trying to get back in contact with the
old-fashioned common-sense values."
Concedes Levy, "She's struck a moral nerve."
Knight-Tribune News Service
Photo: (c) Schlessinger…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: PUH-LEESE! Radio Pschologist Laura Schlessinger Doesn't Take Any Guff from Callers. Contributors: Patton, Charlie - Author. Newspaper title: The Florida Times Union. Publication date: October 17, 1996. Page number: Not available. © 2007 The Florida Times-Union. COPYRIGHT 1996 Gale Group.
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