Over the past 25 years, Louis Rukeyser has been known as the "Wizard of Wall Street." The award-winning journalist, economics educator, author, editor and lecturer has captivated millions of viewers with his weekly public-television broadcast. To celebrate his show's silver anniversary, the amiable host of "Wall Street Week With Louis Rukeyser" shares his thoughts and a few forecasts with Business Credit.
Who would have predicted that some of the best financial advice in the nation would come from a living room in a Maryland suburb? Tastefully appointed, with book-filled shelves, warmly colored wall hangings and comfortable chairs, it serves as a meeting place for economic experts, millions of Americans, a few wacky elves and a witty and charming man some call the "sex symbol of the dismal science." Of course, the room is actually a set in the studios of Maryland Public Television and the gathering is a television show, "Wall Street Week With Louis Rukeyser." Rukeyser is the man who hosts the party - America's main source of economic news for the last quarter-century.
Twenty-five years doing anything is quite an achievement. Even Rukeyser knows that his program, and its longevity, is something remarkable: "In any other business, this is a normal career. In television, it's six generations."
You'll find no false modesty here. Though he comes across as warm and sincerely charming, Rukeyser knows he has a winner on his hands, and he's not afraid to acknowledge his success.
He is well aware that he is the first journalist to bring comprehensive economic coverage to television. These days, the field is more crowded. Every network has its own economics correspondent; some even have entire programs devoted to the subject. But there is no question about who started the trend. Rukeyser notes that fact with his patented droll humor: "Someone said to me the other day, 'Lou, you've given birth to an entire industry.'" And I said, "Yes, and I don't even have stretch marks!"
Even more amazing is the fact that Wall Street Week With Louis Rukeyser still commands the largest audience of all of the shows covering economic matters. The genial host says the 10 million-plus viewers are proof that he and his staff are doing something right.
"There are two elements in it, based upon what people tell us around the country," he explains. "The first is that they trust us; they know us to be thoroughly credible and reliable. In the business world that's not always a given. Number two, they find [the show] an easy way to take the medicine. Every week, I hear from people who say to me, 'I hope this won't insult you or offend you, but I watch your program without fail because I think it's the most entertaining half-hour on television.' And I always reply, 'I'm deeply offended. I would much prefer you found it tedious.'"
Removing tongue from cheek, Rukeyser is quick to assert that he takes his subject matter very seriously. After all, his topic, week after week, boils down to something very important to American citizens and businesses - money. And money is no laughing matter. Ask any economics teacher. If teacher and students expect the subject to be dull, the name "dismal science" becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
But Rukeyser believes that economics doesn't have to be dismal at all. To him, it's all a matter of presentation.
"We have this rather silly idea in America that things are either silly or entertaining. The reality is that the teachers we all remember are the ones who didn't put us to sleep. I don't think anyone should apologize for making things lively," he says. "I've always maintained that while it is true that when you say 'economics' to the average person, [his or her] chin hits the chest and the eyelids get quite heavy. If you instead say 'money,' the eyelids pop open, the nostrils flare and you have that person's full attention. My view is that we are talking about one of the two principal preoccupations of practically everybody I've met - and it's the only one of the two you can discuss freely during the family hour on television. …