Magazine article Insight on the News

Jim Bohannon on Air

Magazine article Insight on the News

Jim Bohannon on Air

Article excerpt

The 6.5 million listeners who tune in Big Jimbo don't know what they are going to get tonight. Bohannon manages to turn this into a plus.

Big Jim Bohannon doesn't shy away from anything. His evening talk show is rated No. 6 in the nation, and he has 6.5 million listeners. We have come to watch and hear him in the Westwood. One studios, just to see how he does it, how this cool, laid-back man excites so many people. The studios sit atop a filing-cabinet-style building in Crystal City, Va., just across the Potomac River from Washington.

A call upstairs on a special security phone brings an unattended elevator to whisk us to the 12th floor. We are met by Jane Hautanen, evening producer of the Jim Bohannon Show, and taken through a maze of corridors into the newsroom. Jane is one of two producers. Rita Rich, the daytime producer, handles the bookings for guests during the hours most people are awake.

Jane is tense, collected, organized. She has been the night producer since Nov. 25, 1995. Her job is to make sure that everything happens when it is supposed to happen. She meets guests and escorts them to the holding room. She makes sure that guests to be interviewed by telephone or satellite are in place. She screens callers and puts them on line for the host.

Bohannon is sitting at this news desk calmly fooling with a computer while millions of people wait to hear his voice. He is a fine physical specimen with a red beard and red hair that probably is not as thick as he remembers it.

Although signs on the wall still proclaim this to be the newsroom of the Mutual Broadcasting System, it is now the newsroom of Westwood One. As Bohannon explains patiently, Westwood bought Mutual Radio, then it bought NBC Radio. Then Infinity Broadcasting bought Westwood, cum Mutual and NBC. Then CBS bought Infinity, and CBS already was owned by Westinghouse. Go that?

Thus, as we talk to Jim about the upcoming show, Charles Van Dyke of NBC Radio is preparing his 10 o'clock news feed, and his colleague, Sam Litzenger, sitting back to back, is preparing the 10 o'clock Mutual Radio feed. The CNN Radio feed, which comes from Atlanta, will be beamed to Westwood's central control room for distribution to radio nationwide. The CBS news feed, which comes from the CBS studios at 2020 M Street in Northwest Washington, also will be distributed through the same facility. Every morning, Infinity Broadcasting, which owns the G. Gordon Liddy show, will send the feed from WJFK in Fairfax, Va., to the Westwood mid-Atlantic control center which, as noted, also is owned by Infinity. And, in the same studios where Jim will do his show for Westwood, Mary Matalin just that afternoon was doing her show for CBS.

Bohannon has his lineup for this evening: From 10 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut, will be connected by telephone to talk politics and tell about his bill to curb TV violence; from 10:30 p.m. to 11 p.m., it will be Larry Korb, former assistant secretary of defense in the Bush administration, to talk about Saddam Hussein's refusal to allow U.N. arms inspectors to look for biological weapons; at 11 p.m., Susan Estrich will be in the studio to talk about -- get this -- her diet book.

We amble through Master Control, a massive set of aging consoles that handle all the broadcast traffic. The dials and buttons are just beginning to make way for a new computerized switching system. Master Control can handle 44 outgoing channels simultaneously, which is why it has become the switching center of choice for so many network programs.

At last we get to Studio B. Here at least is a bit of glitz where microphones are cantilevered over a kidney-shaped desk. Jim sits at the end with a computer on another cantilever; this screen will be his connection with the control room, the phone lines and the wire services while he is on the air. At hand is the inevitable mug of coffee, with a military crest inscribed "Fort Devens ASA. …

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