Newt-deep in words on Capitol Hill

January 05, 1995|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Sun Staff Correspondent

Washington -- The day of radio talk, talk, talk from two rooms in the bowels of the Capitol is not quite three hours old as gab master Doug Stephan reads a live commercial for a "hypo-allergenic" air purifying machine. Too bad he didn't bring a demonstration model.

They could have used one yesterday in the basement on the House side, where nine talk-show hosts from around the country set up a bunker of blab below the Capitol's back steps. The hyperbole flies from before dawn until nearly midnight as the hosts mark the end of 40 years of Democratic rule in Congress. On and on it goes, hosts yakking, producers buttonholing members of the Senate and the House to stop in, chat, pontificate, flatter each other, bemoan or hail the great turning of the tide.

"Hello, welcome to the revolution, folks," says Judy Jarvis, opening her syndicated show at noon. Normally she works out of a studio in Hartford, Conn., broadcasting to some 40 stations. But the House Republican Conference, a communications and organizational forum, and the office of House Speaker Newt Gingrich offered a couple of rooms in the Capitol for talk-show hosts -- a reward of sorts for helping the Republicans drive home their anti-government theme in the November election.

Sounding as if he were delivering a civil rights oration from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Mr. Gingrich promised yesterday "a bipartisan effort to make the [Capitol] accessible for all talk radio hosts of all backgrounds, no matter what their ideology."

Ms. Jarvis says she came to the Capitol for news, not Newt. "I'm not here because Newt Gingrich sent me an invitation. I'm here because it's a big story," says Ms. Jarvis, who describes her politics as middle-of-the-road. She gets top Clinton aide George Stephanopoulos on as a phone guest for a few minutes. Appropriately enough, he's coming in rather faintly.

"We're going to do our best to find areas of common ground" with the Republican leadership, says Mr. Stephanopoulos, sounding vaguely like the mayor of Vesuvius expounding on the virtues of lava.

Ms. Jarvis is sitting at a folding conference table sandwiched between two padded partitions. On one side, the left-leaning Larry Bensky talks it up on Pacifica Radio, a public broadcasting outlet. On the other side, arch-conservative Armstrong Williams calls for an end to capital-gains taxes, welfare and prisons built like luxury hotels.

"WE HAVE FINALLY ARRIVED," cries Mr. Williams as he begins taping his evening show "The Right Side," which airs in Baltimore WOLB-AM 1010), Washington, Philadelphia and four other cities. "Happy days are here again. I've waited 35 years for this day."

Which would mean the 35-year-old Mr. Williams has been waiting for Newt Gingrich since birth. Whatever. It's the first day of the rest of his life as a lifelong, third-generation Republican, a member of a rare breed: an arch-conservative, African-American, radio talk-show host. And he's loving it.

Meanwhile, Mr. Bensky's phone-in guest, Roger Wilkins, a history professor at George Mason University, is decrying the "racism and nativism" that lay just beneath the surface of the GOP triumph in November.

"We've just never seen a Congress come in with so much fanfare and, I guess you could say, so much arrogance," says Mr. Wilkins.

The arrogance of the formerly ensconced Democratic majority is on the mind of Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah as he joins guests of the "G. Gordon Liddy Show" seated before a microphone to speak with callers and with the host, who is back at the studios of WJFK in Fairfax, Va.

"It had become so arrogant over there," Mr. Hatch, a Republican, says to Mr. Liddy, erstwhile member of the Watergate burglary squad whose show reaches 220 stations in all major U.S. markets. "Some of those committee chairmen had 200 staff members. The Republicans had six or seven."

In three minutes he's up and out, on to the next room and a few minutes with Mr. Williams. Mr. Hatch vacates the spot occupied earlier in the day by the former mayor of Palm Beach, Calif., and newly elected Republican congressman Sonny Bono.

Not to worry about the show-biz background, Mr. Liddy reassures Mr. Bono. "If I can go from burglar for the government to talk show host, you can go from entertainer to congressman," says Mr. Liddy.

Yes, agrees Mr. Bono, there are parallels between politics and show business. Funny, we hadn't noticed.

"You are in the people business, in a way," says Mr. Bono, who at 59 with graying mustache bears a striking resemblance to Don Ameche who never went into politics.

Neither did Kenneth Melear of Fayetteville, Ga. But no matter, Ms. Jarvis needs a guest and he happens to be Mr. Gingrich's personal barbecue maven and he happens to have prepared lunch for about 400 guests Mr. Gingrich flew up from Georgia for the ceremonies. So have a seat at the microphone, Mr. Melear, and tell Ms. Jarvis about Mr. Gingrich.

"He's a very intelligent person," says Mr. Melear, one of a dwindling number of Americans who does not have a syndicated talk show. "Newt is going to be good for the country."

He recalls Mr. Gingrich began his 1974 congressional campaign at his barbecue restaurant in Fayetteville. Mr. Melear says he drove 11 hours from Georgia with a van and 12-foot truck full of barbecue for Mr. Gingrich's Tuesday evening meal, and lunch for the crowd, which included no barbecue because Mr. Gingrich wanted something different.

"What Newt wants, Newt gets," says Mr. Melear.

Around town, Mr. Melear, that's what they're all talking about. And talking. And talking.

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