Legg adviser, his `evil' twin start to gain TV ratings

August 23, 2005|By BILL ATKINSON

JONATHAN MURRAY has never met a television camera he didn't like.

Call him a self-promoter, a media hound, but his strategy for getting his mug on the screen and voice on the radio is paying off - big time.

Earlier in the year the gregarious Legg Mason financial adviser and his identical twin brother, David, signed up with CNBC to do "Tuesdays with Murrays," where the brothers dole out financial guidance while tossing out good-twin/evil-twin barbs and banter.

Three months ago, they signed a contract to do up to 20 shows for a new segment on NBC's Today show called "Today's Two Cents."

Yesterday, they were in New York meeting with the William Morris Agency, a talent and literary agency. Plans are in the works for an investment book, a financial television show, maybe even speeches or appearances in commercials.

"I love them," said Liz Claman, anchor of CNBC's Morning Call. "They are amazing on television, but they have substance to back it up. These guys have it."

"I think he [Jonathan] is now bordering celebrity," said Robert Sabelhaus, director of Legg Mason's private client group. "He won't be able to go in an airport without people knowing him."

Jonathan Murray's mission is simple: the better known he becomes, the bigger his business. The same goes for his brother, David, who works with wealthy clients at the Private Bank in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.

"The mission is to identify nice, rich families to work with," said Jonathan Murray. "That is what we want - nice rich people. We have turned down investors with $10 million because they were jerks and didn't share our values."

"The phone is now ringing," said David Murray, who said he recently landed a new client that deposited $12 million at the bank because of the shows.

The brothers say they are taking their celebrity in stride, yet it's easy to see that they are a bit blown away by all the attention.

A limousine, courtesy of NBC, collects them at their homes when they need to catch a flight or train to New York. When they arrive they stay at the posh Essex House Hotel - all expenses paid. They've met Patrick Swayze, Heather Locklear and historian David McCullough in the Today show's green room.

The new gig pays them each about $500 a show for appearing on Today and CNBC.

"We don't take it seriously," Jonathan Murray said. "It's like we are laughing the whole time. We are high-fiving each other on the way to the set in the limo."

David Murray, the elder by four minutes, never lets his younger sibling forget he is smarter and more mature. "His youthful exuberance reveals itself way too often," David Murray says of his brother. "You can tell he is the younger one."

On air they tell each other to "pipe down," "hush up" and throw an occasional elbow into a shoulder.

On CNBC when David Murray explained why a prolonged inverted yield curve could spell recession, Jonathan Murray, the optimist this day, couldn't resist criticizing his twin's wardrobe.

"Oh jeez. Isn't it perfectly apparent that he is wearing a black tie, mister dour Dave," he said.

On Claman's CNBC show, David Murray advised parents to stop paying their kids an allowance and make them do chores for the money.

"Aren't you glad you are not Dave's 5-year old daughter, Liz?" quipped Jonathan Murray. "He sounds like Cinderella's stepsister."

The twins were inseparable growing up as kids in Pittsburgh. They played baseball together at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania and had a folk band called the Dickinson Trio.

Jonathan Murray, who gets up most mornings at 4 a.m., moved to Baltimore in 1989 and landed a job as a broker at what was then Kidder, Peabody. He made 200 to 300 calls a day to build his business, he said. In 1994, he went to work for Legg Mason and looked to tap the media as a way to market his name.

Five years ago, he auditioned and won the job to do the Closing Bell Report on WBAL-AM each day. He parlayed that into appearances on local television stations, PBS' Wall Street Week and an hour-long radio show on Saturdays called the Legg Mason Financial Hour on WBAL. Sometimes he would invite his brother onto the show. ("Whenever he needed a ratings boost," claims David Murray.)

One day, he and his brother went to New York, went to the lobby of Fox's television studios and cold-called the producer of Neil Cavuto's show, asking for 30 seconds to prove they belonged on TV.

They got it, and Fox producers liked what they saw. They put the brothers on the air, but CNBC then moved quickly to sign the twins to a contract, which they didn't have at Fox.

How far will Jonathan Murray and his brother go? As long as the venture doesn't interfere with giving good advice to their clients, they say. But they are anxious to see how far their TV adventure takes them.

"Life is too short to think small," Jonathan Murray said.

Bill Atkinson's column runs Tuesdays and Fridays. Contact him at 410-332-6961 or by e-mail at bill.atkinson@balt sun.com.

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