By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
When Jack Jett sits in front of the microphone on September 6 and hits the airwaves for the first time, he'll be trying to succeed in a market that might not be prepared for what he brings to the table. Jett has never done radio before and is trying his hand at liberal talk radio as an openly gay host with over-the-top opinions.
In Dallas...Dallas, Texas.
Jett says the experience could result in a "chaotic mind fuck" because the premiere of The Jack E. Jett Show will air live in front of "a bunch of drunken queens" at gay-friendly JR's Bar and Grill. Mental fornication or not, Jett says he's excited to try something new, especially the opportunity to join Dallas' liberal talk station on 1360 AM, Rational Radio.
"I think that God has meant for me to be the gay version of Rush Limbaugh," he says.
Although he's new to radio, Jett, a former model in the '80s, is familiar with broadcasting. He hosted The Jack E. Jett Show from 2000 until 2003 on public-access cable in the United States before moving the show to Canada, and he was host on Q Television Network's The Queer Edge. Radio, Jett says, is a logical progression for him because he is "no longer the prettiest thing on the block." But, at 52, his opinions are more biting and louder than ever, and combined with his natural curiosity, fondness for chatting and passion for absorbing as much political news as possible, he will create what he hopes will be an "exotically inclusive" program.
Rational Radio first began in Dallas as a nighttime station in late January, and then it was turned into a 24-hour station on July 1. Jett is one of a handful of programs broadcasting locally, with the others picked up from Air America Radio, a liberal talk network established in 2004 that has struggled in most markets, filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2006.
Dave Clifton, president and partial owner of Rational Broadcasting, says he doesn't know of any liberal stations that have failed because of poor business plans, claiming that many of them were purchased and the formats were changed. As for Air America, he says, hosts Thom Hartmann and Randi Rhodes, who both appear on Rational Radio, have outperformed Rush Limbaugh in some markets.
Clifton says Rational Radio can succeed based on what he saw in the 2006 Dallas County elections. "More than half of the people who vote are on my side of the political fence, and they have very little to support their views on the radio."
Clifton, who was raised in Fort Worth, says he leased the 50,000-watt station from Multicultural Broadcasting to give the middle class a place to be heard on the air. He calls himself an activist and says he's not doing this for the money—he's tired of only having stations that promote the "right-wing political machine" and carry "the corporate message."
Since Rational Radio is a relatively new station, ratings won't be available in the upcoming fall journals, which Clifton admits makes it difficult to attract advertisers. Nevertheless, he was encouraged by the nearly 200 people who showed up to the station's August 16 launch party, and the number of Web listeners is increasing steadily.
"We're making good inroads in local advertising," he says, "and I'm confident that we will survive."
Clifton says he had never heard of Jett but was impressed after meeting with him on the recommendation of his sales manager, Tony Migura. Clifton is also in negotiations with Cappy McGarr, a prominent local Democratic fund-raiser, to host a program.
In preparation for his new show, which airs 1-3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, Jett has already interviewed Rory Kennedy, a documentary filmmaker and daughter of former Senator Robert Kennedy, and Henry Rollins, singer, actor and gay rights activist. Guests on his first show will include singer Belinda Carlisle and comic Sandra Bernhard.
Jett knows Carlisle from his days serving as the press manager for The Go-Go's and also when she was a solo singer and songwriter. He met Bernhard through Carlisle, and Jett says they hit it off, eventually co-hosting episodes of The Queer Edge together.
Jett, a Dallas resident and graduate of Grand Prairie High School, is a familiar name on local blogs, where he's known to post sexually frank diatribes—which is a polite way of saying the man combines mentions of fisting, spit-fucking and George W. Bush, and not necessarily in a positive way. He says he owes his colorful language to not completing college. (He was kicked out of the University of North Texas six weeks into his first year because he was busted for possession of marijuana.)
The FCC being what it is, and radio not being blogs, Jett admits that he'll have to censor himself on Rational Radio, where he'll have a seven-second delay to catch any slip-ups. But that won't keep Jett from pushing the envelope—he met with station management recently and convinced them to allow the use of the term "douchebaggery" in one of his promos.
A self described "blogosapien," Jett spends hours on local and national blogs absorbing information and letting fly with whatever's on his mind. Although his comments tend to serve as lightning rods for others in the blog threads, Jett says many respond to him differently because he is gay.
"When an openly gay man attaches his name on a blog and stands up to people, then people throw shit down, and the gay man picks it up and throws it back in their face, people have a hard time dealing with it," he says.
Although his radio show will feature many gay guests and many who are active in the gay community, Jett stresses that his homosexuality will be toned down from his days on television in at attempt to attract a wider audience. "To tell you the truth, I am so over being a professional homosexual," he says.
In another attempt to reach more listeners, his show won't focus on local issues. "If the mayor turns out to be a crook, I doubt if I would chat about something like that because I want to keep everything so that it could be carried in a national fashion," Jett says.
Jett says Dallas is much cooler and liberal than most media represents it. He finds most people have the vibe of former Texas Governor Ann Richards or Austin liberal columnist Molly Ivins (both are deceased).
"It's never jived," he says, "the Dallas I've read about in the papers versus what I've witnessed going out to various events."
With the success of conservative talk radio throughout the country, Jett is baffled why liberal stations can't see the same success, especially with a county so divided.
"My hope is to be able to syndicate my show and that it does well enough to where I'm combining underground pop culture with political talk and creating a unique program that people outside of Dallas might be interested in," he says.
Jett says he'll be looking to bring in guest co-hosts from time to time, even opening the invitation to Republicans, among which he has many friends. Jett even shares the same views as many conservatives on such hot-button issues as the death penalty and illegal immigration, but he's been disgusted with the Bush administration.
"I don't trust my government anymore, and that's not something I say proudly," he says. "If you lose trust in your government, then that's a pretty fucked-up thing."