- The Washington Times - Monday, April 5, 2004

A Reagan administration stalwart who often examines the nation’s moral bearing takes to the airwaves today on talk radio.

Bill Bennett debuts as host of “Morning in America,” a three-hour foray into headlines, culture, politics and entertainment airing weekdays from 6 to 9 a.m. in 20 markets.

“I want the show to center on culture,” Mr. Bennett said Friday. “I like politics, but I’ve also spent much time in my life emphasizing its impact on culture. I’m interested in the area where politics, policy, culture and education intersect. So when we go over daily headlines, we’ll talk about Fallujah. But we’ll also address Hollywood, leisure, music, SAT scores.”

Secretary of education for President Reagan and national drug-policy chief for the first President Bush, Mr. Bennett is now director of Empower America and a fellow of both the Claremont Institute and Heritage Foundation.

But he has no plans to drone on in the manner of a policy wonk, academic or sheltered Washington insider.

“I plan to take the high road,” he said. “But it will never be tedious. We’ll deliver a fast-paced, eye-opening morning show. We’ll have an edge.”

Mr. Bennett has also struck a civilized pose amid the querulous and often vengeful realm of talk radio, which has perhaps intensified with the debut of comedian Al Franken’s much ballyhooed liberal talk show last week.

“My model of conversation is the Socratic dialogue. And that entails having a serious conversation with intelligence, candor and good will,” he said.

“I will muster as much of those three elements as I can. I will tell the truth. Listeners may be surprised by who I bite on the show. And ‘good will’ means that we’ll come to a conclusion together,” he said.

Mr. Bennett cites the audience as paramount.

“The most important voice here is the listener’s,” he said.

He will have an eclectic group of heavy-hitters with him this week. Guests include fellow radio host Rush Limbaugh, Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly, former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, Democratic Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, sports personality Howie Long, NBC’s “Meet the Press” host Tim Russert and entertainer Naomi Judd.

Mr. Bennett will be joined by co-host Tom Tradup and be broadcast from the local studios of the Salem Radio Network, a California-based broadcaster that owns 92 stations and includes Cal Thomas, Michael Medved, Janet Parshall, Michael Gallagher and Dennis Prager in their on-air lineup.

Mr. Bennett is encountering the same problem Fox News’ Tony Snow did when he inaugurated his own radio talk show last month: Neither is heard locally — yet. The schedules of area AM talk stations WMAL and WTNT already are filled to capacity.

Mr. Bennett is prepared, though. Listeners can hear the program online through a new Web site (www.bennettmornings.com) or via XM Satellite Radio and Sirius, both subscription radio services.

Contact Jennifer Harper at jharper@washingtontimes.com or 202/636-3085.

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