I always thought Roger Ailes was a genius. Not because he brought the conservative viewpoint to main stream journalism, but because he had the intrinsic ability to know what people like.
If you read my book, you know that I always detested TV News People who I always referred to as “gas bags” who get some type of self-importance because they mostly read other people’s words on TV. I resisted going into the TV News Business for the first 19 years of my career. It just didn’t inspire me, people on TV, were to me always just phony, show-boaters. Who’s only motivation for the job was just to be on TV. To be big shots in their town.
And along comes Roger Ailes, a blue-collar guy from my home town of Cleveland, Ohio who knew, it’s all about sincerity, being real. When Ailes took over CNBC, the first thing he did was to get the morning anchor’s off the tele-prompter and just to speak to each other. What an innovation. That network took off.
When he created Fox, he did the same. I had the honor of attending a seminar at the Fox News Channel some time ago. The purpose was to help the morning shows on the Owned and Operated Fox Television Stations to be successful.
Mr. Ailes had the opening comments, and this is what he said: “You can have all the latest equipment, satellites, cameras, beautiful studios, splashy graphics on the screen, but if you, (the on-air people) don’t have ‘likeability” no one will watch!” “You have to be real, on the air and off the air, the same, no pretense.”
Also, he knew there was a huge segment of the nation not served by the main-stream media, people with moderate to conservative viewpoints. He thought, why not serve them? There are more of them in our country than left leaning liberals? A great business decision, which proved to be a success. All Fox really had to do was just report from a middle of the road, moderate perspective, and that would be extremely right of the left leaning major TV news operations. Combine all this with an “Us versus Them” mentality catapulted Fox to astounding success.
So back to that seminar at the Fox News Channel. After the first day’s session, there was reception at a local restaurant not far from Fox Headquarters. While having cocktails in the bar before dinner, I spotted Roger Ailes just standing there talking with people. I walked over to him and said, “Hi Roger, you and I have a lot in common.” “Oh really, what’s that?” he asked. “We are both from Northeast Ohio, and I watched your work on the Mike Douglas show when I was a kid.” I responded.
He asked me all kinds of questions about myself, we talked for some time, and then he was interrupted, by someone who had an urgent message. Mr. Ailes said, “Would you excuse me for a second?” I went back to speaking to other people at the reception for bout 10 minutes. And then what happened? Someone taps me on the shoulder. It’s Roger Ailes! “Now, where were we?” He asked. And we talked again, about growing up in Ohio, our fathers both factory workers, dreaming of being in Broadcasting, and how thankful we should be to live our dreams in a great country that affords us the opportunity to do so.
I want you to know this. There is no other high-level broadcast executive anywhere in this country, who would ever do that. Roger Ailes, was a down to earth, nice, man who related to us, the average, everyday blue-collar person trying to make a living.
I remember one thing he told us: “Live every day to its fullest, because when you die, they bury you, and the first 100 years in the ground is only the beginning.”
That motivated me to buy my sailboat, “Airtime” and to enjoy life. I printed it up and it hung over my desk for the rest of my time at Fox-10.