Joe Walsh to turn up the volume as radio talk show host

If Joe Walsh doesn’t become the next Rush Limbaugh, at least he’ll have fun trying.

Either way, the former congressman and tea party firebrand is about to embark on a new radio career that could lead to national syndication or to another bid for elective office. Even he’s not sure which.

As first tipped here in January, Walsh has agreed to sign on as a Monday-through-Friday talk show host on WIND-AM (560), the Salem Communications conservative news/talk station. If all goes as planned, his show will air from 7 to 9pm, starting March 18.

“This is going to be Joe Walsh Unplugged for two hours a day,” he told me. “I’m very excited. I absolutely want to shake up this town and this state.”

Jeff Reisman, general manager of WIND, declined to comment Tuesday, presumably waiting until contracts are signed. Official announcement of the deal is expected March 14 when Walsh appears at Obama 2.0: The Road Ahead, a public event sponsored by the station. Joining Walsh onstage will be WIND afternoon host Steve Cochran, syndicated host Michael Medved and Illinois Policy Institute’s John Tillman.

Walsh, 51, a Republican maverick who served one term in Congress, began talks with WIND after he was defeated for reelection by Democrat Tammy Duckworth in November. He said the radio offer was one of several options he was considering.

“What I’ve been doing the last couple months is traveling the state, speaking to groups all over,” Walsh said in an interview. “It’s no secret that there are people who want me to run for various offices. What I’m trying to do is grow a movement in this state — and eventually around the country — of people who want to take their freedom back because we’ve got a government we can’t afford. The radio show is going to be a big part of giving voice to that freedom movement and to reaching people across party lines. Whether that leads to another run down the road for me, I have no clue.”

In the latest Arbitron survey, WIND ranks 34th in the market with a 0.6 percent share of listeners and a cumulative weekly audience of 178,400. The station, which recently rebranded itself “AM 560 The Answer,” has only two local shows on its weekday lineup — John Howell and Amy Jacobson in mornings and Cochran in late afternoons. Walsh's will be the third. To accommodate the addition, WIND is expected to move syndicated host Hugh Hewitt to 9pm, with the rest of the nighttime lineup shifting two hours later.

If the radio rookie comes up a winner in the ratings, as the station hopes, Walsh could join the roster of Salem Radio Network’s syndicated stars, reaching like-minded listeners from coast to coast. While he’s clearly not ruling out running for something, there’s a catch: The minute he declares his candidacy, he’d have to give up the radio job to comply with FCC equal time rules. 

Walsh’s political ambitions may be the main reason he plans to take his show on the road as often as he can. “We’ll do shows from all over the state,” he said. “We are going to make this a real grass-roots push and advocacy thing, and the radio show is going to be a key part of that.”

Asked to name his radio role models, Walsh first mentioned conservative icon Limbaugh: “I know it’s easy to rip Rush for political reasons, but he’s a master at what he does. Rush invented the form, and he’s still at the top of the charts.”

He also praised Mark Levin, the Cumulus Media late-night host (and former Reagan Administration cabinet advisor) whose show — like Limbaugh’s — airs here on news/talk WLS-AM (890).  Walsh’s program will air opposite a tape delay of Sean Hannity on WLS.

“I consider Mark Levin the next evolution, and I would be honored to be sort of a Midwest version of that — a great talking guy who’s been to D.C.,” he said. “I’ve been in the arena. And I’m going to do on the radio what I did when I was a congressman: Just shoot straight and not back down from any sort of debate or fight.

“People either love me or they hate me, and I suppose that will make good radio.”


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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)