You’ve Got Mika

He picked up a turkey sandwich, leaned back from the microphone. One of the advantages of radio over television, he had learned recently, is that you can get away with snacking while on the air. He took a big bite, and listened to a caller.

A few minutes later, Ms. Brzezinski welcomed Scott from the Tappan Zee Bridge.

Scott was in no mood for niceties. He had a bone to pick with Mika. “She makes me sick,” Scott seethed. “I just want to puke every time I listen to what she says.”

Mr. Scarborough chuckled. Ms. Brzezinski clucked. Currently, The Joe Scarborough Show airs in New York under the same call letters as Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham.

Even after several years of employment at MSNBC, Mr. Scarborough has plenty of bona fides with conservative audiences, most notably because of his years in Congress as a Republican representative from Florida. But two months into the fledging radio show, the station’s conservative listeners were still trying to wrap their brains around Ms. Brzezinski’s slightly left-of-center political views.

“You didn’t even answer his question,” Scott continued. “You’re just like all the liberals. Barack Obama never answered a question, either. … You make me sick. … You’ve been spoon-fed your whole life. You make me sick every day. … I have to turn it off sometimes, because it makes me want to puke.”

Mr. Scarborough commiserated with Scott. Sometimes Mika made him puke in his mouth, too.

Radio is a slow-developing medium compared to television. According to Michael Harrison, the editor and publisher of Talkers magazine, it will take at least three to six months to know whether The Joe Scarborough Show is off to a good start.

But there’s no doubt that the program arrived at an opportune moment. In December, Bill O’Reilly announced that after some seven years, he would be giving up his popular syndicated radio show sometime in the first quarter of 2009, to focus on his work at Fox News. The imminent departure will leave hundreds of stations around the country with a hole to fill. The Joe Scarborough Show will likely be a strong contender as a replacement. But, according to Mr. Harrison, it will face stiff competition, particularly from CNN’s Lou Dobbs and Fox’s John Gibson.

Whether the show makes the all-important leap into national syndication in the coming months may ultimately depend on the extent to which conservative listeners learn to enjoy their raging feelings towards Ms. Brzezinski, and how long Ms. Brzezinski can soldier through it.

 

WHEN HE WAS 18 years old, during his freshman year at the University of Alabama, Mr. Scarborough pledged Pi Kappa Phi. It was the early ’80s, and young Joe was enamored with Ronald Reagan, Alex P. Keaton, Duck Head khakis and Polo shirts. Joining a fraternity, he thought, would be just the thing.

The experiment didn’t last long. After three weeks, Mr. Scarborough dropped out. That’s how long it took, he later wrote, to “figure out that I was paying good money to suffer the indignity of having … rednecks drop Scotch bottles on brick patios from three stories above while yelling, ‘Hey, queerball, pick dat up!’”

Over the years, according to Mr. Scarborough, his contempt for frat boys has gradually diminished as his personal success has grown in leaps and bounds.

The world of conservative talk radio offers a suitable proxy. At times listening to Mr. Scarborough wade into WABC’s conservative audience is like witnessing the prodigal Pi Kappa Phi man crashing a frat-house reunion with a skip in his step, an attractive liberal media star on his arm and a gaggle of slack-jawed, right-wing whiskey hounds drooling in his wake.

For any red-blooded conservative male, the first encounter with Ms. Brzezinski is bound to provoke curiosity; her mix of sex appeal and brainpower and liberalism bound to spike the blood pressure. A confrontation—a hasty fumbling for her attention—becomes a burning necessity.

But how to do it? What’s the right approach? Exaggerated repulsion? A backhanded compliment? Chivalrous civility? Flirty condescension?

Throughout the day, WABC callers test out their game.

“Mika, I don’t agree with almost anything you say substantively,” said Barry from Stamford, Conn. “But I really enjoy listening to you. You have one of those voices that no matter what you say, it’s hard not to listen. Kind of like Tokyo Rose.”

“Mika, Helen Thomas’ got nothing on you, dear,” said Rich from Scarsdale, N.Y. “You’re fine just the way you look it.”

“Are you saying that Mika looks like Helen Thomas?” Mr. Scarborough responded.

“No, no, no, it was, uh, just, a, uh, bit of a sarcastic remark,” said Rich. “Mika, you look just fine.”