Jewish Journal

Video Spawns a Radio Star

by Keren Engelberg

Posted on Aug. 15, 2002 at 8:00 pm

It takes Jay Sanderson about 10 minutes to put me to work. It's 8:55 a.m. on a Sunday, five minutes till broadcast of KLAC talk radio's "The Jay Sanderson Show" and he's having trouble getting his scheduled guest, screenwriter/producer Lionel Chetwynd, on the phone. I'm barely settled onto my little bar stool, pad of paper and pen poised to take notes, before Sanderson hands me his cell phone, and asks: "Can you get Chetwynd on the line?" I hurriedly oblige, succeeding in my mission even as I miss Sanderson's opening words to his listeners. Such is my introduction into the world of fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants broadcasting and to Sanderson.

Dressed in a T-shirt, denim shorts, Teva sandals and a backward baseball cap, Sanderson, 45, looks the part of your typical broadcaster, relaxed in the casual atmosphere of this new job. Even as he's about to go on the air -- sans featured guest -- he is focused, not worried. When I return to the booth after my errand, Sanderson is sitting comfortably as he chats on the air with the Weather Yenta. The forecast for today? "That's why the air condition [sic] was invented," she says. The two other featured personalities follow: Jordan "Sports Guy" Rush gives us this week's stats on Jewish athletes like Shawn Green and Jeff Nathan, and the Food Maven answers the question, "What's for breakfast?" It turns out to be matzah frittata.

"Our main topic today is, we're gonna be looking at things from both sides, from the left and from the right," Sanderson tells whoever might be listening to his early Sunday morning time slot of 9-10 a.m. In the eighth installment of "The Jay Sanderson Show," Sanderson has liberal music executive Danny Goldberg and the conservative Chetwynd square off on various issues from politics to parenting. He plays moderator, occasionally piping in with his two cents, but mostly directing the questions and reeling in the two guests when it's time for another commercial break. Sanderson encourages his listeners to call in to 1-866-570-KLAC, though no one does. It's unclear if many people are listening -- yet.

But that doesn't bother Sanderson, who's new to radio. By day, Sanderson is the CEO of the Jewish Television Network, a nonprofit organization that is the Jewish community's only national television network. (His previous work experience was in commercial film writing and producing, and nonprofit management and fundraising with the Brandeis-Bardin Institute.)

Sanderson's moonlighting gig as a Jewish radio personality began with a casual cocktail party conversation with Steve Wexler, an account executive at KLAC/KFI, four months ago, regarding the Jewish "void in the talk radio world." Sanderson suggested himself to fill that void, to create "a place where the wide landscape of Jewish interests and thought can reach a radio audience." He was on the air six weeks later.

In the beginning, the shows did not run smoothly. Sanderson struggled with numerous technical problems, but his quick wit helped compensate for his lack of technical savvy. "Today, we will call it the technically challenged show. Who could I disconnect next?" Sanderson asked on-air. "Well, I could disconnect you if you called in at 1-866-570-KLAC."

The neophyte also struggles with tone. On his first radio show, he focused on Israeli terror victims, and he inappropriately asked a documentarian discussing terror victims, "Are the Israeli drivers any better than the Los Angeles drivers?"

Yet for all his inexperience, Sanderson is taking on a substantial task in trying to cover a swath of subjects ranging from the best bagels in Los Angeles to terrorism. Sanderson has yet to find his voice in such a broad format of Jewish Los Angeles, and he admits he's relieved that not many people are listening yet. He jokingly refers to his 13 listeners, and says, "I'm learning on the job, and some of it is knowing what buttons to push and knowing what to say and when to say it." As Sanderson puts it, "It's a work in progress."

The future is still uncertain for the fledgling radio show. Sanderson credits the radio station with being committed to the idea that the show is still building an audience. Indeed, KLAC is still working on its own growth, with its May 2001 transformation from playing "singers and standards" to a talk radio format.

"The Jay Sanderson Show" is bookended by health infomercials, which serve to meet the radio station's economic needs, as it continues to mature. All of this leaves Sanderson with virtually unlimited freedom to pursue his vision for the show. "I've been given carte blanche basically to do whatever I wanted to do. It's great, but it's a bigger responsibility, because if someone says, 'Do these five things,' it's easier than having a wide world."

Sanderson seems to be navigating through that world pretty well thus far, getting more comfortable behind the mic with every show.

"I want you to have a great, great, great week," Sanderson tells listeners toward the end of his eighth show, as Warren Zevon music rises out of the background. "What we learned today is we should disagree, but we should do it and not be personal. Disagree with your neighbors as much as you can this week, but don't get personal, and we'll talk to you next week."

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