Once a left-leaner, Roger Hedgecock has made millions with right-wing talk radio.
Whether you love or hate former mayor Roger Hedgecock’s assaults on immigration policy, gun control, environmentalism, and other positions espoused by moderates and liberals, you have to admit the guy is successful.
His San Diego residence is worth $1.78 million, and he has a home near Las Vegas for which he paid almost $500,000. He has valuable real estate investments in Nevada. He may gross about $600,000 a year, and possibly more.
Few realize it, but Hedgecock makes a big slug of money from a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization in Arlington, Virginia, the American Studies Center. It calls itself a “non-partisan educational organization” but boasts of being “a voice for American conservatives” through a division, Radio America, that syndicates Hedgecock’s radio show. You may cock an eyebrow at this, but advocacy groups of both the left and right are 501(c)(3) nonprofits with a so-called educational mission; under the Internal Revenue Code, they are prohibited from directly or indirectly participating or intervening in a political campaign, but that doesn’t mean they can’t make a lot of ideological noise.
Rush Limbaugh no longer asks Hedgecock to substitute host.
For example, in the past, Radio America has had in its stable such conservative darlings as G. Gordon Liddy, the chief operator of the White House Plumbers during the Watergate scandal; Oliver North, an arms peddler in the Iran-Contra affair during the Reagan administration; Alan Keyes, who ran three times both for president and the U.S. Senate; and Michael Reagan, adopted son of Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman. When Michael Reagan couldn’t cut the mustard, Hedgecock stepped in.
A 501(c)(3) organization has to file a 990 report annually with the Internal Revenue Service. The 2009 filing for American Studies Center shows it paid Worldwide Community Forum, 2656 Bayside Walk, San Diego, $300,000. Hedgecock heads Worldwide and lives at that address. In 2010, the sum jumped to $300,150, and in 2011, it was up to $345,729. The 2012 information is not yet available.
Now Hedgecock is the sole conservative radio host on Radio America. The other hosts chat about such topics as popular science, hot rods, gardening, and parenting. There are a couple of shows about investing — one by San Diego financial planning guru Ray Lucia.
The Federal Communications Commission once had a Fairness Doctrine; a station was required to give airtime to someone who wanted to counter an opinion stated on the air. That was effectively jettisoned in 1985 and officially tossed out in 1987 — perfect for Hedgecock’s timing. He had been convicted of getting illegal campaign donations from the infamous J. David Dominelli Ponzi scheme; most of the charges were thrown out on appeal, and Hedgecock pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor that was erased. But he had to leave office in late 1985. Four days after resigning, he became a talk-show host on KSDO.
Suddenly, Hedgecock’s ideology changed completely. As a law student in the late 1960s, he had worked with the Sierra Club. As lawyer for Del Mar, he had been an aggressive environmentalist. As San Diego mayor, he had railed against Los Angelization and real estate developers, and he attracted a base of minorities. Once on the air, he attacked those he had courted. From KSDO, Hedgecock moved to KOGO, owned by Clear Channel Communications, which was sinking financially and slashing costs. Jimmy Valentine, who was Hedgecock’s producer for 15 years, believes that Clear Channel was not paying Hedgecock beyond his Radio America wages, although it was paying his staff.
KFMB was then getting disenchanted with talk-show host Rick Roberts. Valentine believes Hedgecock convinced KFMB to pay him what it was paying Roberts, in addition to the Radio America pay. Hedgecock kissed KOGO good-bye at year-end 2011 and began his show at KFMB. During 2011, “Papa” Doug Manchester bought the Union-Tribune and Hedgecock came aboard with a TV show on U-T TV and also commentaries for the editorial page. I asked John Lynch, chief executive of the U-T, if Hedgecock’s Radio America remuneration influenced what the newspaper pays him. “We pay him his fees based on his national and local history of appeal,” says Lynch.
“[Hedgecock] and Manchester go way back,” says Valentine. “Their politics are exactly the same.”
Talkers magazine estimates that Hedgecock has a weekly audience of at least 1 million, compared with Rush Limbaugh’s 14.75 million, Sean Hannity’s 14 million, and Glenn Beck’s 8.25 million. “Hedgecock is a good, solid performer, but not in the category of Limbaugh, not in the upper 10 percent,” says Michael Harrison, publisher of the magazine. Last year, Hedgecock was rated 32nd in the magazine’s “Heavy Hundred” list of top talk-show hosts.
In 2003, Limbaugh revealed that he had drug problems and during following periods was sometimes off the air. Hedgecock flew to New York and auditioned to become an occasional pinch-hitter for Limbaugh. Initially, it went well: Hedgecock often got the assignment. Laudatory emails flooded in. “That went to Roger’s head,” says Valentine. Hedgecock launched his own Saturday syndicated talk show without telling Limbaugh. “That pissed Rush off,” remembers Valentine. “We never again did another show” as Limbaugh’s substitute.
With money flowing in from the American Studies Center, U-T San Diego, and presumably KFMB, Hedgecock is doing well, especially since he also brings in cash from local endorsements and speeches (an estimated $1500 to $3000 a gig). Real estate should bring fat income, too.
But will it last? Fox TV, reading the election tea leaves, is telling its commentators to soften their approach. Valentine says the “birth certificate shit, the Muslim shit, the Obama socialist shit” doesn’t fly anymore. Conservative hosts “are talking to a diminishing audience. Old white guys are getting older. Young white guys are not buying into this crap.”
Harrison of Talkers magazine isn’t so sure. He says talk hosts’ popularity “has more to do with how entertaining and compelling the hosts are” than with their political viewpoint.
Hedgecock is now 66. Having made one 180-degree flip, he can certainly modify his approach. “This is not a stupid duck,” says Valentine. “He works like a horse.”
Hedgecock, his producer, Radio America, KOGO, and KFMB did not respond to queries.