Radio Waves: July 17, 2020

John Phillips and the Doctor Hour make for great radio

One of the stations that benefited from changed listening habits brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic is KABC (790 AM), which in April earned its highest rating in years at 1.4, double that of January January and a full point above the 0.4 the station found itself in some months of last year. As of the latest rating released in June, the station is still 43 percent up from the January rating among listeners aged 6 and over.

One of the true bright spots of KABC’s broadcast day is the John Phillips Show, heard from 12 noon to 3 p.m. weekdays; one of the highlights of Phillips’ program is the daily 1 p.m. “doctor hour,” in which prominent medical doctors — usually Kelly Victory, but occasionally others including Nan Hayworth and Daliah Wachs —  talk with Phillips and answer listener questions on any topic. Of course the topic now is usually (read: always) COVID-related.

I was turned on to the segment by my friend, Bruce Thomson, who sent text message reminders to me almost daily asking essentially the same question: “Are you listening? Dr. Kelly Victory is on talking about COVID … you have to listen.”

So I did. And I found Bruce was right … the Doctor Hour has become required listening for me and obviously many others … Phillips’ show tends to be among the highest-rated show on KABC, and the Doctor Hour tends to be the highest-rated hour of the show.

Phillips has been on KABC for many years, in various time slots. He’s done afternoons, late mornings, mornings snd now early afternoons. “This is my favorite shift,” he admits, especially compared with the mornings. “I tend to be someone who goes to bed early and gets up early, but there is a difference between waking up early and going on the air versus waking up, having some coffee, swearing at the headlines, and then doing the show.”

The Orange County native formerly worked at CNN for about two years, until the news service wanted him to move to the East Coast. “I think they felt that I wanted more money,” he said, “but I just didn’t want to move.” Besides, radio is his true love. “I am doing what I have wanted to do since I learned to talk,” Phillips says of hosting his own talk radio show.

His program overall is an interesting hybrid of topics. It’s a political talk show without being overtly political, and he is never combative. The word “polite” permeates the program that can truly cover any topic, though politics absolutely plays a role. Think Johnny Carson monologue. Or the attitude brought out by one of his idols, Lakers play-by-play announcer Chick Hearne.

Old-timers like me can make a comparison to the old TalkNet programs such as Bruce Williams, as outside of mocking Governor Newsom, Phillips is genuinely nice to everyone, listeners and guests alike. 

“I will never be abusive,” he says, adding that all viewpoints are welcome on the program. “I have views, of course, but I am not trying to convince anyone of anything … I am not trying to sway elections, and I am not trying to change anyone’s mind or convince them to think like me. My show is a safe place for conversations for people of all views.

“And you won’t get beaten up for disagreeing.”

The genesis of the Doctor Hour actually began long before COVID. “Kelly was on the show even back when I was doing afternoons with Jillian (Barberie),” he explained. But the COVID scare brought new importance to the segment, and it expanded to a daily segment, led primarily by Victory.

“I met her through a friend, and find her to be an amazing person,” Phillips said. “She has numerous degrees from elite universities, she is a trauma doctor, she is the world’s greatest cook, greatest gardener, runs marathons … she’s one off the rare individuals who excel at everything,” 

The pandemic brought in questions from listeners who were frightened of the virus and needed straightforward information, factual, and to the point. “With all the conflicting information coming from various sources, people just want — need — to know what’s true, what’s not, and how to stay safe, especially for the at-risk population,” says Phillips. “So we started taking calls that included basic questions that weren’t being answered elsewhere. ‘Is my baby safe if I encounter someone with COVID?’ ‘Can I visit my mother who is in assisted living and keep her safe?’ Things like that.”

Victory, told me that she considers the segments the highlight of her day. “I am thrilled that I can help people,” she told me, “and it is so gratifying when people tell me that I helped them understand the disease and have some of the fear taken away.” Her segments on the show — usually three or four hour segments per week but occasionally even more —  is volunteer time, which she gladly donates as part of what she considers an obligation to help people due to her expertise not only in medicine but her extensive knowledge of public health. 

If you haven’t heard it, like my friend Bruce says, you have to tune in. It’s one of the best hours on radio.