The topic of the day is President George W. Bush’s nationally televised speech about increasing the number of troops in Iraq — and Dan Yorke isn’t particularly pleased. “I want to see if you‘re Iraq-ed out,” the WPRO (630 AM) talk-show host tells his listeners at the start of a recent show.
ON THE JOB: Although the talk-show host leans Republican, he’s more flexible in dissecting local issues.
The ensuing discussion is what might be expected from talk-radio, a medium known for leaning conservative: a number of the callers, with no sign of irony, blame the media and congressional Democrats for the disastrous course of the war, although a minority are more skeptical and find fault with the Bush administration. Yorke mostly goes with the flow, taking the occasional shot at liberals like Rosie O’Donnell and US Senator Dianne Feinstein, although he conducts a thoughtful phone interview later in the show with US Senator Jack Reed. Even before the show began, he told me, “I won’t say this conversation today is going to bore me, but it bores me.”
It’s no wonder. On national topics, Yorke tends to play to talk-radio type, cutting a lot of slack for the president and his policies. Yet when it comes to the fertile place known as Rhode Island, the 45-year-old talk-show host can be a force, bringing to bear an engaging personality, a steely intellect, and a journalistic capability to advance stories involving the state’s prototypical mix of political potboilers and weird misadventures. (Disclosure: as part of an advertising trade relationship between the Phoenix and WPRO, I have been an unpaid weekly guest on Yorke’s show since 2002.)
Yorke’s ability to make waves was on display when he subjected Secretary of State Ralph Mollis to a fierce interview on January 8 about the difficulties of his stepson, Gian Piscione, who was recently arrested and charged with attempted murder. While the exchange was personal at times — and Yorke has been a sharp critic of Mollis — it also marked a legitimate inquiry into whether Piscione had received special treatment during a previous arrest. Still, Providence Journal metro columnist Bob Kerr subsequently tabbed Yorke as “the artfully angry man at the microphone,” and he questioned why Mollis “had to go on punk radio for the public cleansing.”
Having come to Rhode Island as an unknown in November 1999, Yorke is now the state’s reigning king of talk radio. The most prominent talkers on rival WHJJ (920 AM) are gone: the bombastic John DePetro, after having taken a job at WRKO in Boston, was fired in November after calling a Green Party gubernatorial candidate in Massachusetts a “fat lesbian”; Arlene Violet, a local institution with her distinctive accent and colorful background, was axed in December, a victim of cost-cutting and Yorke’s dominance in afternoon ratings. Meanwhile, local broadcasting veteran Steve Kass, Yorke’s former morning counterpart at WPRO, left a while back to take the top communications job with Governor Donald L. Carcieri. Mid-day talker Helen Glover, a former finalist on Survivor, is now WHJJ’s top local personality.
The talk-show host’s 3-7 pm program has a particularly strong listenership at the State House, although some Smith Hill denizens question his influence among the general public.