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Mary Walter Has Done Both Radio and TV at the Highest Levels

It’s easier to go from radio to TV than it is to go from TV to radio. I think that a lot of TV people think it’s going to be so easy, and they flame out.

Ryan Hedrick



Connecting with an audience in today’s ever-changing media landscape can be tough. But Mary Walter has a talent for doing just that. She’s shown time and again that she knows how to build strong relationships with her listeners, a key factor in her success in her decades-long career.

Walter’s career journey took her from New Jersey 101.5 to WCTC (1450 AM) in New Brunswick and ultimately to WMAL in Washington D.C. She made history as the first female anchor of a morning show in New Jersey and gained even more recognition when both the Howard Stern Channel on Sirius XM and Fox News expressed interest in her achievements.

Walter is immersed in obligations that have made her busier than ever. Her podcast brings her joy as she enjoys the freedom to select the topics she discusses. Despite being an opinionated host, she places great importance on the factual aspects of significant news stories. Thanks to her expertise, she is in high demand, with broadcasters across the country eager for her to step in for them.

Through her work with Newsmax and Fox News, she has gained invaluable insights into a pivotal era in cable news, which could potentially rival the emergence of Fox News as the leading channel in America.

In a sit-down with Barrett News Media, Walter shared her thoughts on her career journey, Chris Licht’s departure from CNN, Newsmax’s significance in the media landscape, and much more. 

Ryan Hedrick: What led you to join the team at Newsmax TV?

Mary Walter: I had done some work for Newsmax in New York City in 2013-2014, and they were starting out there. It was a skeleton operation, and I was doing some shows with them back then, and it just petered out, and I said to myself, ‘These people aren’t going anywhere.’ (Laughs).

RH: With Chris Licht leaving CNN and turmoil going on at Fox News, how do perceive Newsmax’s role in the media landscape?

MW: Newsmax, right now, is sitting in the catbird seat. Chris Ruddy has been deliberate in his choices. You see him scooping up people for — whatever reason — left Fox News, or were pushed out of Fox News. He’s got Greta Van Susteren and Eric Bolling. He also has Jen Pellegrino, who was an intern at Fox News. Quite a few bookers at Newsmax used to be at Fox News. I think it was smart for Chris (Ruddy)  to bring many people over from Fox News because many of them already know each other.  

RH: Did you see something special in Newsmax when you started?

MW: I thought the network was a good idea, but they were taking on Fox News, and Fox was at its heyday. I was very blessed to be at Fox when it was at its zenith, so you didn’t foresee coming down the road what happened to Fox News. In a way, Chris Ruddy (Newsmax CEO) is a visionary in that sense. He said I can be the giant killer, and good for him, he’s stuck with it, and he’s done a great job.

RH: The news media industry has been undergoing rapid changes in recent years. How do you think these changes have impacted how news is consumed and delivered, particularly in conservative news?

MW: I think it has become easier to consume what you want to consume, to hear what you want to hear, and I don’t think that’s a good thing. I also think we have blurred the line between opinion and news. When I think of a journalist, I think of someone like James Rosen at Newsmax or Bret Baier at Fox News. Those guys don’t give their opinion. We used to have Bret on at WMAL, and we used to play a game to get him to give his opinion, and he could wiggle out of those six ways from Sunday. I just had James Rosen on my podcast, and we talked about everything but politics.

Somebody like me is an opinion host. People only hear what they want to hear. Somebody like Chris Licht comes in at CNN and says there’s another opinion out there, and we’re going to carry it, and employees went in on a full revolt.

I think not being forced to consume something you don’t want to hear is detrimental in many ways. That is one thing that I think conservative media does a little better than liberal media is that both Fox News and Newsmax TV will have someone that has a different opinion. I think it’s a very dangerous road you go down when you don’t hear anything other than what everyone around you says.

RH: When did your journey at WMAL in Washington DC begin?

MW: I was at WMAL before Newsmax in 2011 and did some fill-in shows. Fred Grandy had the morning show, and he left, and I co-hosted with Brian Nehman, who I think had been on Fred Grandy. I co-hosted with Brian for a couple of weeks.

RH: What was your first break in the industry?

MW: My first job in this industry, I had zero radio experience. New Jersey 101.5 FM was a huge station at the time, it was only a year old but had taken the state by storm, and also in the Philadelphia area. You could even hear it in New York. It wasn’t like your typical political talker; they did a lot of New Jersey stuff and a lot of lifestyle stuff.

The station had a show at night that was a relationship show, and the woman who hosted was leaving, and they had an on-air contest to replace her. My husband was in Philly, and I was driving down there, and you had to call in, and they had some women on who had called in from the night before, and they were going to take your questions. So, long story short, I called, and they called me back the next day. I had nothing else to do at the time. I was a computer consultant, and they offered me the job within a week.

RH: What did you do after you left New Jersey 101.5?

MW: I got fired after five years of being at New Jersey 101.5 because everybody gets fired in radio (laughs). After that, I went to WCTC in New Brunswick, NJ. It’s a small local talker in Somerset County, but I was the first woman in the state to be the anchor of a morning talk show. First-morning host in New Jersey.

I did that for four years, and then the 9/11 attacks happened, and I wound up back at New Jersey 101.5 because the company got sold, and my old boss wound up being my new boss, so he hired me back. I did that for five years and got to work with Craig Carton, and after five years, and out the door again, and I got contacted by Howard Stern and Fox News.

RH: Why did Howard and Fox News reach out to you simultaneously?

MW: Back in the day, there used to be a radio column in the New York Daily News, and it ran every Thursday. You used to be able to hear New Jersey 101.5 in New York City before they made them pull their signal back. That’s how Sean Hannity knew me, that’s how Geraldo Rivera knew me, so people knew that station.

At the time, Howard Stern had just gotten three stations from Sirius, and they were paying him like $100 million to program these stations. So, I got contacted by Tim Sabean, who was his guy at the time, and Mike Elder from Fox News because Fox had just started Fox News Radio about six months before.

It was a crazy time. I also got contacted by a station in Philadelphia and a bunch of other people. At the time, talk radio was huge, and radio itself was huge at the time. This was before Comrex and ISDNs. You had to drive to the job, and I said I wasn’t driving to Philadelphia, but I considered the possibility of taking the train into New York.

I never got offered anything by any of Howard’s people, but they wanted me to recreate the relationship show; that’s what the conversations were about. A week later, I went into Fox, and I thought that they had a great operation plus there were more opportunities there for TV and for my career to grow. I thought it was a more high-profile job. The Howard Stern thing died, and the Fox News thing prospered.

RH: As someone who has worked in both television and radio, what are some key differences you’ve noticed in terms of storytelling and engaging with the audience?

WM: I love radio. I’m a radio creature. I love the longer form. I love being able to take calls from the audience because sometimes I learn things, sometimes they challenge me, and sometimes you can change my thinking.

That, to me, is what radio should be about. Radio should be an exchange of ideas. It should be that soapbox in the town square instead of me just monologuing for two hours. That’s my style, I like to engage the audience. You can’t do that so much on TV. At Fox News, it’s an hour and a half for hair and makeup for three minutes on camera.

They are such different mediums. It’s so much easier to go from radio to TV. If you host on radio and you know what it’s like to fill a 15-20 minute on one topic versus TV where you are reading the teleprompter, and you’ve got two other people on set with you, and everybody gets to say one thing, and you move on, it’s a totally different animal. So, it’s easier to go from radio to TV than it is to go from TV to radio. I think that a lot of TV people think it’s going to be so easy, and they flame out spectacularly because there’s a lot of prep that goes into the radio.

RH: What have been some of the most memorable moments or interviews during your time at Newsmax and WMAL? Is there a particular story or event that stands out to you?

WM: Probably the most memorable was sitting in the White House with Donald Trump. That was one of the gifts that WMAL gave me, and I will forever be grateful. I did not like living in Washington D.C. because if you’re not a D.C. person, I think you find it difficult to live there. Being in D.C. when Trump was president and being a conservative at that time was an incredible experience. By the way, I am not a registered Republican. With Trump, we received an invitation at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, but we didn’t know who we were meeting with or who it was for.

Trump wanted to talk to the people that put him in office. We were in the press briefing room, and then they brought us into the Oval Office, and when the doors opened, Trump told us to come on in. I don’t care who the president is, it’s an incredible experience. Trump was everything you expected him to be. He said to us that he wanted to know what the listeners thought about him because he knew those were the people that put him into office.

RH: With the rise of social media and digital platforms, news consumption habits have changed significantly. How have these changes affected your evolution as a talent?

MW: I’m on Twitter, I’m on MeWe, I’m on Gettr, I’m on those things. I spend a lot of time posting because my schedule is so crazy from day to day. I send links to all of my podcasts where you can listen and watch afterward. And I do find that social media can be good and bad.

It’s just like what’s happening in the cable news area and the consumption of news. You can build that information bubble. On Twitter, you have the people you follow, and then you have “for you,” which is not necessarily the people you follow. I’m always on the “for you” because I want to hear other people’s opinions.

I want to hear other things. I know what I think and how I view stuff, I want to be challenged, and I think it’s part of my job to be challenged. I’m on Twitter a lot, and I’m on social media a lot to see how other people are taking the same story that I just saw and interpreting totally differently.

RH: In an era where “fake news” and misinformation are frequently discussed, how do you approach fact-checking and ensuring the accuracy of the information you present?  

MW: The advent of all of this is facts versus feelings. So, if I don’t like your facts or you’re hurting my feelings, then suddenly, it’s fake news. With the way Trump popularized that saying “fake news”, he was calling these people out for publishing stories.

At the time, we didn’t know what he knew. He knew that The New York Times was given this stuff. He knew that the Times had published the story about the dossier, which was fake. The initial use of mis and disinformation, and fake news was dead on. It has now been co-opted to describe anything I disagree with. I am always tweeting out links to stories with verifiable facts.

RH: Are there any projects or initiatives you find particularly exciting and would like our readers to know about?

MW: I love my podcast. It’s Mary Walter Radio, live on YouTube and Gettr, 7:15 EST on Tuesdays. It’s also on Apple iTunes and Spotify. We have an election coming up in New Jersey, so I am watching that.

Other than that, I am keeping busy by being on the fill-in for Todd Starnes, Rob Carson, Mandy Connell, and then, of course on Newsmax. I also fill in for Brian Kilmeade and Guy Benson on Fox News Radio.

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The Problem With Radio Interviews and How to Make Them Better

Most interviews suck. Most interviews have little reason to exist in the first place, not if the host, anchor, or reporter isn’t going to ask the tough questions the audience wants answered.



What was the last interview you remember? I’ll wait. Yeah, not so easy. Most interviews on radio, TV, or podcasts, or in print, are anything but memorable.

Either nobody says anything other than the usual platitudes, or the host fawns over, and tosses softballs at, the guest. The only thing accomplished is to fill a segment the easy way — hey, the guest is doing all the work! Cool! — and the host is, ideally, maintaining access to the guest while pleasing some publicist who will, the producer hopes, send more clients to the show. Everybody wins, right?

What about the audience?

Most interviews suck. Most interviews have little reason to exist in the first place, not if the host, anchor, or reporter isn’t going to ask the tough questions the audience wants answered. Is it entertaining or enlightening to a radio listener or cable news viewer if an interview consists of stock answers, vague platitudes, or ridiculous opinions met with zero resistance from the interviewer? Who wants to hear that? Yet that’s what I see, hear, and read everywhere.

Nobody gets challenged, and in the rare instances when they do get challenged, the interviewer invariably lets them off the hook. Follow-ups are non-existent. Wild claims are unchallenged. And those are among the more interesting interviews, because at least there’s some animated discussion. Others are deadly dull, too polite, interviewers afraid to make things too uncomfortable.

Uncomfortable can be, of course, the kind of memorable interview that people talk about years later, the kind that can define a host and show. I’ve written before about how I saw the light when I was programming New Jersey 101.5 and, from the front hallway of the studio, I suddenly heard John Kobylt (now at KFI Los Angeles) and Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) in a shouting match. I don’t even remember what they were arguing about, but it was a talk show host and a sitting U.S. Senator on the phone screaming at each other and I ran towards the studio, then stopped in my tracks.

Yeah, it was a Senator, but so what? Senators are just people, but also people who owe their constituents answers. John was representing our listeners. I let it go on. And our ratings reflected that attitude: We used our access to get answers for the audience, and they appreciated it. Politeness may get you invited to campaign events and press conferences, but you don’t work for political parties, sports franchises, or college athletic programs, you’re the proxy for the people, and yourself.

(Lately, it’s been fun to watch Jake Tapper let the Philly come through and be more aggressive with politicians; “Be more Philadelphia” is a good rule of thumb, although I might be biased in that regard….)

There are other radio examples, too, from Tom Bauerle in Buffalo challenging Hillary Clinton to Dan Le Batard confronting MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred over the Marlins’ tanking to the recent WFAN/Carl Banks brouhaha, and you surely have other examples, probably because they’re the interviews you remember. (We can skip over Jim Rome vs. Jim Everett, okay?) Honestly, whether they’re pundits bloviating on cable about the latest breaking news or a coach or player spouting the same safe canned responses after every game (“Why didn’t you go for it on 4th and 2?” “We’ll have to try harder next week, but give credit to the other guys’ defense”), the world, and your ratings, would probably be better off without those interviews.

But if you insist on doing a lot of interviews…

1. Listen. Yes, this has become a cliche. So many great interviewers have said this that it’s hard to figure out who said it first. It’s true, though. Prepare all the questions you need in advance — more than you need, really — but when you ask a question, don’t let your eyes move down the page to the next question on the list. Just listen to the answer, because more often than not there will be an opportunity to….

2. Follow up. This is not optional, especially entering an election year when misinformation is going to continue to be rampant. You know when you’re watching a cable news anchor talking to a politician or pundit and the latter says something outrageous and unsupportable and the interviewer just moves on? You know how you want to throw things at your TV when that happens? Don’t be that interviewer. Better yet….

3. Insist on an answer. If the subject doesn’t really answer the question, ASK IT AGAIN. Repeat until you get a commitment. No need to defer to someone who’s avoiding your questions. At least get them on record as refusing to answer the question – and point that out — before you move on.

4. This is out of order, but before you even book the interview, ask yourself: Is this what the audience wants or needs? Is this going to be entertaining or informative, or preferably both? Are people going to remember this past the second it ends? Might this make news or is it just going to sit there accomplishing nothing? Why am I doing this? (The latter question is apropos for everything in life, by the way, and the answer isn’t always pretty.)

It’s not to say that you need to be a jerk to guests, or that you can resort to name-calling or low blows. To the contrary, asking good, tough questions is a sign of respect, a sign you think they can handle it. If they can’t, it’s on them. If you’re the host, anchor, or reporter, you’re in control. Use it.

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How to Take Your Personal Brand to the Next Level

Always respect your brand’s relationship with the station. You are a 24-hour-a-day goodwill ambassador for your employer. Always keep that in the forefront of your skull. 

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You have probably heard about having a personal brand. Well, we all have a brand. 

The definition according to the American Marketing Association: “Personal branding is the act of promoting yourself as a brand by crafting a distinct identity, reputation, and online presence to showcase your skills, expertise, and personality. This type of branding is normally used by professionals, influencers, and entrepreneurs to enhance their careers, attract opportunities, and build a strong online presence.”

How do you represent yourself on the air? Do you have an identity that makes you unique?  What is it? Are you presenting a show that is on-brand? Is there an aspect of your show that makes it special? I have asked these questions to several hosts over the years and when left to identify these attributes…  They can’t. It takes soul searching, it takes a bit of honesty, and it also takes some courage. There is an old marketing adage when it comes to presenting anything to the consumer. What makes your show new, better, and different? I will give you some strategies to develop your personal brand on the air. 

What about your personal brand in life? When you walk into the store, restaurant, or your chosen house of worship, do you present yourself like a star? Gene Simmons of the band KISS once said that rock stars should always look like it whenever they go outside. Do you present yourself as you wish to be perceived? Is it on-brand? 

Longtime talk show host and Founder of the Guardian Angels, Curtis Sliwa is always in uniform. He is wearing a beret and a red jacket with the Guardian Angels Logo. I worked with Curtis for almost 4 years, I only saw him out of uniform twice. A lot of talk show hosts are somewhat shy and socially awkward. Hosts frequently only come alive when there is a microphone in front of them. This is a total mistake. 

Friday Night, I made a work appearance. I worked the crowd, but I was hungry. So, I stopped at a local restaurant, bellied up to the bar, and enjoyed dinner with a beer. Well, one of the businessmen at this establishment recognized me. He moved over and sat near me. I spoke with him for 40 minutes as I enjoyed my beverage and meal. This listener introduced me to everyone at the bar. He must be a regular. 

I followed my tradition of only having one beer. I was on brand. After I was recognized, I had a conversation about the show and the station. I was not dismissive of either being recognized. I didn’t try to diminish my job. Be a regular person when approached. Your show persona and personal presentation may be a little different. Your listeners don’t understand that. I mention this because I have observed radio and TV people just come across as either rude, aloof, or just nutty.

Your station’s brand will always be associated with your personal brand. How many hosts do you know who made the move across town and just got crushed? The ratings sucked, the fit was bad, and the revenue was in the toilet after 12 months into that new gig. 

Always respect your brand’s relationship with the station. You are a 24-hour-a-day goodwill ambassador for your employer. Always keep that in the forefront of your skull. 

I worked with an amazing talent years ago who was really the backbone of the station in the market. He had been in that community for 30 years. Everyone knew him. This guy had a hair-trigger temper, though. I got a call from a listener who was on a roadcrew, and my guy screamed at him over a traffic delay. 

The listener was really sorry that he yelled at my guy. The road crew member wanted to write the talk show host a note of apology. I took that as a learning tool. I called my host and told him about the call. My host dropped the “Do you know who I am?” line on this poor dude. I brought that up. The host was crestfallen. I had to inform him that he was always an ambassador of the station’s brand. 

I also let him know that the “Do you know who I am?” line is a finesse play and should be only used in rare situations. I was also able to bust his chops over this for years. We shared a laugh each time that it was brought up. Don’t let your ego hurt your station. 

So…how do you develop your own brand? I hate to inform you of this, you have one. Now, you have to understand what it is. You also need to understand the three legs of the personal branding stool. What makes you new, better, and different? Ultimately, this should be the goal of every marketing plan. Once you understand these three things, you will have the basics for developing your personal brand. 

Your brand should also be a listener-focused exercise. Once you have your brand in hand, figure out if you need to adjust your public persona. How does that look? Think of the Gene Simmons statement. What do people want to see? How should you present yourself? Think about you should dress. How should you act? The answers are unique to you. 

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Can News/Talk Radio Be the Opposite of the Thanksgiving Table?

I wonder if the delicate dance between honesty and not wanting to offend is the same at the “table” as it is on the radio airwaves. Regardless, the prospect of conversations in both places can be both refreshing and frightening.



A photo of a family dinner

As we get overnight Truth Social rants from Donald Trump, Hunter Biden’s laptop trending, another presidential debate, and more calls for anyone but a Trump-Biden race, the whole ability to be politically independent seems to be increasingly difficult, whether it be on the radio or at the dinner table.

First, what does it actually mean to be independent? Everyone likes to say they’re independent, but before judging them on their merits, what are the defining criteria?

It’s not about objectivity vs. subjectivity. No one is truly objective, so let’s get past that middle school comparison. I view the concept of political independence as two things: Intellectual flexibility and partisan separation.

The first term involves the ability to react to new, different, and dynamic information and actually adjust a viewpoint. Ardent partisans call this flip-flopping. I call it a saving grace of the free mind (cue Matrix theme music). You should be able to evolve and shift a position based on learning. Most adults are not able or willing to do this (see my old column on silos).

Partisan separation is an offshoot of the willingness to be intellectually flexible. If you are 100 percent beholden to a party, you cannot be intellectually flexible. As a human and as a morning radio host, that’s an untenable place to occupy – IMHO, as the young’uns say.

When I review my portfolio of political views, thoughts, and feelings, I accept some that are considered conservative, and others that look progressive, while still possessing several moderate stances as well. The point is not to blindly follow a line; follow what your senses tell you, even if it’s not consistently one side or the other.

Think of it as split-ticket voting, but on issues and not candidates – and try doing it on an ongoing basis.

Critics on either side may say you flip flop or even some call you a coward. I am fine with that, and every day on the air, I am working on the courage to embrace all 360 degrees of my views without fear of the response. My agenda is not to have an agenda.

So, some two weeks after Thanksgiving, I am still processing the many hours of conversation at the “table”. I put that in quotations because we don’t actually have a sit-down meal. With 35 or so people, we set up the food buffet-style and let everyone have at it.

I wonder if the delicate dance between honesty and not wanting to offend is the same at the “table” as it is on the radio airwaves. Regardless, the prospect of conversations in both places can be both refreshing and frightening.

Personally, I like to go there right away and then assess whether it’s worth staying there. At my holiday meal, there were so many options for people to talk to – one could just float around the rooms — and the outs are easy. I could get more food, hit the bathroom, or the simple need to catch up with someone else. As the alcohol flowed, so did the more political conversations.

I know not to give my end-of-day thoughts with the close relatives; I keep that kind of candor to crazy cousins and their spouses.

My wife’s extended family is mostly New England Democrats with a smattering of shy-about-it Republicans. In the past, we’ve had drunken tears over political issues – including one fantastic meltdown over a relative’s vote for Trump — but it’s been mostly quiet for the last few years. Having said that it’s clear that a truly independent – or rather, open-minded – approach is precarious.

Here are some areas, questions, and stances where I’ve learned people get upset, and more disturbingly, judge you — whether it be on the radio or at the dinner “table”. These are all things we should be able to discuss without fear:

Can’t you truly want to expand the vote to the most people possible but also wonder about the merits of voter ID and absentee ballot security?

If you worry about the concept of late-term abortion, you are pro-life.

And If you question the border policy, you are anti-immigrant.

If you at least acknowledge the fact that the world actually seemed more peaceful three years ago, you might as well have a MAGA flag in your bedroom.

Question President Biden’s age? people think you’re going to vote for Donald Trump.

If you lament the death of Palestinian civilians, you are anti-Israel.

If you correct the misuse of the term genocide, it means you support genocide.

Think the government has the potential to be a force for good? You’re a spend-thirsty liberal.

If you want to save Social Security by raising the earnings cap, you’re a tax-thirsty liberal.

If you recognize white privilege and still want to work out how to make opportunity fair in this country, you’re anti-white.

Want to at least brainstorm on what reparations would look like? You are also anti-white.

If you are curious about whether there should be some sort of line at some point between boys and girls sports, you are anti-trans.

If you argue for true free speech, you get in trouble on both sides.

And if you think market-based solutions can work, you are an elitist.

I could go on and on, but you get the point. Exploring these issues should not mean an absolute commitment to a stance. These are evolving subjects, and there has to be an evolving discourse in order to even have a chance at intellectual flexibility.

Do I have an answer for how to do this? No. Am I still hesitant to approach some of these topics on the air? Yes. Will I continue to test things when it feels appropriate? Absolutely.

In radio, getting there remains a work in progress, but even though I want to work in the middle a lot, it does not mean that I want to be stuck there.

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