By Taylor Paraboschi, Staff Writer
"Sometimes you just have to go with the flow," said radio and television personality Alan Colmes when describing his successful career in the broadcasting business Wednesday evening. In an event sponsored by the Communications Department and as a part of The University's anniversary celebration, the charismatic alum returned to his alma mater to deliver some helpful advice to a packed audience. "Find your niche. In ten years you won't be doing what you thought you would."
Before he was a syndicated radio host and one of the few liberals working at Fox News, Colmes became interested in radio when he received a tape recorder as a Hanukkah gift at 15 years old. "I used to record songs and then play them over the phone for my friends," he said.
His first unpaid job came shortly after when he called around to local Long Island stations and landed a position announcing the weather at The University's radio station, WRHU. "Every Sunday, once an hour for three hours," said Colmes, adding that he once made his parents leave their vacation early so that he could be back in time for his segment. He eventually graduated to a Saturday afternoon talk show at WRHU where he had the opportunity to talk and play records for 3 hours.
His ambitions and passion for talk radio continued on to college, where he attended Ithaca College for two years before transferring to Hofstra. At Ithaca, he landed his first paid radio job during the summer, filling in for other radio hosts. The job only lasted one summer, however it proved helpful for his future. "We're not going to use you next summer, we found someone better. This prepared me to work at Fox [News]," Colmes said with a smile, recounting how he was fired.
Television wasn't always a goal for Colmes, and his shift into the visual medium came as a shock. "It was an accident."
Fox News was looking for a liberal counterpart for Sean Hannity in 1997. He started on a six-week trial, which led to 13 weeks and then an eventual two-year contract. The show ended after a successful 12 years in 2009. "We didn't know it would be as successful as it was."
While Hannity & Colmes wasn't broadcasted in the medium that he was used to, it did open him up to a broader fan base and ultimately helped put him on the map. "Radio is more fun, but television pays more."
Television also provided him to interview and meet some key political players such as Sarah Palin and President Barack Obama. "Obama was probably my favorite [to interview]. I really like him. I interviewed him when he was running for Senate. He knew his stuff. You may not like him, you may think he's a horrible president, but at the core he's a good person."
However, being one of the few liberals on a conservative talk show wasn't always easy for him. "The name of the game is ratings. Conflict gets ratings." Colmes discussed separating professional and personal feelings when debating opposing opinions with rapid-fire debaters such as Bill O'Reilly.
He went on to say that it's important for someone in his position to do multiple fact checks and to have different sources to back up his opinions. "You have to know what you're talking about," Colmes said, adding that the three most important things to remember are to be likeable, truthful and to get all of your facts straight. "Say everything with a spoonful of sugar. You need to be likeable and truthful; they have to respect you even if they don't agree with you."
When asked why he chose to work at such a conservative station such as Fox, he replied at it was more fun to deliver a point of view that's not being heard. "Drill some sense into the other side. Stick it to the man," Colmes said with a laugh. "Maybe that's not the right way to put it." He went on to say that it wasn't about berating the guests or proving who was right or wrong; it was about confronting them with past statements that they've made and giving them a chance to explain. "You don't want to cross the line."
He also stressed the point of knowing the audience that you're projecting to. "You have to be good and do something that no one else is doing to get an audience." Colmes never set out to have an overly political slant, but people wanted opinions and then reacted when he gave his. "I'm not a news caster, or a journalist. I give my opinion. Some people said that I piss people off."
Colmes encourages students in the media field to experiment. He encouraged them to delve in different forms of media, starting their own websites, posting their opinions and what interests them, working the kinks out along the way."You're at a young age and you don't need to know exactly what you want to do. Find your niche," he said.
Still, whether it is television or radio, Colmes sees a big change coming for media with in the next five years. These changes in radio are largely do to the Internet growing and how it allows people to connect and share their ideas. "It's not enough to just have a radio show. You have to integrate, using all forms of social media." Social media, Colmes added, along with free speech opens up the door to communication. "You're not going to create democracy by a gun or bayonet," he said regarding the recent events in Egypt. "It's going to come from the ground up."