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Issue link: http://loumag.epubxp.com/i/79614
A J t a few minutes after 9 on a Monday morning at the WHAS radio studio, your host for the next three hours sits behind a Star Trek console of a set, multi-tasking. Or, rather, she wants to be multi-tasking. Unfortunately, the machines aren't cooperating. "If our computer were any slower," she says, "it'd be an abacus." She's not talking to herself. Or the half-dozen empty chairs in the spacious studio. She's talking to the reporter in the room, who, hav- ing watched her fly from screen to screen for several minutes, has just asked about her show prep. "Tere's no schedule for the show," she says, in contrast to her previous, rigidly scheduled morning-drive show in Fort Myers, Fla. She puts on her headphones and talks to her producer, 26-year-old Bryan Hash, visible through windshield-sized glass separating the two rooms. Headphones back off. "Tis is defi- nitely more free-form," she says. Headphones on. "And here's our intro . . . Eighty-four Double-you. H.A. Esss." "Howdy-do everybody and welcome to an Olympics Monday. Tat's right. Did anybody else spend the entire weekend watching the Olympics? Bryan, you did, didn't you? You acted like you weren't go- ing to but then it was all Olympic fever." Silence in the studio as Hash answers. Connell: "Fencing is awesome." Silence. "What is up with water polo? I saw the funniest tweet about water polo. It said: 'I thought waterboarding was illegal, so how can that be a sport?' [Laughs, claps hands.] Other than the fact that they're trying to get the ball in the net, do you understand any other part of water polo? I have no idea what's going on, but I'm still watching and root- ing for people. Unlike NASCAR, I'm not watching water polo for the drowning." She's warming up now, talking with her hands into the micro- phone, occasionally adjusting her black-rimmed Ray-Ban glasses that pin back her reddish-brown hair. How would you describe her voice? Raspy? Gravelly? Susan St. James-like for those with long memories. "For those of you going, 'Oh my gosh, she's going to talk about the Olympics the entire time.' You. Are. Correct," she says. "Because I love a rah-rah America event, and this is a rah-rah America event. Although, I gotta tell ya, I'm a lit-tle disappointed in the swimmers. . . . Michael Phelps, talking like he's already retired. I'm like, what are you, 90? Are you going to start yelling, 'Get off my lawn!'?" So, who are you listening to? Who's the comedian? Who's pull- ing off the Jerry Seinfeld bit with such ease? Ah, but you know. You peeked at the headline. It's Mandy Connell, that knee-jerk right-wing- er. Mandy Connell, Louisville's version of Rush Limbaugh. Mandy Connell, angry white female. Yeaaahhh … no. Not quite. Conservative? Sure, but not always. As it turns out, she's refreshingly, surprisingly ideologically unreliable. A local Rush? Oh, she's an admirer, but maybe not for the reasons you might think. Angry? Not a chance. "If I win the lottery," jokes Connell, whose 9 a.m.-till-noon show regularly wins its time slot at top-rated WHAS, "I'm going to retire. I'm going to buy a ranch. I'm going to set up a skeet range in hopes of winning the Olympics in skeet shooting. Tat's where I feel like I have my best shot, pun intended." Rim shot, please. Break for commercial. ust months into her new gig, Connell, 43, blew it big time, quickly establishing her controversial reputation in town. During her program on Aug. 4, 2010, she said, "America has allowed poor people like Oprah Winfrey to come from nothing and create a billion-dollar media empire. At the same time, it has allowed a young half-breed man — and I say half-breed not in a derogatory way, it was just the first thing I thought of — to become president." Te next day, Connell apologized. Ten LEO Weekly's Phillip Bailey uncovered this Tweet from Con- nell in September 2009 while she was in Fort Myers: "Racism accusa- tions have jumped the shark. Is it tacky to wear my white sheet after Labor Day?" Raoul Cunningham of the local branch of the NAACP told LEO: "We seriously question the validity and sincerity of the original apology since discovering what's on her Twitter account…." When I bring up the incident two years past, Connell cringes. "It's the one thing in my career that still upsets me," she says. "At that mo- ment, I was not even being critical of (President Obama). I was trying to hold him up as an example of exceptionalism. In all honesty, to this day, I don't know why that word came out of my mouth. And it allowed some people in this community to define me early on. I didn't know what I could do except apologize — and I do apologize — and move on." Kelly Carls, director of operations and a 15-year veteran at WHAS, with the air of an old-school newsman who has seen and heard it all twice at least, addresses the blunder this way: "Every single time — and I've been with the station a long time — there's some controversy (with a new talk-show host) that comes up within the first six months on the air. Every single time. So that was hers." Carls plucked Connell from more than 100 applicants for the job left vacant by the sudden death of longtime host Francene Cucinel- lo almost three years ago. What caught his attention was a line in Connell's résumé describing her stint as a flight attendant as "serving watered-down drinks to surly passengers." "I thought, 'Here is somebody who has a pretty good sense of hu- mor,'" Carls says. "I started listening to the podcasts of her shows for the station she was working for in Fort Myers. Te more I listened, the more I became convinced she was the one. I noticed that people would walk by my door and hear the podcast and ask, 'Who is that woman.' She's interesting. "Most of the applicants were guys. A lot of them tended to sound alike and not very original. A lot of people think the secret to doing talk radio is to sound like Rush Limbaugh, but we already had Rush on the air, and I didn't need someone who was a knockoff." Hash, who was also the producer for Cucinello's show, worked with five or six candidates who did on-air auditions. "She didn't do that," Hash says. "When they announced her, I didn't know who she was. We all thought, 'Who is this?' But I don't think they could have made a better hire." Connell suggested this for a photo shoot: Her in an evening gown firing a flamethrower at Knob Creek Gun Range in West Point, Ky. B ack in the studio, Connell finishes up a one-minute spot, an endorsement ad for Allen Electrical, one of what seems like dozens she'll spin off during the next three hours. She keeps up the banter on and off the air, happily chatting up anyone who enters the studio, which happens so often they may as well install revolving doors. "We do have significant issues today," she tells listeners. "Te U of L president and provost have announced that they are no longer eating at Chick-fil-A. After complaints from students [changes into mocking, Rushian voice], they are going to investigate the contract with Chick-fil-A." 9.12 LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE