State Sen. John Carona is on the phone with Wade Emmert, the chairman of the Dallas County Republican Party. Emmert asks Carona about the most recent legislative session. They talk about funding for water programs across Texas, other programs designed to help the needy, and some of the change coming for the party.
“Change is not a bad thing,” Carona says. “It’s good to have some rotation from time to time.”
Emmert asks if Carona will be running for higher office soon. Carona laughs and avoids answering directly.
“You’d be the first call I’d make,” Carona says.
It’s a Sunday night, and they sound like they’re chatting from their home phones. But the conversation is being broadcast live on WBAP, from a studio in Victory Plaza to 40 states on AM and FM channels. When The Wade Emmert Show begins every Sunday at 9 pm, the throaty radio lead-in proclaims that it’s time for “The Chairman.” And for an hour, Emmert discusses issues of the day, takes calls from listeners, and talks with Republicans in, and running for, local, state, and national offices. It’s an interesting experiment in direct access and political communication. Just as Emmert is dealing with the various technological and practical challenges of hosting a radio talk show, his show is attempting to deal with issues facing the Republican Party in Dallas and across the country. He’s trying to bring together the strong-on-defense Republicans, the libertarians, the Tea Partiers, the entrenched establishment, and the young suburban Christians—all under one big tent.
Before tonight’s show, Emmert was walking around the studio in his shorts and short-sleeve button-down, watching the Dallas Cowboys and going over the evening’s itinerary with his staff of one. (The same staff is responsible for selling half of the ads for the hour; the station sells the other half.) He tells me that he’s pretty sure there are no FCC or IRS implications because it’s produced by RKM, Inc.—“It’s just a political opinion show,” he says—but that he’s “not an expert on any of that.” The show has been on the air for only a few months, he notes, and with just an hour a week, he’s still a novice. (Some political talk radio shows are on for as long as five hours a day, five days a week.)
This show began with Emmert talking about an Irving ISD board member who was arrested for shoplifting. After describing the story and never directly mentioning the party affiliation of the board member, he asks his audience, “Is this the best we can do?” and “Where are the quality people running for office?” Emmert himself nearly beat Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins in the most recent election.
A commercial break ends, and it’s time for the call with Carona. Then there’s an in-studio guest, Tom Nowak, a fired former child-abuse prosecutor in the Dallas County district attorney’s office. He’s now running on the Republican side in an attempt to unseat his previous boss, Craig Watkins. Both Emmert and Nowak seem nervous. Emmert asks Nowak to speak up. And during a commercial, Nowak asks Emmert how he’s doing, noting that he’s trying to avoid saying “um.” Emmert tells him to think of it as a recorded deposition.
Back on air, Nowak points out that the DNA exoneration program for which Watkins has received national publicity got its loose start under the previous Republican administration. Watkins, he continues, is not board-certified in criminal law and doesn’t lead any of the office’s cases himself. They talk about the recent controversy over Watkins refusing to answer questions at a grand jury hearing and how Nowak was fired because, in his words, “Mr. Watkins didn’t like me being a Republican.” They mention that Nowak, born in Poland, was a refugee from communism who grew up idolizing Ronald Reagan. Then Emmert ends the show with personal thoughts about traveling with his family and what’s really important in life.
Afterward, Emmert hangs back at the studio. He still gets a rush with each show, as nervousness turns to relief. It’s all still so new to him. He’s learning which buttons do what and how other hosts can be possessive of their headphones. But tonight, there were no major technical errors, and each segment started and ended exactly as scheduled.
Now he’s talking about the other part of it all: his desire to bring Republicans together, to expand the tent and the traditional demographics. The wallpaper on his computer screen is a photo of several elephants, all different sizes, all walking together in the same direction. That, he says, is his ultimate goal here.
“We don’t have to be uniform to be unified,” he says. Then he grins. It sounds like he has a theme for next week’s show.