Next Stop: Radio

Former Actor and Congressman Fred Grandy Hits the Air

Posted September 9, 2003 at 1:24pm

Former four-term Iowa Rep. Fred Grandy (R) has exchanged his Capitol Hill office and Congressional pin for a 2 a.m. wake-up call and a yellow ID badge. He can’t think of a better trade.

Grandy, initially famous for his role as Gopher on “The Love Boat” and a celebrity turned politician long before the candidacy of Arnold Schwarzenegger and others further blurred the line between Hollywood and Washington, has moved steadily through his string of eccentric careers, straddling, and at times leaping, the fence between entertainment and political affiliations.

Now that he has found a home on the D.C.-area radio station WMAL-AM’s morning news show with co-host Andy Parks, Grandy insists he has in no way been torn between two mediums of representation. “Politics and entertainment, I don’t think there’s a difference … they’re basically the same thing,” he said.

Grandy’s unilateral view may be the reason Chris Berry, president and general manager of the ABC radio station, saw Grandy as ideal for a morning radio show host. “He’s a natural, perfect for radio,” Berry said.

William Waffle, promotions and marketing director, agreed. “I don’t remember if he came to us or us to him, but Fred’s fantastic. He has the entertainment background, which is perfect for us. But he also has the Congressional background, so he can debate, discuss and explain the bills.”

Every morning from 5 to 9, Grandy does just that. He sits behind his WMAL mic and stacks of news printouts, taking calls and stirring discussion with those at home and on the road during the “Grandy and Andy Morning Show.” The same voice that once discussed policy from the House floor now banters about the effects of gay adoption, usefulness of virtual physicals and the hunt for Saddam Hussein.

He interviews reporters and debates the timeline of the demise of Hussein, but in the end, he is still in the spotlight. “Do you miss it?” a caller asked of Grandy’s time in the House. “No,” replies Grandy, “I like being able to speak my mind, and you can’t do that in office. There’s more power in changing policy when you’re on the radio than when you’re in office.”

Here, he can lay out his feelings on California’s celebrity politics and the Democratic presidential nominees, hinting at the return of the Clinton name to the White House mailbox. “If the president looks vulnerable and the Democratic field looks fallible, [Sen.] Hillary Clinton [D-N.Y.] will be the nominee.” From the flip side? “If Republicans got their wish, it would be [former Vermont Gov.] Howard Dean and he would be Dukakisized.”

Grandy’s chosen path of life is beyond the idea of the road less traveled, perhaps more nearly the road highly avoided. He has been in the public spotlight from an early age, on both the floor and the red carpet.

Grandy graduated from Harvard University in 1970 and immediately moved to D.C. to become an aide to the House Member whose district he would later represent. While there, he continued in summer stock theatre. He says even then he knew that it had to be politics or entertainment.

“I was a precocious kid from delivery. I’d always loved entertaining, but then I found politics,” he said.

Grandy credits his time as an aide as key to his discovering a link between passions. “I was impressed by the caliber of action in the House of Representatives — I knew I had to join.”

Despite convictions, the path continued to wind for Grandy, who split time between coasts before moving in 1975 to California, where he found a permanent spot on the “Love Boat” as Burl “Gopher” Smith. He stayed the course for eight years, but by the early 1980s, he felt the need to change directions.

“I had accomplished what I wanted to do on TV,” he said. “I was different from my co-workers on the set in that I wasn’t there to stay. I mean, I took my work seriously, but not myself.”

From there, Grandy began feeling his way back into the political arena. “I was always into politics because of my aide career, but I think I was the one most shocked when I decided to run for the House.”

Grandy served in Congress for eight years, declining to run for a fifth term in preparation for a failed run in the Iowa GOP gubernatorial primary. A vegan candidate in a meat-raising community, Grandy was defeated by the three-term incumbent Terry Branstad.

In 1995, two weeks after his last day as a Representative, Grandy was recruited to work for Goodwill Industries. The offer brought confusion and mixed feelings. “Why would I want to be the emperor of old clothes?” Grandy said, chuckling. “But they did a lot to create jobs, and helped in lots of other issues that I fought for in Congress, and I liked that.”

Grandy later taught a course on nonprofit organizations and public policy at the University of Maryland, did lobbying work for Independent Sector as a senior adviser, and began filling in on morning radio shows. “I was the bullpen for WMAL,” Grandy said.

These days, he spends his mornings providing, in his words, “four hours of info-tainment five days a week.” He insists his schedule, though still as grueling as any House Member’s, is tweaked due to the uncertainty of the news. “You can’t plan too much, because it can change. You plan a year in advance and take it a minute at a time.”

Grandy feels that though he is no longer fighting for the people in the Education and the Workforce Committee, he is still serving them as they begin their days. “I look for what will engage them — there’s a constituency for shows like this.”

Moving from politicians, a group that Grandy feels “suffers from a lack of editing,” he is dabbling in the idea of writing a longer piece himself. “I’ve spoken to editors and publishers and they all say the same thing: ‘If you’d written the book out of Congress, you’d have missed your nonprofit career. If you’d written it after the nonprofit, you’d have missed the radio career. Why don’t you wait until the story’s over?’”