A self-described libertarian and "9/11 conservative," Mr. Miller, 53, was looking for the perfect vessel for his signature mix of political humor and gravitas after his eponymous show for CNBC fizzled in 2005. After taking a year off to visit parts of Africa and the Himalayas he'd never seen before, he found himself back on the road in the States doing stand-up. It was after a gig in a small Pennsylvania town with a hotel that used rotary phones that he realized he had to find something he could do from his home in Santa Barbara, Calif. "It seems like you crank out a radio show almost anywhere you're at if there's a mic somewhere and a studio," he said.
To that end, Westwood One was happy to accommodate its new host, kicking off his new show in New York with guests such as former mayor and Republican presidential hopeful Rudolph Giuliani and Mr. Miller's ex-"SNL" cohort Dana Carvey.
"[This] week marks the debut of not only 'The Dennis Miller Show' but a new wave of talk radio," Bart Tessler, senior VP-programming at Westwood One, said in a statement. "Dennis' passion for the issues, brilliant comedy and ability to entertain beyond traditional talk will reward both affiliates and advertisers from day one."
Just hours after wrapping his first day on the air, Mr. Miller sat down to chat with MediaWorks about the advice his friend Bill O'Reilly gave him on his new home in radio, his thoughts on Air America and getting to know his new advertisers.
MediaWorks: How'd your first show go?
Mr. Miller: It's tough doing that for three hours. I had fun with it. I wish I could have Carvey on every day. Dana's my dearest friend from that time -- he and Jon Lovitz. He's one of the ones I still stay in touch with. He's a dear friend, and he's a pro.
MediaWorks: You've had plenty of TV shows before, but what was it about radio that appealed to you?
Mr. Miller: I met [Westwood One founder and Chairman] Norm Pattiz years ago and liked him. The guy knows more about the Lakers than Pat Reilly, I'm convinced. ... That was the pragmatic part of it.
The other part of it is my politics have gotten so idiosyncratic since 9/11. As far as acting on terror, I'm more to the right than I used to be, but I'm libertarian on most issues. But I decided I need a better vista than a bumper sticker or a 10-minute Leno shot to explain myself, so the three-hour vista seemed interesting to me.
MediaWorks: And what is it about radio that makes it a good launching point for those viewpoints?
Mr. Miller: You can let it breathe a little. On TV, all those eyes are on you. You've gotta pow-pow-pow come out and hit the speedbank. Here you can rope-a-dope a little, take your time, let it breathe. Let things in. Get a cohort here in studio. It's a little more relaxed. O'Reilly told me it would be. He's done both. He's absolutely brilliant on TV, and I said, "What's the big difference Bill?" because his radio show's going through the roof, and he goes, "It's just a little more relaxed." Nobody's watching every tick trying to interpret it.
MediaWorks: Also along the lines of politics on radio, I'd love to get your thoughts on how you think Air America might do.
Mr. Miller: I don't think a lot of people have been listening. I don't think they'll want to go the way of NPR, where they have to be funded to stay afloat. But the simple fact is, in the marketplace, they've kind of gotten their head handed to them. And hey, I might too. I'm just new at this. I'm not trying to act arrogant. I'm just saying there's a proven track record that something's wrong with their equation. Losing Franken doesn't help. I thought Al was the best thing on the network. He's a good friend of mine. And listening to him -- I don't agree with a lot of what Al has to say, but at least it was reasoned and perceptive. There are some shows on there that sound like they're just reading broadcasts from the depths of the grassy knoll in Dallas.
MediaWorks: And because you've had so many different TV shows and have a long history with that medium, are there any brands or advertisers that have followed you throughout your various incarnations?
Mr. Miller: I find out there's a whole new group of advertisers in radio. It's kind of neat. I have much more interaction with them. They're just nice people. They don't want to put something in the hands of someone that's going to be a train wreck every day. Or make it so rancorous that people think, "I'm not buying it because it's on that show." I fully understand this being a balance between being some sort of art form and some sort of public lectern where you can sell good products. I want to do well by the people who advertise with me; I'm grateful they would take me on. I hope they sell a bunch of stuff.
MediaWorks: Anything else you're hoping to accomplish with your show going forward?
Mr. Miller: I just want to get some laughs, get some ears, make it fun on a daily basis. I don't want it to turn into the Hatfields and McCoys, don't want it to turn into a forum for all this vitriol that goes around. I don't mind a good dust-up once in awhile; that's good radio. But on a day-to-day, I don't need a headache of fighting with the world.