Radio Host Dr. Laura Makes Move to Sirius XM

Q&A: Talk Personality Explains Why She's Headed to Satellite After Vowing to Give Up Show Following Controversial Comments

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LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- First Howard Stern made the leap. Now Dr. Laura Schlessinger is the latest radio personality to transition from terrestrial radio to satellite. The host of "Dr. Laura" announced today she would move her daily call-in chat show from syndication to Sirius XM Radio, where it will broadcast five days a week from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. ET, beginning Jan. 3. Her syndicated show will continue until Dec. 27.

Dr. Laura Schlessinger
Dr. Laura Schlessinger
The announcement comes on the heels of a controversial Aug. 10 broadcast of her syndicated program during which the host repeatedly used the "N-word" in reference to its use on pay-cable networks such as HBO. The broadcast was met with a firestorm of political controversy and calls for boycotts among the show's sponsors, prompting Dr. Schlessinger to announce a week later that she would discontinue her syndicated program at year's end.

Despite all the negative media attention, Dr. Schlessinger said sponsors have stuck with her since the incident and have called her individually to assure her that they will make the move with her to satellite. "I won't name names, so [liberal watchdog group] Media Matters and others will just have to subscribe to Sirius to find out who they are," she told Ad Age. "They've stepped forward to decide they're not going to play this game of silencing speech. It's been so wonderful. Not one station canceled me because of this."

Dr. Schlessinger comes to Sirius XM at a time when the company just finished its third-quarter with 19.9 million subscribers and, according to a recent Arbitron study, over 35 million listeners. A proprietary study of "Dr. Laura" listeners also found that 25% of the host's audience owns or has access to a Sirius XM radio. Subscribers to her Dr. Laura Family newsletter will also be e-mailed an offer for a 30-day trial for Sirius XM as well as a free radio to sample it.

Ad Age spoke to Dr. Schlessinger today to learn more about the fallout from her latest statement, her relationships with advertisers and what listeners (and sponsors) can expect from her upcoming multi-year deal with Sirius XM.

Ad Age: Why the move to satellite?

Dr. Schlessinger: No. 1, I got invited, which is a show of respect and support. I got invited because Sirius XM is probably the last place on Earth where you can have free speech uncensored and safe from boycott attacks on your sponsors and affiliates if somebody doesn't like what you say. Most of what goes on in that arena is politically motivated, anyway. But it's just a dream to be with a network that has a Catholic channel, Howard Stern, Rosie O' Donnell, Oprah, Martha Stewart, Opie and Anthony -- they've got everybody.

Ad Age: When you first announced you'd be discontinuing your syndicated show, had you considered leaving radio entirely before getting the call from Sirius XM?

Dr. Schlessinger: I got invited actually a few days after I said I've had enough of this. The attacks are frustrating and annoying and to get labeled as a bad person -- it's not relevant. I'd thought about doing more public speaking, and I have books to write, I figured I'd do more on the internet. But I hadn't thought about it much until I got the call form the head of talk radio at Sirius XM.

Ad Age: What can we expect from your new show? Will you be speaking more freely on political topics, will you still have call-ins from listeners?

Dr. Schlessinger: All of the above, actually. ... I'll be adding elements of interviews with people who inspire me, interviews that make points that are relevant to the people at home no matter what happens. When I was at KFI [in Los Angeles] and they had those huge floods, they brought me on in the afternoon to talk about stress from the floods. People still wanted to talk about families and their kids and their work. No matter what happens, everybody -- no matter what political affiliation -- has to talk about what's going on in their lives.

Ad Age: Any lessons learned from the incident that prompted you to leave syndicated radio in the first place?

Dr. Schlessinger: The lesson I've learned is the lesson I learned a million times. Speech is only free if you agree with activist groups. To be labeled a racist when I was trying to explain how a word is used daily in a culture ... I've had 30 years of a career where I've been supportive of inter-racial dating and marriage, and I've never ever been accused of racism. This is just politically generated concern.

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