Chris Plante reigns over D.C. airwaves through wit, astonishing energy
The biggest question I had about Chris Plante was answered within the first several minutes I spent sitting in his studio at WMAL as he broadcast his 9 a.m. to noon radio show one day this month. The answer was yes: Chris Plante is always Chris Plante, even when the microphone is off.
Mr. Plante, as his legions of Washington-area listeners know, is a remarkable broadcast talent: astonishingly well-spoken, with the ability to improvise complete paragraphs that are as well put together as if they had been labored over for hours; unfailingly jocular, with enthusiastic energy and a penchant for caustic nicknames (“Morning Joe” is “Morning Joke,” Nancy Pelosi is “Nanny Pelosi”); a talented mimic; and a marvelous free associator.
Given his astonishing energy, I half expected Mr. Plante to go into something akin to suspended animation during commercial breaks. Not so: He keeps up a running commentary with his producer, Michael Piercey, and phone screener, Victoria Glakas, as he flips through print and online news articles, deciding seemingly on the fly what story he will focus on as soon as he’s back on the air.
Much of Mr. Plante’s commentary, on air and off, focuses on the mainstream media which he habitually (and hilariously) refers to as the “Dem steno pool” with a particular ire reserved for CNN. Perhaps that’s because for Mr. Plante, CNN is personal: He worked at the network for 17 years as a producer, assignment editor and eventually on-air talent. He spent much of his CNN career reporting from the Pentagon. He had just pulled into the parking lot on Sept. 11, 2001, when he saw a massive explosion erupt from the building in front of him.
Mr. Plante took a buyout from CNN not long after. Never and still not a habitual talk radio listener, he ended up on WMAL quite by accident. At a cocktail party in the mid-2000s, he by happenstance met the station’s then-program director. Within a few minutes of chatting, he had been offered a Sunday show. That quickly morphed into his daily program, which since 2017 has been nationally syndicated and can be hard on powerhouses ranging from WABC in New York to WLS in Chicago.
He has a big following in Washington in particular: “In the most recent Nielsen ratings, Chris’s show ranks No. 1 in Washington in the 9 a.m. to noon time slot with his target audience (men 35-64), and third with adults overall,” says Bill Hess, WMAL’s program director. His is the second most popular show on the station, behind only the reigning champion of talk radio, Rush Limbaugh.
Mr. Plante’s distaste for his former employer is visceral on the radio he has called it, with characteristic understatement, “a disgrace to western civilization.” CNN is “not news, it’s show business,” he tells me over lunch, lamenting that the network no longer cares about presenting information but rather simply convenes panels where the guests vie to see who can denounce the president in more flagrant terms.
Mr. Plante revels in CNN’s failures with the glee that only someone with a personal stake in the matter could muster. “Last week, they didn’t have a single show in top 25 cable ratings,” he tells me with relish. He says he has little contact with people still at the network, but keeps up with some of his former colleagues who also have moved on. They share his distaste for what has happened to CNN, he tells me.
He spends much of his waking hours monitoring the cable news networks. He’s up at 5:45 a.m. for “Morning Joke” and CNN’s “New Day.” (He has a set-up at home that allows him to watch multiple networks simultaneously.) And after his show is off the air it’s back to work, watching the cable networks. It sounds kind of dreary perhaps that’s why Mr. Plante likes watching old movies as a form of escapism.
There’s an irony to Mr. Plante’s show. As much as he disdains the mainstream media, in a way, he needs it: On the show I sat in on, he spent a good 15 minutes flaying John Berman, one of CNN’s morning anchors. And that segment was hardly unusual. The “Dem steno pool” and all its antics gobble up a huge percentage of his airtime every day.
It makes sense, then, that Mr. Plante tells me his show is modeled more on Jon Stewart or Bill Maher than other conservative talk radio programs. Like “The Daily Show” in its prime, Mr. Plante soars when he’s mocking the inanity pumped out by cable news shows. And if he is having a moment now, that may be because he’s perfectly positioned for a period when we have a president who is just as fixated on cable news as he is and with CNN in particular.
Ethan Epstein is deputy opinion editor of The Washington Times. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ethanepstiiiine.