WGST’s new host Dana Barrett is a rarity: a moderate on talk radio

She says she’s fiscally conservative, socially liberal and not a Trump fan

Originally posted Monday, July 3, 2018 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Dana Barrett has been on the edges of the Atlanta media world for more than two decades. Among her duties: traffic reporter at WSB, a host of Radio Sandy Springs, an author-oriented podcast and host of a TV show Atlanta Tech Edge.

A former tech and marketing executive, she landed a regular radio hosting job on biz 1190-AM in 2014 talking business. After Donald Trump began running for president, she was told that politics was the best way to get a bigger gig so she said she started inserting her viewpoints. 

But unlike her conservative bosses at parent company Salem, she wasn’t a big Trump supporter. Over time, that didn’t sit well with the bosses. She lost her gig at 1190 in April but about a month ago managed to land a regular job on a bigger AM signal at 640/WGST-AM. 

She provides an unusually moderate point of view in a world of talk radio packed with mostly white male conservatives. On from noon to 2 p.m. daily, she is up against Rush Limbaugh on News 95.5 and AM 750 WSB. 

“I’m trying to do something disruptive,” she said in an interview Monday. “I really believe there’s an audience not being served by current talk radio.” 

And given her background, she likes to discuss technology and financial issues. pertinent to the average consumer. 

The problem: she is still on AM and it’s not 1994. WGST - once a major competitor for WSB - is now a mere footnote in the ratings, drawing a 0.2 or 0.3 every month compared to ratings averaging more than 8 for WSB the past year.

WGST has a storied history in Atlanta, the original home in Atlanta for Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Neal Boortz and Clark Howard

IHeartMedia, which owns WGST, was ahead of its time when it had WGST on an FM simulcast from 1993 to 2000 at 105.7. (The company was called Clear Channel at the time.) But then it inexplicably opted to change formats at 105.7 and WGST began a slow slide into obsolescence. In 2006, it fired the Kimmer (now on Talk 106.7) and relied more heavily on syndicated programming. In 2012, it briefly went Hispanic sports and lost Limbaugh to WSB before returning as a talk station in 2013. 

Barrett said she hopes she can hustle and move the needle enough that management might consider giving WGST an FM simulcast signal again. 

There are a few possibilities: 96.7/The Beat seems to exist in a crowded hip-hop market simply to carry the popular New York-based syndicated show The Breakfast Club. Alternative rock station Alt 105.7 is hitting record lows in ratings lately. Hispanic station 105.3/El Patron garners far lower numbers than it did a few years ago. 

Barrett is the only local female talk-show host with a weekday show on the Atlanta commercial airwaves. She feels she speaks for a large swath of Atlantans who straddle the middle ground on many issues but are not heard on radio.

She said her social positions are clearly to the left but she is no Bernie Sanders “free college for all” acolyte. She said her bosses at WGST are giving her the freedom to say what she wants.

“I really try to look at both sides,” she said, “and try to burst the bubble a bit and talk about mistakes both sides are making.” 

During her show today, she talked about her skepticism of getting deals on Amazon Prime Day and how an “Impeach 45” T-shirt was being sold at on a Wal-Mart website (from a third party). “Should companies not sell products because of a political affiliation one side won’t like?” she asked. 

She talked about calls for boycotts but she doesn’t think it really matters. She has a 26-year-old producer “New Guy Nick” to bounce ideas off of (and yes, Nick had no idea who Bob Newhart is.)

She then offered breaking news about Trump recommending a reversal of Obama’s guidance regarding affirmative action by removing race as a factor in admitting students. 

Barrett said you can’t be race blind because each race has different resources and comes from different socio-economic backgrounds. She said going race blind might reduce diversity at schools. “I don’t see how you can move toward diversity without acknowledging that different races exist in the admissions process,” she said.

Barrett said it seems like Trump is unraveling everything Obama did. 

“It feels like death of America as we know it is not a fireball of war and tragedy but rather death by a thousand cuts,” she said. “This is just another one. We are isolating ourselves through our trade policies and tariffs. We are removing ourselves from our high moral ground on the border separating families from each other and calling other people racists and infesters.” 

Later, she referred back to the “thousand cuts” and said, “Bring out the Band Aids!” 

She also discussed Trump’s isolationalist tendencies. “He has angered almost every alliance we have,” she noted, “whether it’s G7 or NATO. He’s up in WTO’s face. He’s stirring the pots so much, he’s turning the pots over. He is turning us off from our friends while we are having bro summits with Kim Jong-un and Putin.”  

Isolationism led to World War II and that war might have ended much sooner if USA had intervened earlier, Nick noted. “Are we going to let that happen again?” Barrett said.

“We are living in a country that has become in many ways a cult of personality,” she added. “ It never leads to anything good.” 

She said we as America need to be “a beacon of hope and humanity” and having someone like Scott Pruitt at the head of EPA is not going to do that. 

Her background is not conventional. She spent much of the 1990s in technology, working as a single mom. She ran a bookstore in Roswell for five years. After her daughter left for college in 2010, Barrett sold her Roswell home and moved to Midtown. Then she lost her marketing job. 

At that point after two months of eating ice cream and feeling depressed, she decided to pursue a media job for real. She got an agent, dabbled in acting playing a reporter in BET’s “The Game” and an Ang Lee film. She hosted a radio show for Business X, learning how to interview folks. 

She landed a weekly business who on Biz 1190-AM, then a daily show. 

“I’m scrappy,” she said. “I gotta eat! I emcee a lot of local events. I’m out and about. The business community knows me.” 

ON RADIO

Dana Barrett, noon to 2 p.m. weekdays, 640/WGST-AM (also heard on the IHeartRadio app.)

About the Author

Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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