The AM signal has been dark for nearly three years since Joe Weber shut down his quirky music station “Voice of the Arts” after 21 years. The station under Weber played a broad range of rock, folk, soul and occasional bird call. It rarely showed up in the Nielsen ratings and never made any real revenue for him but generated a small, dedicated following. The 1690 signal for a time in the mid-2000s carried Air America, an attempt to replicate conservative talk show hosts for liberals and ultimately failed but did help give Rachel Maddow an early platform before moving to MSNBC.
Fredericks, 63, recruited Collins to join his radio network with promises to eventually syndicate it, with some Georgia radio stations already expressing interest. The show started this week, airing for an hour at 3 p.m. but may soon be expanded to two hours.
“I go on instinct,” Fredericks said. “My instinct says Doug will be stellar, that he’ll be a star. He fits the times. He’s the right person right now based on his experience and his enthusiasm. He believes what he says and does what he says.”
On his first day on the air, Collins spoke with former Arkansas governor and past presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, using his Clarksville law office as his studio.
“I’ve done thousands of radio and TV interviews,” said Collins in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It’s cool to be able to do it on my own.”
And it felt good, he added: “Once I got into it, I felt like home.”
Collins said he hopes to delve deeper into issues than he can on TV in hopes of drawing an audience just a couple of weeks after Rush Limbaugh died. “I have a passion for conservative ideas,” he said. “I want to blend in pop culture. I’m a pastor. I’m a lawyer. I’ve been an elected official at the state and federal level. That’s a good mix. We’ll agree. We’ll disagree. We’re all learn at the same time.”
Before becoming a radio host, Collins’ boss Fredericks said he worked in the newspaper business including The McClatchy Company.
He said he lived in metro Atlanta from 1984 until the early 2010s. In 2007, he and his wife Anne invested their savings in a newspaper called the Roswell Beacon covering North Fulton just as the newspaper business hit a steep decline. The 2008 crash didn’t help matters. The paper declared bankruptcy and closed down in 2011.
Tribune Broadcasting hired him in 2011 to work with the editorial pages of the Newport News Daily Press in Hampton Roads, Virginia, but he clashed with management and was let go after six months.
He ultimately lost his home, and said he and his wife were effectively homeless for two years, living in a pay-by-the-day motel in Alpharetta. To pay for that, “I cut grass, parked cars, mopped floors,” he said.
His political leanings became more conservative during this time. “The Democrats bailed out Wall Street and the banks and left people like me homeless and penniless,” Fredericks said. “We got nothing. My kids suffered.”
At the same time, “at this point, I’m in my 50s,” Fredericks said, “I’m in a dying industry. I had a bankrupt company. Now I got fired. What the hell am I going to do? I concocted an idea to start a radio show.”
Martha Zoller, morning host at Gainesville’s WDUN-AM (550/102.9), said Fredericks contacted her in 2012 for advice about creating a radio network. He ultimately was able to build the John Fredericks Radio Network from scratch in Virginia, starting by buying time at an AM station in the Hampton Roads of Virginia.
“He’s done a great job,” Zoller said. “He’s very far right. I do hits with him during the 7 a.m. hour.”
Fredericks was one of the first talk show hosts to fully embrace former President Donald Trump in his early days as a politician. In fact, he predicted Trump’s victory on-air two weeks before Trump officially announced his candidacy for the presidency in June of 2015. Early on, he was able to get Trump and his surrogates on his show despite his own relatively low profile.
The next year, Fredericks became the Trump campaign’s Virginia State Chairman and a delegate to the Republican National convention. (He repeated those roles in 2020.)
“Trump understands the plight of the working men and women in this country,” Fredericks said. “He understood the anger and disposition of people like me.”
He said he liked Trump’s wariness about free trade. “I’m an economic protectionist,” he said. “I believe in protecting our jobs and power with tariffs.”
Bottom line: “I’m not a Republican. I’m a Trump supporter.”
He is now syndicated on seven Virginia radio stations and own three stations, calling them news/talk WJFN, covering Charlottesville, Petersburg, Williamsburg, Newport News and Richmond. WMLB, if he can close the deal with current owners Delmarva Educational Association, would be his first station outside of Virginia.
“Our model is based on effectiveness, efficiency and critical mass,” he said.
His network was booted from YouTube for spreading conspiracy theories but remains on Facebook.
“With cancel culture upon us,” Fredericks said, “and big tech silencing speech, news/talk radio is the last bastion of free, unencumbered speech.”
And he loves the attention of folks who don’t like him, like Media Matters, a liberal media watchdog non-profit organization.
“They’ve done 15 hit pieces on me,” Fredericks said, with a modicum of pride. “Every time they write about me, we get bigger and my ad revenue and listeners grow. I want to thank them for their coverage of me.”
Among the stories they have written includes Frederick’s The Virginia Star website, which looks like a non-partisan news site but is hyper-partisan and his efforts in Virginia to protest social distancing rules early during the pandemic.
Angelo Carusone, president and CEO of Media Matters, said Fredericks is no Rush Limbaugh from a talent perspective, but his Trump connections have enabled him to nab big-name guests even if the size of his audience is hard to ascertain. “The reason he’s interesting to listen to is that if you’re a prominent person, you go on his show, you know nobody is listening so you’re more likely to be frank and candid,” Carusone said.
Having a big name like Bannon on his radio network adds to his credibility, Carusone said. And while Fredericks could just stream online, owning terrestrial radio signals provides him a level of caché ― even in 2021, he said.
Fredericks said he knows that being at the end of the AM dial is not exactly prime real estate. “We’re a destination station,” he said. “If you want an ‘America First’ message. If you want my show, people will find me. Same with Steve Bannon and Doug Collins. We use social media to get people to listen.”
And for folks who might not want to listen on AM, he has an app and a website.
Collins said while AM may not be dominant anymore in metro Atlanta, AM still remain a draw in smaller towns in Georgia.
“I’m still an old-school AM guy,” said Collins, 54. “I’m one of those who likes to go up and down the dial while traveling to see what I can pick up. I remember catching Neal Boortz on WSB while driving through the Everglades!”