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It's a powerful combination, says John Combest, a Republican insider whose eponymous website aggregates state political coverage. "If you're a young conservative woman, you can look at Dana and see that she is not only an outspoken conservative who participates in a male-dominated field, but she is also a wife and a mother who's very hip. These are all the makings of an aspirational brand."
Loesch has strong opinions on social issues, but she's primarily vocal about keeping the government out of her (Coach) purse. She's for lower taxes and open markets. Neither she nor Chris (who co-owns the music-production company Shock City Studios) carries health insurance. Comfortably middle-class homeowners, they hew to a budget.
Loesch says she "held her nose" and voted for John McCain in the 2008 presidential election. (She initially rooted for Fred Thompson.) In her view, GOP strategist Mary Matalin is "a rock star, a real-life Julia Sugarbaker [from the long-lived sitcom Designing Women]," and she hails Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann as a great up-and-comer. While Loesch felt Sarah Palin could have been more "polished," the former vice-presidential nominee gets high marks for being "very hard for the Beltway to control."
Loesch doesn't much prize anyone in the small field of conservative female pundits, but she does look up to her mother. "She ran [my dad] out. It was an Aretha Franklin moment, totally. I saw all of it. She defended herself, and I will never forget that. If she could do that with a young child, not knowing what to expect afterward — she was so close to being a statistic. She could have gone on welfare, but she worked her fingers to the bone. She didn't need the government to help her. I think probably right there you could pinpoint why I don't think we should have a nanny state."
For the debut of The Dana Show in October 2007, Jamie Allman was assigned to join Loesch in the 97.1 studio. "I'm sitting across from her at the mic," Allman recalls, "and she's doing her thing, and finally I have to chime in. I say, 'Are you chewing gum?' And yeah, she was chewing gum. I figured at that point, oh, this is going to be fun, watching this raw talent [develop]."
A former TV news reporter who, following a stint as spokesman for the Archdiocese of St. Louis, now hosts Allman in the Morning on 97.1, Allman was an admirer of Loesch's Post-Dispatch column when he contacted her in 2007 about contributing to his program. "Most St. Louis columnists write about toasted ravioli and all that other garbage," the conservative talker explains. "She had an edge to her. She was young and insightful and snarky."
Loesch — who had zero experience in radio — was immediately skeptical. It took time to woo her, says Allman. "It's funny, because it seemed to me that she was a very shy person. Either that or she didn't trust me." Loesch's husband eventually encouraged her to seize the opportunity and sign on as one of Allman's regular contributors.
In the beginning Loesch was serious and reserved. But it wasn't long before she got comfortable piping up with conservative viewpoints. Naturally, the critics followed. Allman recalls one morning when Loesch lost her cool, "screaming" at a male caller whom she dismissed as a "prick." "For a while Dana would take disagreement a little personally," Allman says, adding, "Developing a thicker skin was definitely something she had to do, and she did it."
Allman wanted Loesch for a permanent co-host, but 97.1 program director Jeff Allen preferred to road-test a solo show on Sunday evenings. The idea was to talk about politics and pop culture from a young mother's perspective. Over time, says Allen, the audience led Loesch toward more political punditry; Allman took to calling her "our own Sarah Palin."
When The Dana Show nabbed the number-two spot in its time slot in the Arbitron ratings last fall, Allen felt compelled to put Loesch on weeknight evenings as well. This time she embraced the promotion. "I love my show," she says. "It's just balls to the wall."
Loesch's program typically opens with a soliloquy on a controversial subject of the day, rolls into a guest segment or two and ends with short bits she calls "Cool Points" (which can be doled out to or taken away from public figures), "Today in Stupidity" (usually bolstered with an audio clip) or "Douche of the Week" (awarded for ineptness above and beyond).
Allen had some squeamishness toward that last feature but let Loesch keep it in the mix: "Some people would say, 'And now, let's go to "Douche of the Week!"' and it would sound so offensive. Then there's somebody like Dana, who says it, and it just makes you laugh. She can get away with it because of her delivery."
Stylistically, Loesch says she sought to emulate entertainers like Howard Stern and Jon Stewart. Her daily prep consists of reading widely online, from NPR to biggovernment .com to the New York Times to coverage from ABC's Jake Tapper. C-SPAN? Rarely. "I could sound all academic and say I like watching it because it's good for our democracy," says Loesch. "But honestly I like it best when they diva out and start hollering. I like it the way I like to watch Cops."