Inside the Savage Nation

He adored beatniks, trolled the streets of North Beach in a beret, and was once Timothy Leary's gatekeeper, and now he packs a gun.

With all of that going for him, one might conclude that the reclusive and media-suspicious former beatnik lover and author of herbal medicine books would be a happy camper. But Savage, 64, appears to feel too underappreciated to be happy for long.

As is clear after a few minutes talking with him, he believes he gets less respect than the late Rodney Dangerfield. The man who has called ABC News "Always Bolshevik Crud" and who had labeled MSNBC the "More Snotty Nonsense by Creeps" network even before he briefly worked there, is convinced that big media is against him.

"Roger Ailes hates me," he says of the Fox News chief. CNN's Blitzer had him on the air a couple of times after The Savage Nation and The Enemy Within, his first two Savage books, came out. But ever since 2005's Liberalism Is a Mental Disorder, neither Larry King (aka "Garlic Breath") nor anyone else at CNN will touch him, he says. He claims that Fox's Bill O'Reilly had his scheduled appearance on fellow host Neil Cavuto's program nixed at the last minute.

Allen Ginsberg: Savage once adored the late beatnik poet, but now disparages him as "latrine slime."
Photo courtesy of A.P. Wideworld
Allen Ginsberg: Savage once adored the late beatnik poet, but now disparages him as "latrine slime."
Savage's latest book, The Political Zoo, skewers liberals.
Savage's latest book, The Political Zoo, skewers liberals.

But nowhere are his apparent sensibilities over not getting enough love more pronounced than right here in his hometown. Sure, he lambastes San Francisco as "San Fran Sicko," mocks Mayor Gavin Newsom as "Any Twosome Newsom" (a reference to the mayor's gay marriage initiative), and each weekday afternoon spends time on the radio espousing views that are largely anathema to the city's body politic.

Yet, he's clearly sore over not having received the local recognition he feels he deserves.

"I love this place, but there's a lot of provincial jealousy here," Savage says. "In many ways it's like a small town or a gigantic high school. ... There are people here who can't stand that I am who I am and that I've achieved success."

That the archconservative radio icon should be based in America's most famously liberal big city is largely an accident of circumstance. Back in 1994, irked over his inability to find a publisher for a controversial book he had written called Immigrants and Epidemics, which sought to link the spread of infectious diseases to U.S. immigration policy, Savage recorded a mock radio talk show on tape. He sent it to 400 stations nationwide. Of the three that responded, KGO, in San Francisco, offered him a job.

After a brief stint filling in on sparsely listened-to weekend late-nights, management tapped him to do similar fill-in work at sister station KSFO, which, in the infancy of political talk radio nationally, was about to become San Francisco's first full-blown conservative talk station. His first broadcast, in which he slammed affirmative action, was nearly his last, he says. "Incredible anger, incredible hatred," he recalls, describing the audience reaction. "I went home and swore that I would never go on the radio again. I'd had enough."

But before long he had his own show on KSFO that became a big hit, and within a year he was in syndication.

In 2003, the year of the MSNBC debacle, and after concluding that he wasn't being treated with enough deference by executives at Disney-owned ABC, which syndicated the KSFO show, Savage jumped ship to KNEW and Clear Channel. In a huff, and undoubtedly to get under his skin, his old employers programmed conservative titan Sean Hannity against him locally in afternoon drive time and plastered the city with billboards containing pictures of both of them, under which was written, "Out with the old, in with the new."

Savage, however, has had the last laugh.

By all accounts, his radio success and books have made him a wealthy man. He and his wife Janet, whom he met in 1967, live near the water in Marin County, where in his off time Savage is said to delight in tooling around the bay in his 45-foot-long yacht. The couple has two children, a daughter who is a school teacher in Southern California, and a son, Russell Goldencloud Weiner, founder of the company, based in Las Vegas, that makes Rockstar energy drinks. Janet Weiner is the company's chief financial officer.

The intensely private Savage steers questions away from his personal life and declares his family off-limits to interviews.

Indeed, the mercurial radio host is something of a mystery even to the people who work with him. Sources at KNEW who insisted on anonymity say that he rarely comes into the station's state-of-the-art broadcasting studio on Townsend Street in Mission Bay to do his show. In a nod to his star status, he usually broadcasts from one of three "personal studios" in "residential settings," according to a station insider. Savage doesn't divulge their locations, except to say that each offers a window with different views — cityscape, bayscape, and rural — that he gravitates to "depending on my mood."

His take-no-prisoners style, while occasionally witty, can also be mean-spirited.

And unlike other conservative talkers who often parrot White House talking points, his self-described "independent conservatism" (he claims to have coined the phrase "compassionate conservative" before Bush began using it) makes him an equal-opportunity basher. "He panders to the extreme right of the extreme right," says Cindi Creager of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, which has long been at odds with Savage. "He's not shaping the opinions of the moveable middle; he's preaching to the choir."

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