The Cloakroom: Meet a ‘natural born smart-ass’
The snarky and snarly WMAL and WBAL radio host who founded the First Fridays Capitol Hill happy hour sees himself as a participating observer of Washington politics for two decades.
“I am cynical, and I love a good fight,” said Derek A. Hunter, who hosts an evening talk show on Baltimore’s”1090 at Night” WBAL-1090 AM and “The Big Show” Saturday afternoons on Washington’s WMAL 105.9FM.
“I don’t care what other people think—or care if I put it ‘this way’ that someone will get offended,” he said. “I am more likely to do something if somebody is going to be offended than I am to think, ‘Aw, I shouldn’t do that.’”
Hunter said, “I would rather be hated for who I am, than liked for who I’m not.”
The talk show host, who was once brought in to edit a book on politics and economics that was so off-the-rails that he ended up ghost writing the book from scratch, said he arrived in the nation’s capital in 2001.
“I was from Detroit and the only place to find a job was not-in-Detroit and I always wanted to be involved in politics,” he said.
Hunter said he volunteered in political campaigns, but he was not active in the College Republicans or campus politics because Wayne State College, Wayne, Mich., did not allow partisan student organizations, he said. “We had the Political Science Society that I was involved in for a while, but that proved pointless pretty quickly.”
When he came to Washington, his first job was working at the Heritage Foundation book store, he said. From there he moved into an analyst position, studying health policy. After Heritage, he worked as the press secretary for Sen. Conrad R. Burns (R.-Mont.), who lost his reelection bid in 2006.
After Burns’ defeat, Hunter joined Americans for Tax Reform, where he developed a close relationship with its founder and president, Grover G. Norquist. “Grover was a great boss,” he said.Norquist had an open door policy for both his office and for meetings, and he also had an open-minded attitude about issues, where anyone at ATR could disagree with him and make their case, he said.
“He was a great sounding board,” he said. “No matter what you thought was a great idea, he would find a way to pick it apart to make you realize it was wrong or make your opinion of it stronger.”
It was at Heritage that he started podcasting and broadcasting on their Internet radio channel, he said.
“One day, I was the Heritage Foundation, and Khris Brooks, who is at Cato now, came to my office and said: ‘Derek Hunter, radio star,’ then walked away.”
Puzzled, he said he went to her office.
“I had no idea what that meant, but I thought she was booking me for some interview I probably wouldn’t want to do,” he said.
“She told me they were doing an hour long show on RightTalk.com and they wanted me to host it,” he said. “They needed somebody who could talk for an hour.”
Hunter continued to host the show for a year, in addition to his health policy job, he said.
His first co-host was Brian Phillips, who is now communications director for Sen. Michael S. Lee (R.-Utah). Hunter and Phillips, along with a few others, founded the First Fridays happy hour as a once-a-month chance for Capitol Hill staffers, Heritage staffers and others to hang out together. “We decided to do the happy hour and said ‘why not do a podcast, too?’ We both enjoyed doing the Heritage show, but we felt constrained in what we could talk about and how we could talk about it, so we started doing a podcast.”
Phillips said of his friend, “”Derek has a razor-sharp wit that can be hilarious as long as you’re not the target. He’s not the kind of guy you want to be across from in a ‘Your Mama’ joke contest.”
When Hunter heard about the opening on Saturday afternoons on WMAL, he said he put together a demo tape from his shows and podcasts and sent it in. The station liked what they heard and he started “The Big Show” with co-hosts RedState.com contributor and Heritage senior fellow Brian H. Darling and Kerry Picket, an editorial writer for The Washington Times.
The show in Baltimore started after longtime WBAL personality Ron Smith passed away in December 2011, he said. “I knew they were bringing in different people at night, so I contacted them and eventually, they got back to me and the rest, as they say, is somewhat boring history.”
In 2009, the 6-foot, 5-inch Michigan native joined the project that became The Daily Caller, a Washington-based pop culture and news blog site founded by Tucker Carlson.
“I met Tucker at a party at Christopher Hitchens house,” he said. “I invited him to come in for a podcast I was doing for the happy hour, and he came on and recorded with us.”
After the podcast, Tucker and Hunter started talking about what was going on in Washington and when Hunter told him his idea for a website, Tucker told him that he had been thinking along the same lines.
The two men had a number of working breakfasts together and it was decided that Hunter would be the first employee of The Daily Caller, he said. But, it was not called The Daily Caller, yet, he said. Tucker and his partner Neil Patel, wanted to call the site “Northwest Corner,” because that is where they lived and where they wanted to have office space. “NewsCue” was Hunter’s suggestion.
The company bought the domain names for NewsCue, but it turned out a small public broadcasting station in the Midwest has registered the name, he said.
Rather than fight it out, the station bought the domain name and the venture was christened “The Daily Caller.”
Like all of the original members of the development team, Hunter said his has a small ownership share of the website, but when it launched in January 2010, he considered his work there done and he moved on.
Besides his radio career, Hunter said he is focused on writing. His Twitter feed , @derekahunter, has not hurt. “I am a natural-born smart-ass, so if you read my Twitter feed that is pretty much me.” Hunter only follow 73 people, but he is followed by more than 13,800.
“I am a participating observer,” he said. “You can’t know where to go unless you know what is going on—you can’t come out of the gate and tell everyone what they should do unless you know what’s going on.”