Talk-radio host Dennis Prager once said, “I’m just truly interested in everything, and talk radio is the perfect vehicle for someone who’s interested in everything.” (His show airs 10 a.m.-1 p.m. weekdays in the Valley on KKNT, 960 AM.) Prager will be in town Sunday, Feb. 21, to speak at Congregation Beth Tefillah’s fifth annual gala (see details box). Jewish News caught up with Prager via email recently.
How do you approach speaking at such an event? Do you have a general outline you follow each time and then customize it for the appearance, or do you create something new?
Dennis Prager: Both, actually. Of course, I have what I consider an essential set of messages that I need to convey to as many people as possible. But I have thrown away the notes that I have used for virtually every speech I have ever given – over 2,000 speeches. The reason is to ensure that every talk is new and fresh, incorporating the latest world and national events, as well as my latest thinking.
What do you plan to speak about at Beth Tefillah?
Essentially, I will make the rational case for leading a life rooted in Judaism. I have brought countless Jews to Judaism in my 40 years of writing, lecturing and broadcasting. One reason for this success is that I have never been interested in making Jews Orthodox, Conservative or Reform. I am interested in having Jews become serious Jews – Jews who take the Jewish trinity (God, Torah and Israel) seriously.
About how many speaking dates do you do in a year? Of those, about what portion are events at Jewish venues?
Aside from broadcasting three hours every day, I speak between 50 and 75 times a year. Jewish venues probably constitute one-half.
How did you happen to become a talk-radio host?
In 1982, my name was brought to the attention of ABC radio in Los Angeles. They tried me out to be the new host of a very popular Sunday night show. I was offered the job that night and then went from two hours Sunday nights to five hours on Sunday nights and three hours on Saturday nights to a daily show, and eventually to national syndication. I now broadcast on about 150 stations across the United States.
Was it something you wanted to do as a child? Was it your calling as an adult? Or did you fall into it through a series of circumstances?
From high school on, I wanted to touch as many as possible with my ideas and values. I had no idea then how I would accomplish that. I ended up on radio exactly as you put it: I fell into it through a series of fortuitous circumstances.
What kind of Jewish upbringing did you have, and how has it affected your adult life?
I went to yeshiva through my senior year in high school, and though I didn’t remain Orthodox in terms of observance (though I observe a lot – for example, I never broadcast on Shabbat or a Torah holiday), that experience provided me with the grounding and wisdom that has informed everything about the way I think and how I live my life.
Aside from making a living, what’s your primary motivation for doing this work?
I am very fortunate to be able to say that I do almost nothing because of money. If I won the lottery, I would continue to do my radio show, continue to speak, continue to write columns and books and continue to work with Prager University. In fact, if I won the lottery, I would probably do more speaking since I would buy a jet.
Do you have a plan for things you’d like to achieve in the near and long terms?
Last year Prager University garnered 70 million views on YouTube and Facebook. It may be the most viewed English-language educational video website in the world. But I want its videos seen by a billion people. So there is a huge amount of work still be done. I am writing more books, including my magnum opus – an explanation of the Torah for people of every faith and of no faith.
Were there any major mistakes that provided a lesson that changed the way you do things?
For decades, I have read just about every attack on me – and there are legions of them – whether rational and civil or vile and obscene. From that, I have learned how I could say things more effectively and offend fewer people while still advocating what I believe in with great clarity.
Do you think political discussions are coarser today than in the past or is coarse political discussion a consequence of a change in cultural norms?
There is a coarseness that pervades American life. After the Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup two years ago, the mayor of Los Angeles stood before tens of thousands of people, including a vast number of kids, and said that even though he knows a politician shouldn’t curse, he used the F-word to describe what a great day that was for Los Angeles.
As regards the lack of civility in political differences, I believe it largely emanates from people substituting ad hominem attacks for political argument. A primary example is what I call SIXHIRB: “Sexist,” “Intolerant,” “Xenophobic,” “Homophobic,” “Islamophobic,” “Racist,” “Bigoted.”
Since my earliest broadcasting days, I’ve told my audience that I assume most people I differ with mean well; that they may be wrong, but they are not necessarily bad people.
An abridged version of this interview was published in the Feb. 12, 2016, edition of Jewish News.
Who: Dennis Prager
What: Congregation Beth Tefillah’s fifth annual gala
When: 6 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 21
Where: Future home of CBT, 6529 E. Shea Blvd., Scottsdale
Cost: $180 per person;
$72 emerging professionals
Contact: 480-223-9343 or