Recently, Sean Hannity, host of "Hannity" on cable's Fox News channel, celebrated his 1,000th show. He also hosts his own syndicated talk radio show, "The Sean Hannity Show," and is the author of three New York Times best-selling books. A former construction worker and onetime bartender who dropped out of college twice, the 51-year-old has come a long way. He is married with two children.
In all the years you have been on the air, have you ever thought, "I've got to get out of this business"?
[Laughing] I guess I've probably had moments like everybody else, but I really love what I'm doing. I kind of feel very blessed. It's a great job. It's hard, harder than people think. I've got a very, very disciplined life and schedule. I'm boring. I work and I spend time with my family. That's really what I want to do in life. There might have been a day or two that were tough, but everybody's business is tough. Nobody is immune to the stresses and pressures and daily grind that exist in work. I think everybody should work. It gives you a sense of accomplishment no matter what you are doing.
So how many hours a day do you spend talking on the television and radio shows? Have you ever been at a loss for words?
On air hours, four hours a day. It is the strangest thing but it has been there since day one, the first time I got behind a radio microphone: The light goes on and it comes out. I could be exhausted, tired, cranky and having a bad day, but the next minute -- Boom! That light goes on and you are just there. It's a part of me. I can't even fully, completely analyze it or explain it.
By the way, that's the part of what I do that I love the most, the on-air part. There's a lot of work obviously that goes into the hours leading up to doing the show.
Were you the class clown? The outgoing guy?
Yeah, I kind of had an outgoing personality in school. My parents were called on occasion, more regularly than I would have liked. I used to do a lot of fun things with my sisters. I remember when I was a kid I used to do a lot of prank calling. I guess kids can't do it today because their numbers are going to show up. I started listening to talk radio at a fairly young age. For my parents, it wasn't "Turn off the TV!" It was "Turn that radio off!"
So you weren't listening to music?
No, I did listen to some music radio. I remember I used to bring my radio out all the time when we were playing basketball in my backyard. I played a lot of hockey growing up. But yeah, then I got into talk. Maybe I was 15 when I was listening to talk radio late into the night.
When did it turn political for you?
That's when it really was political because the early stages of talk radio were just unfolding. There were guys in New York like Barry Gray, more liberal, and Barry Farber and later Bob Grant and Rush Limbaugh came on the scene, I guess, in 1988. I would listen to these guys late into the night. My first vote for president was for Ronald Reagan in 1980. I was really, really happy and involved in the campaign.
Were your parents political?
Not like me. Were they political? Yeah. Interestingly, they had a picture of JFK underneath the nightstand, but they were definitely more Republican than they were Democrat.
But he was Irish Catholic.
He was Irish Catholic and all four of my grandparents came from Ireland at the turn of the last century. I am just fascinated with their backgrounds. It's funny because I come from a very middle-class/working-class neighborhood, 50 by 100 lot, four kids, one bathroom. My father grew up really poor in Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn. My mother was not wealthy either.
You know, my parents were very hardworking people, very Catholic, very religious. We went to church every Sunday, so that had a big impact. In fact, nobody would have believed at the time I spent 12 years in Catholic school.
I know all about that.
Because you do so much talking professionally, are you all talked out when you get home?
I'm quiet. My wife throws me emails during the shows, sometimes based on what I'm saying, but do I come home and talk a lot of politics? No. At night I will never watch anything political, ever. I usually watch [ESPN] Sports Center. "The Sopranos" is rerunning on HBO at 11 o'clock at night, so I watch that and maybe a movie. Then I get up early in the morning and go back to news. But when I'm watching those shows, I am on my iPad researching for the next day.
When you take a break, what do you do? Do you go to the shore?
My kids play in tennis tournaments, so I spend a lot of time with them either on the practice court or going to the tournaments. Like this weekend, my daughter is playing in Missouri and she's 11, and my son is playing in Maryland, so I will be at one of them.
Do they listen to you on the radio?
Yeah, they do. It's funny because they say, "Daddy, why do you talk like that on the radio? You're shouting." I'm like "Well, I could do the show -- Hi, welcome to 'The Sean Hannity Show,' very nice to have you with us" and nobody will listen. But it's funny. I never really thought about it until they brought it up, but that's part of when the light goes on. Instinctively, I've always known you've got to kind of come out of that box a little bit.
You sound like someone who is very disciplined and studious. So why did you end up dropping out of college?
I went to college three times. I was a great student, often on the dean's list. I kept running out of money. I went to Adelphi University as soon as I graduated from high school. I had always worked. I was 8 years old [and] I had a paper route. I was 12 years old and I was scrubbing pots and pans Friday, Saturday and Sunday at a restaurant. Then I became a bus boy, a waiter, and I was a bartender when I was 17 years old.
How could you be a bartender at 17?
That was actually not legal. The statute of limitations has passed. But I would come home every night with huge wads of cash. My father, being very clever, used to sneak into my room when I was sleeping, and he would literally take a significant portion of it and put it in the bank for me. That paid for my college. I went to Adelphi for a year and then NYU, I think it was for a year, but then I ran out of money. My parents begged me to stay in school.
I was going to ask how they felt about it.
They didn't like it. They said they would pay for it. I said no. I moved to Rhode Island because I was going to get some great work up there, and it just didn't work out. I went back to school there for a while. While I was there, I was doing all this construction business. I was a carpenter's apprentice. I was building houses. I worked in a shipyard after I fell off a roof and broke my arm.
I really liked doing construction work. I was pretty good at it, too. So I was listening to talk radio the whole time. I guess the answer is life kind of overtook me. My wife one day found my grades from my college transcripts, and she said, "Why don't you go back and finish the final year and get your degree?" I don't think I need it. I'm writing books now. I read all the time. I am getting an education every day that I could never get in college.
Sean, every once in a while when an award comes your way or you hit the 1,000 show mark, you must take a minute to think, wow!
I probably should take more of those minutes. I do have reflective minutes where I am appreciative that wonderful things have happened in my life. I'm religious. I thank God. I'm very happy. I kind of feel like it's sort of biblical -- if you get too into thinking about all those things and become very prideful about it versus seeing it as a gift.
Do you ever think of yourself as polarizing?
Um, not purposely so. I have read enough commentary about me over the years, which I really don't pay a whole lot of attention to, that I understand that people really deeply despise me. I've had enough threats to confirm that [laughing].
I really believe as a conservative that conservative principles can save this country. Period. America right now is on the wrong track. You can't run record debt, record deficits. You can't have such a weak foreign policy that you are drawing red lines that you never intend to back up.
I think one of the dumbest things this country does is we are sitting on more oil and natural gas than the entire Middle East, and we don't tap into those resources to be energy independent. Conservatives believe in limited government, greater responsibility, more freedom. I think a rising tide lifts all boats. That is the gift of America freedom.
That gift is going away in the name of this false security that the government is giving to people and the false security is they are going to take care of you from the day you are born to the day you die. Unfortunately, they aren't going to be able to afford it.
So basically ...
So I am polarizing, yes. Anybody who has a point of view is going to take hits. Patricia, I don't care what people who don't like me think at all. Period. End of sentence. Doesn't matter to me. I don't read it. Do I know they exist? Yes. But it is absolutely meaningless to me.
Have you always been like that?
In the beginning I remember not liking it and it concerning me and bothering me. When I left Huntsville, Ala., the local paper said, "Good-bye to the talk show host from hell." When I left Atlanta, the Atlanta Journal Constitution wrote that 1996 was a good year for two reasons -- the Olympics came and Hannity left. So if I don't have a thicker skin by now, then I am never going to get one. The word confidence from the Latin -- speaking of Catholicism -- means "with deity," and if you have confidence, not arrogance, that what you believe is right, then none of that should matter.
Patricia Sheridan: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2613.