Here at the Jewish Chronicle, they wanted to know about a journey. My journey from being a kid and growing up in Willesden to becoming a gatekeeper for those who want to be the most powerful man - or woman - on the planet. These people seek the Office of President of the United States, and for the most part, they have to sit down with me in my studio in Iowa on multiple occasions almost as a right of passage.
Now don’t get me wrong. I am not a king-maker. But there are those who like to call me that. Thwe other week, The Sunday Times said: “As a conservative talk-radio host in Iowa, the state that will vote first in next year’s presidential campaign, Simon Conway is suddenly the most influential Briton in America.”
So where did this begin? Well, it was a winter’s day in London. I was nine and a pupil at Hillel House. It was time for our English lesson with David Sassoon and he decided we should use glue, poster board and our imaginations to make a newspaper. My life would never be the same. On that day I decided I was going to be a journalist and I never let go of that goal.
After years of journalism jobs in the UK and Israel, I eventually reached the heart of America’s bible belt in Iowa where I have the privilege of broadcasting every weekday afternoon for three hours on the 50,000 Watt blowtorch that is News Radio 1040 WHO.
WHO is an iconic radio station that has been around for more than 90 years; that has President Ronald Reagan on its list of past staff members (Reagan was the Sports Director for five years before he went to Hollywood), that has won more Marconi trophies (radio Oscars) than any other radio station and that was so influential during World War two, that streets in Europe are named “Des Moines”, and “Iowa” and even “WHO”.
Perhaps the question shouldn’t be why this Jewish boy from Willesden suddenly gets to interview most of the people who want to be President of the United States. But why Iowa? The election system is complicated here. Without going through all its nuances, suffice to say that it’s already started and final voting in the General Election for a new President will not take place until early November of 2016.
We have hardly begun, but I’ve already interviewed in the last couple of weeks Governor Rick Perry of Texas, Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, World-renowned neurosurgeon, Dr Ben Carson and the former CEO of Hewlett Packard, Carly Fiorina.
It’s a big country and the parties pick their candidates by asking the people in a series of Primary Elections or as in the case of Iowa, Caucuses. And Iowa is first in the nation to vote which can give a candidate the kind of momentum it takes to become President.
In fact it was Iowa that launched President Obama on his road to the White House. Certainly Hillary Clinton spent big money here, but she didn’t spend enough time on the ground in the small coffee shops and pizza restaurants actually meeting the people. Obama did. He won Iowa, Clinton came third and the rest really is history.
You ignore Iowa at your peril. Former New York City Mayor Rudi Giuliani did, preferring to wait until Florida joined the party. By then though it was too late. I believe that had he come to Iowa he could well have become President.
And so that brings us back to me and my role in all of this. If you’re in Iowa, you have to come to WHO. And if you’re coming to WHO you have to come on my show which airs locally between 4-7pm every weekday night when everyone is in their cars and on their way home.
WHO is by far the biggest radio station in the State and for candidates who don’t have huge piles of cash, being interviewed by me is a very cheap way to reach a lot of potential voters. But it has its pitfalls too. I have a specific interview style. I won’t take “media training” answers. I ask straight questions and I expect straight answers and frankly we don’t move onto the next question until I get one.
Four years ago I was doing almost daily hits on BBC Radio 4 or Radio 5 Live; I had international media in my studio on a very regular basis. At one point, three film crews were in while we are doing live radio. I was constantly interviewed by US media too and made multiple appearances on CNN, Fox News and C-Span in the USA and both ITN and Sky News in the UK.
Most important of all for me – no script. I am very much a stream of consciousness person and that’s why we deliver what we hope is compelling radio every single day.
And so it has begun. This virtual two-year road to the White House. By the time it’s over, there will be many different leaders in the polls, scandals both true and made-up by political opponents and eventually a winner will emerge. Somehow or other, this kid from Willesden has a part to play in the process and I am honored that these would-be-Presidents subject themselves to my questions.