By Cindy Mindell
One of the first things radio host Lisa Wexler will disclose about herself is that she is pro-Israel. “I admit to my bias on the air,” she says. “I tell you, ‘This is my agenda and bias: I’m a Jew and I’m pro-Israel.’ People can be rightfully critical of Israel once in a while, but I won’t be the one doing it; I let someone else do it. I will air people from the other side because listeners are entitled to hear those views, but I’m also entitled to give my opinion.”
An attorney by profession, the Long Island native and 20-year Westport resident hosts “The Lisa Wexler Show” during the afternoon drive-time slot on Coxradio’s WSTC-WNLK 1350 AM in Norwalk.
Wexler’s pro-Israel stance got a workout earlier this month, as the story of the Gaza-bound flotilla unfolded. She discussed the incident on air every day that week, bringing listeners reports from a variety of news sources.
“As Turkey has begun to turn to being an ally of Islamist regimes that are not friends of the United States, and are certainly not friends of Israel, they have looked to create an excuse in order to sever ties with Israel altogether,” she said at the end of the week. “The more they withdraw diplomatic relations with Israel, the more they are obvious in their alliance with regimes in the Middle East that are not in America’s best interest.”
Wexler is also co-author with her mother, Gloria Kamen, and sister, Jill Zarin, of “Secrets of a Jewish Mother,” released in the U.S. in April. The book debuted a week earlier in Israel, when Wexler and Zarin accompanied a Congressional economic trade mission led by Connecticut Representative Joe Courtney.
Wexler aired four radio shows from the U.S. Department of Public Affairs studio in Tel Aviv, interviewing U.S. ambassador to Israel James B. Cunningham and members of the Congressional delegation. The Israeli newspaper, “Yediot Ahronot,” ran a spread on Jill Zarin, one of Bravo’s “Real Housewives of New York City.” The two women signed copies of their books at the Steimatzky mega-store on Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv.
“Secrets of a Jewish Mother” is only the latest milestone in Wexler’s professional transformation. After 25 years practicing law in Connecticut and New York, Wexler realized that she had become unhappy in her career.
“I kept thinking, ‘Life is short and I don’t have enough fun,'” she says. “I felt that I was dealing every day with everyone else’s problems. It wasn’t fulfilling any more.”
While vacationing with her husband in Tahiti, Wexler read “What Should I Do with My Life?” by Po Bronson, a collection of anecdotes about people who made changes in midlife. She always loved talk radio, and tuned in a lot while driving her two kids around to after-school activities. “I thought I could be a bridge between the best of NPR and commercial radio,” she says. “I wanted to create a show that wasn’t commercial and didn’t have condescending talk from a specific perspective. As much as I loved NPR, I wanted to bring opinion and humor into the discussion.”
In 2006, she cut her law practice back to part-time and completed an intensive seven-week vocational program at the Connecticut School of Broadcasting, then returned to law full-time. Nine months later, her husband asked why he wasn’t hearing her on the air. That’s when the “basherte” kicked in. She called WSTC-WNLK and learned that the station was auditioning for a Saturday-morning slot. She got a call from a client whose caller ID read “Excelsior Radio,” and who became her “Radio Rabbi,” as she dubbed her first mentor.
“The dirty little secret of radio is that most people have to pay to get on and a lot of what you hear is brokered shows, like infomercials,” Wexler says. She landed the WSTC-WNLK Saturday-morning show and was given ad inventory to defray production costs, which she funded with proceeds from her law practice. Within a year, she had signed 18 advertisers and picked up a second show on Yale University’s WYBC, the only non-student host at the station.
“There are a million things I’m not good at, but as soon as I got on the air, I felt that I was doing what I was born to do,” Wexler says. In 2009, she was named “Gold Coast Best Radio Personality” by readers of Moffly Media’s Fairfield County magazines. In January, she moved to the five-day afternoon drive-time slot.
Wexler produces and writes her own show, with complete editorial control of its content. She just picked up a Gracie Award for her interview with Gloria Steinem.
“My mission is to speak for the voiceless,” she says, “the environment, children, women throughout the world. I try to offer in-depth information without political bias. Whoever is in power becomes transformed and loses their perspective, and as a member of the media, I want to be questioning, poking and prodding, demanding that people in power are responsive, not arrogant, and remember that we still live in a democracy. I talk, hopefully, as a ‘professional cynic:’ I don’t care who’s in power; I call it as I see it.”
That mantra covers every current issue she takes up on her show, from the BP oil spill to the Middle East. “It doesn’t make sense from Israel’s point of view to kowtow to an enemy that is bent on its destruction,” she said in early June, referring to Hamas, whose charter calls for the annihilation of Israel. “Anybody of any normal mind would like to see peace in the region, but peace requires two people across the boundaries willing to shake hands; it can’t just be one.”