Gang Of Four Turns the Big 2-0 (Part 1)

Our Friday tradition on “The Jack Riccardi Show” is a rotating group of contributors, three of whom join me every Friday at 10:07 AM on a hot-topics-of-the-week show we call “Gang Of Four”. When it next airs, it will have been on the air continuously for 20 years.

True story.

During the campaign season of 1996, while my show was on WOAI 1200, we had been experimenting with in-studio panels and point-counterpoint type segments. They worked well around some of then-President Bill Clinton’s controversies. Since the callers were overwhelmingly anti-Bill, it allowed for me to get his defenders on too.

I started using 2,3,4-person panels on Fridays for something a little lighter and more fun, but still news-related. One day, in a meeting with the program manager, I suggested I would make them a regular Friday feature. He was meh about it, but gave me good advice: get a good rotation of people in and out, and give it a name.

Soon we had a rotation of politicians, entertainers, business folks and the like. Unafraid and quick on their feet.

In the end, I narrowed it down to two possible names for the segment, as we looked for a way to reference “four” people on the panel. “Four By Four” sounded stupid to me. “Gang of Four” appealed to me because it was a smart-alecky historical reference. How that even entered my mind I couldn’t tell you. I just liked the sound of it. For the record, I don’t approve of Mao or his Cultural Revolution. But I do like the band. They’re ridiculously punk.

Friday morning, August 16, 1996 was the first actual “Gang of Four” panel. We discussed GOP presidential candidate Bob Dole’s choice of Jack Kemp as his running mate, and the Atlanta Olympics, among other things. I could not tell you much more specifically, but the date stuck with me because 4X4=16.

Over the years, we played around with “theme” Gangs, panels of all lawyers, all former-mayors of S.A., a panel of kids, but the format you hear today predominated. It became a listener favorite, and I’m no dummy when it comes to sticking with what works.

A couple of years later, we had a new program manager. He didn’t just like “Gang”, he loved it. Too much. He pushed me to try doing it every day. That was December 1998. Gang of Four every day. Do you remember what was going on? Something called the Lewinsky scandal. A lot of material, including a blue dress. As it was,  we barely got through the month and put that idea out of its misery. From then on, it was only Friday, and every Friday, unless we had a special event, such as a presidential debate or special nighttime show.

Speaking of that long December, the “Gang” has been a vexing challenge for my producers over the years. It takes a lot of coordination to get high-profile, busy people together, and not just any combo—we try to balance it out so it’s not all right- or left-leaning. But sometimes we take who we can get from our rotation.

While we were on “Into the Night” for the first time in the early 2000s, we found many a Friday night that we all wanted to stay on longer than the scheduled “Gang of 4” hour, so we started making the show a 90-minute segment. When it works well, chemistry-wise, the time flies and no one wants it to be over. Although, there is something to be said for “leaving ’em wanting more”.

Speaking of which, “Gang of Four Turns The Big 2-0” will be continued in a future post…when I’ll tell you why we arrived at the number 4, and how “Gang” almost didn’t make it from WOAI to KTSA.

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