Greg Garrison’s Last (?) Words
After 3,000 shows and 8,000 hours on air, Indy’s foremost conservative talker reflects on his controversial career, the future of talk radio, and his friendship with the Vice President.
Greg Garrison—the perennially cowboy-boot clad, horseback-riding, garrulous 93.1 WIBC host—is getting ready to ride off into the sunset.
In April, the well-connected attorney with Garrison Law Firm and 20-year veteran of Indy’s airwaves announced his retirement, telling listeners his last show would be on June 9. Garrison was handpicked by Mike Pence in 2000 to take over the Vice President’s former Network Indiana radio show. A few minutes after his show ended around 1 p.m. on a recent Thursday, Garrison ambled into a conference room at Emmis headquarters downtown, looking as if he just finished riding one of his quarter horses on his sprawling Hamilton County ranch.
IM: Almost a year prior to the day when you revealed your retirement, Pence was in your studio, getting ready to endorse Sen. Ted Cruz in Indiana’s 2016 presidential primary—but also setting the stage for the veepstakes with a friendly word for Trump. Pence often used your show as an agreeable environment to make important announcements. How did that come about?
Greg Garrison: Once Mike got to the governor’s mansion, and wasn’t in D.C., we caught up with each other a little bit more. He’d sneak away and ride horses on a Friday afternoon, which he was very rarely able to do when he was in Washington. I think he just called me and said, “I’d like to make this announcement on your show.” He was in studio for that. He has a way of doing stuff so that he’s not sticking his thumb in somebody else’s eye. I think his alignment with Cruz would’ve been a good one. Morally, they are very similar people. I wasn’t surprised. I would’ve been surprised as hell had he picked Donald.
IM: Were you surprised, then, when he lauded Trump, then, in virtually the same breath as his Cruz endorsement?
GG: There’s a reason why he made it into leadership in four years in the House of Representatives. He has a way of getting things done and not making people mad. It’s a bit of the velvet hammer more than anything else. He’s got a way of keeping his cards close.
IM: So you rode horses together with Pence a lot?
GG: He would come out, and we would ride under a couple of bridges into some pretty good woods.
IM: What would you talk about?
GG: There was always something cooking. We talked a lot about that—what was happening in Congress, what was happening when he became governor. I was a little more bold to say what I thought about this or that. He probably ignored me like he did everybody else.
IM: He saw you as a sounding board.
GG: We talked about stuff. Not just after that fact. It’s a hell of a lot easier to move around when you’re governor of Indiana than when you are Vice President of the United States. Even as a candidate, I only saw him once in the campaign. He had this entourage of black Suburbans. It was still warm outside. Probably August or September. We went horseback riding. We had a Secret Service guy riding right behind us. We just did what we do. Talked about what was going on with the kids. I’ve known him since his children were in pre-school. I taught them to ride.
IM: How did you first meet Pence?
GG: He interviewed me post–Tyson. [Garrison served as a special prosecutor for Marion County.] He had stopped practicing law and had this Network Indiana thing. He interviewed me once or twice on the O.J. case when I got involved in it [as a cable news analyst].
IM: Then, he handpicked you to take over his show.
GG: He was happy doing a radio show. But he wanted to do public service. He really wanted to be in Congress. Karen was with it, so I said, “Okay, fine.” I said to him when we were horseback riding in Montana, out there for a Liberty Fund conference, and he said he was going to run—we were up in snow—and I said, “You [run for Congress], and I’ll bury you in that snowdrift, marry your wife, and raise your kids Methodist.” He laughed so hard, I thought he was going to fall off his horse.
IM: How’s he doing so far as Trump’s veep?
GG: There’s a political cartoon [by the Indianapolis Star’s Gary Varvel]. It’s a Trump cartoon, but it’s got Mike in it. It’s this caricature of Trump with his mouth wide open, like he’s breathing fire, and there’s this little tiny Mike character on his tongue. Mike’s character says, “Let me rephrase that.” He’s done a lot of that.
IM: Have you talked with him recently?
GG: We had lunch at his house [the Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C.] on the Saturday after the Inauguration. They raced him off to Langley for something. I haven’t talked with him since then.
IM: What will the talk radio landscape in Indianapolis look like without you? Will it matter as much to the political conversation?
GG: Well, if you look at how Tony Katz and Chicks on the Right are doing, I’d say “Yes.” They are doing as well as you’d expect in a town that loves country music. You’re not going to keep up with FMS or Hank because that’s what folks love here. They can get the traffic. But we can’t really chase numbers like we can chase money. Which is to say, “Is my show sold out? Do I have sponsors who support my show?” We’ve been able to do that.
IM: Are you at all worried about what happens to talk radio amid the podcast boom?
GG: That’s above my pay grade. I don’t think conservative talk radio is going away. The problem with liberal talk radio is it’s boring. People are getting tired with print. It’s all owned by the Left. You have to work hard to find conservative journalism in the print area.
IM: At the same time, don’t you think conservative talk radio has played a role in dividing the nation?
IM: In a good way?
GG: At least the other side got to speak finally. I got criticized a lot in my early tenure here that I needed to have more balance in my show. I said, “Hell, boys, I am the balance.”
IM: In the 8,000 hours you’ve been on the air, have you said anything you want to make amends for?
GG: Nope. I had an interesting metamorphosis on the LGBT thing. I was more strident in my views about it. I don’t think I was wrong. I think “strident” was the word. I had a lot of interesting conversations with gay men who would call the show and write me. Once they decided that they didn’t have to call me names, and that I wasn’t going to send someone out to get them, we had some pretty good exchanges. I was raised as a musician. Spent a lot of time around the gay community. So it wasn’t like I had no idea about them. Very dear friends. Some of them are gone, as a result of what got them. What happened with me is it became a reality that it was time to face that. It’s still 2.6 percent of the population. They get an awful lot of ink. They have an awful lot of support from places like Hollywood. They seem like they are 26 percent not 2.6 percent. It’s going to be what it’s going to be.
IM: What’s been your favorite highlight of your radio career?
GG: The friendship with Mike. Our families are close. Long after he’s done, and hopefully after I’m still pushing around here, if he ever gets home, I’ll know we’ll get to have more time to visit.
IM: All of which brings up that now-infamous altercation between a person driving your BMW SUV and the owner of a “Pence Must Go!” yard sign back in 2015, not long after the RFRA debacle. [The driver of the BMW apparently punched the owner of the sign.] Want to set the record straight on what happened?
IM: Why? I think it was an interesting moment. You clearly have such an affinity for the Vice President, and loyalty like that runs deep. There’s something almost charming about that friendship. It’s the story of a friend taking personal those signs that popped up across the city, right?
GG: Then, when he became a presidential candidate, they said that Pence and Trump must go.
IM: Pence really got the last laugh on those signs, didn’t he? They wanted him to go, but perhaps not to Washington, D.C.
GG: Yeah. As you say, “last laugh.” He ended up a couple steps higher. We’ll see what it does to him. His weight is looking good. He doesn’t look like he’s been beaten to death. Although his hair is still white now.
IM: Last question: After all this time on air, is there anything you haven’t said that you still want to say? What do you want people to remember about Greg Garrison?
GG: I’ll tell you what. I’m glad you asked that question. I would say it’s the wrong question, but it’s actually the right one, because it’s a real good way to not be worth a damn at anything, and that’s to worry what people are going to think, and worry what people are going to say about you.
Editor’s note: The interview has been lightly edited for length, clarity, and content.