Years ago, in another life, I worked with Chris Baker at WIOD in Miami. Baker, an alumni of KTRH and KSEV jumped off the diving board into the world of right wing radio fanatics. A stand up comic and entertainer who has been known to say some pretty off the wall stuff, Chris Baker is funny, as in, entertaining. For some reason, Clear Channel communications, owners of KTRH pushed Chris Baker aside for the former City Councilman turned failed Mayoral candidate turned radio talk show host Michael Berry. Berry says some pretty off the wall stuff too, the difference is, he doesn’t always practice what he preaches and his hypocrisy is biting him in the ass.
Berry is something of a bizarre fixture in radio and political circles here in Houston. Check this out from the HOUSTON PRESS: Nine years ago, embattled right-wing radio host Michael Berry was a 32-year-old mayoral candidate. Tim Fleck wrote a feature on the fresh-faced city councilman and quixotic candidate (polling below 10 percent, Berry pulled out of the race less than a month after the story hit the street) and his Indian-born, high-achieving wife Nandita “Nandy” Venkateswaran in these pages, and some of it makes for odd reading today. First, for someone who has spent plenty of time bashing illegal immigrants on his radio show, Berry appears to have had no qualms accepting their money and building a business on their backs.
When Berry was a UH sophomore, Andrew Monzon, the leader of a small liberal-left campus group called the Progressive Student Network, put together a slate of candidates for the Student Association election, more as a lark than anything else. Their main point was protesting U.S. involvement in the first Gulf War, hardly an issue the Student Association could do much about. Berry, a candidate for president, offered him a deal: Monzon should run for senator, and then Berry would make him speaker of the association. Monzon says he knew that wouldn’t happen because Monzon was relatively unknown. So he insisted that if Berry wanted his support, then Monzon would have to be on the ticket as vice president. After some hesitation, Berry agreed.
Monzon remembers that even then, Berry had an aversion to political labels. The very title of their slate, Coalition for Immediate Action, defies specificity. Monzon recalls that Berry’s most significant action in office was a proposal to cut the Student Association budget, a painless move because the cuts wouldn’t go into effect until the following year. During the year Berry also successfully pushed for the creation of a student regent position. “Michael stood out as a person who always went to class and tried to chum up to the professors, sat in the front row, that kind of person,” says Monzon. “He’s intelligent — I’ll never slight him for that — but he’s always been slick, and you just take everything he says with a grain of salt.”
Monzon says the only problem he had with Berry came when several people started questioning overtime payments to Nandy, who by then had a job in the Student Association office. After Monzon raised the issue, he was targeted with a student senate proposal to eliminate his position as vice president. It didn’t pass, but he doesn’t think the timing was coincidental. He also jokes that at the time he had a reliable way to determine when Berry was telling the truth. “He had a horrible facial tic and you could easily tell when he was lying,” chuckles Monzon. “It was a blinking and twitching of the right eye. I don’t know if he ever noticed or anyone pointed it out to him, but it became a bit of a joke with us. Like, ‘Uh-oh, look at Michael’s face.’ “
I have worked beside some tremendously successful people. Randi Rhodes, the late Neil Rogers, Baker and others. What sets Berry apart from them is that you cannot believe anything he says. Berry is disingenuous…a fraud…who says one thing while living life on the down-low. Neil Rogers, a vehement liberal from the Miami radio market was once caught masturbating in an adult movie theater. Instead of destroying Neils career, it arguably helped it. Why? Regardless of what you thought if Neil’s persona, he was real. What you heard on the air was what you got. An admitted sports-loving, homosexual, who never shied from the issues.