By DEXTER DUGGAN
Radio talk host Barbara Simpson had a copy of The Wanderer up on the glass window between her San Francisco studio and the adjoining control room when I stopped by KSFO in January to report on the day’s pro-life Walk for Life West Coast, which marched down nearby Market Street.
From its 11th-floor location, “Hot Talk KSFO” (560 AM) is a neighbor to the city’s financial district — where the iconic Transamerica Pyramid building looms — and about a 25-minute walk from the Ferry Building on San Francisco Bay.
Simpson repeatedly lauded The Wanderer on the air, mentioning that a listener introduced her to the paper, which she hadn’t known about, with a gift subscription years ago.
What year was that? Simpson’s not sure, she tells me later, adding emphatically, “I’m just glad it happened!” And she keeps renewing her subscription.
This is a powerful example of beginning a good deed by casting a pebble into a pond, never knowing where the ripples may reach.
Because of that listener’s gift subscription, Simpson came to love the newspaper. She digs into the articles for ideas and begins to follow my reporting, then gets in touch with me for an on-air telephone interview in September 2013.
Thanks to a listener I don’t know, I’m in KSFO’s northern California studio the following January. Simpson and I put on our headphones. Nearby, the Saturday evening pedestrian traffic on Market Street soon will be bustling.
Does Simpson have The Wanderer up on the studio glass every week? No. “I bring it depending on the articles that are in there, depending on what I’m going to be talking about. . . . There’s a lot of good stuff in it.”
Born in New York City and growing up and going to a Catholic college in New Jersey, Simpson thought, “The golden country was California. When I graduate, I want to go to California.” And she did.
Reflecting on her world, “I got smarter as I got older. I paid more attention,” she tells The Wanderer. “Not everybody is sharp politically when they’re 18 years old. Certainly I wasn’t.”
Calling herself “The Babe in the Bunker” for being a conservative personality in liberal San Francisco, Simpson is a veteran on the California electronic media scene, having worked in both of the best-known markets, Los Angeles and San Francisco, as well as having returned to New York City for a stint as public relations director worldwide of Capt. Jacques Cousteau’s environmentalist Cousteau Society.
Among various other media activities, she did environmental producing and reporting for the CBS Radio Network, helped host radio’s “Coast to Coast A.M.” nationally from 2000 to 2003, and writes a weekly column for WorldNet
Her program airs every Saturday and Sunday from downtown San Francisco, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Pacific time, with the signal roughly going as far south as San Jose and northeast to Sacramento, she says, adding that in the Internet age, it can be heard online around the world.
It’s a general-interest talk program, not a religious show, but Simpson is open about her Catholic beliefs and ready to speak about moral issues.
“I don’t want to be a Christian show. I want to be Barbara Simpson, talk host,” she says. However, “I do talk about morality. . . .
“Has it been hard doing conservative talk in San Francisco? No,” she continues. The audience is “absolutely receptive. . . . A lot of people remember me from my television work. . . . They like the fact I’m feisty . . . and thoughtful. . . .
“I really love life, and there’s so much I want to do,” but, Simpson says, she fears the same sort of oppression that was laid on the old Soviet Union “will be laid on us,” and gradually is being imposed.
“I have never, ever had the urge to say I’m not a Catholic,” she tells me during a nearly three-hour phone conversation on February 28. “. . . The Catholic Church has what I need.”
She also was an eager student, she says. “I was the kind of kid who always loved school,” having the opportunity to learn more. “I love all of that, to know what’s out there.”
In subsequent e-mails, she adds, “My goal is to bring the truth to the audience while entertaining them, but still to let them see that my beliefs are based on longstanding, fundamental truths that are essential for a good and moral life….
“I do a program for everyone, not a ‘religious’ program. I am conservative politically and I cover every topic that is out there, local, regional, state, national, and international,” she says. “However, through it all, I believe my sense of morality comes through, and I have said openly that I am Roman Catholic.
“I don’t preach but I will talk about right and wrong. I am openly opposed to abortion and speak about that. I am also in favor of capital punishment and speak about that, and I do believe there are justified wars,” she says.
“I will criticize the Church if I feel there are secular failings, and I will strongly defend the Church when I see it being vilified in the public square,” Simpson adds. “Quite frankly, I am beyond tired of the Catholic Church being a punching bag for the media and the general public, as well as cafeteria Catholics and, especially, people who delight in spitting in the eye of the Church but who always qualify what they say by adding: ‘I was brought up Catholic’.”
Asked why she’d not become a liberal in her environment, Simpson tells The Wanderer, “I don’t know. . . . I’m a very strong-minded person.” Having a microphone “has given me courage to express myself. . . . You don’t like my politics? That’s fine . . . I honestly don’t care” about others’ feelings about her. “Give me a call” to talk things over.
Simpson says it was hard at first for her to express her opinions on San Francisco radio because of her previous experience as an investigative reporter and television anchor, where personal views shouldn’t be disclosed.
“Nobody ever knew how I voted,” she says, but after she moved north from Los Angeles to the City by the Bay, “I began to notice the bias of some of the people I worked with. . . . That didn’t go over well” with some of them when she remarked on it, she said.
Simpson was a television news anchor in both cities, nine and a half years in San Francisco alone, five nights a week, she says. One of the most frustrating experiences, she adds, was how much material had to be left out because of time constraints.
She recalls one in-house news meeting discussing footage shot at an abortion clinic, where bloody material was shown running through a tube, although there were no significant-sized body parts visible. As the only woman at the meeting, she says, she was outvoted by the men. They didn’t want to put this on the air.
“My feeling is, if you’re going to promote abortion, show me what it is,” Simpson tells The Wanderer.
On the topic of illegal immigration, she says, “I think it’s outrageous, I really do. . . . First of all, the word ‘illegal’ has a definition. . . . If you’re illegal, you’re illegal, period. Every country has an obligation to control the legal immigration.”
Closely interested in how Arizona is affected by illegal entry, Simpson cites hospitals and emergency rooms having to close because of the pressure of the unauthorized influx.
“We cannot absorb that, we must not absorb that,” she says. “. . . We’re rewriting laws to suit emotions.”
Asked how she’d reply to an accusation of being heartless, she says, “I don’t want them to die. But when their own country is teaching them to cross our border, that’s outrageous.”
News reports don’t raise issues like illegal border-crossers possibly being drug couriers or Mid-eastern terrorists, she says.
Just as it wasn’t the job of the United States “to salvage all of the people behind the Iron Curtain” in Cold War days by bringing them here, Simpson says, it’s not the U.S.’s responsibility “to solve the policy problems of every country in the world.”
A Personal Mission
Looking back to her formal education, she gratefully recalls Georgian Court College in Lakewood, N.J. — whose title since has been changed to university.
“It was wonderful, I learned so much. . . . It just opened the whole world to me of what was out there,” with required courses in logic, theology, psychology, and philosophy, Simpson says, recalling a logic class by Sr. Jane Frances that “taught me how to think. . . . It was a wonderful school. I loved it.”
On a return visit to the campus a few years ago, Simpson experienced what many Catholics probably do when calling up memories of their old schools after years have passed. “It was less Catholic than I wanted it to be,” with a different chapel than she recalled.
Simpson’s lengthy list of achievements includes a 2000 Kudo Award as Best Talk Radio Personality by American Women in Radio and TV, Golden Gate Chapter; an Excellence in Media Broadcasting Award from the conservative Eagle Forum of California; and an assistant professorship at Mount St. Mary’s College in Los Angeles.
Coincidentally, one of the first episodes of the popular Mission: Impossible television series was shot at Mount St. Mary’s College in the mid-1960s.
“I try to be a well-rounded person,” Simpson says.