An Afternoon with Pat McMahon Host of The God Show

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by RaeAnn Slaybaugh

By RaeAnn Slaybaugh

Every week, tens of thousands of Phoenix-area listeners tune in to Newsradio
620 KTAR to hear “The God Show,” with award-winning host and community icon
Pat McMahon. Without blinking an eye, he and a high-profile panel of guests
cover topics ranging from the morality of war, to the existence of evil, to
whether or not “Merry Christmas” is an insensitive greeting. Sound scary? Well, McMahon isn’t intimated by much.

Maybe
it’s because being in the public spotlight is nothing new. Phoenix natives widely recognize McMahon for his 30-year role
on the Monty Python-esque local children’s show, “Wallace and Ladmo,”
where he played an arrogant, rich kid named Gerald. (“There isn’t a day that
goes by — and sometimes not an hour — when someone doesn’t ask me about
that.”)

Today, McMahon is juggling an incredibly full schedule hosting not
only “The God Show,” but also daily programs “The McMahon Group” and “The
Pat McMahon Show.”

So, how did this Phoenix icon go from a renowned kid’s show
actor with a pageboy haircut and Little Lord Fauntleroy collar to the host of a
radio program about God? We spent an afternoon with McMahon and his producer of
17 years, Rosemary Scarfo, to find out.

Church Business®

: So,
how did you come to host ‘The
God Show?’

Pat McMahon: When I was doing a daily
radio talk show, that was a topic: religion. I kept coming out [of those
broadcasts] thinking, Whoa! Fascinating!

So, I went in to one of the program directors some years ago
and said, ‘Why don’t we do a regular show — a show on Sundays — not
about religion as such, but topical views from a spiritual perspective?’ At
that time I think the response was, ‘Yeah right, Pat.’ You’ll find very
few stations of [KTAR’s] impact and size doing anything religious. Most of the
time, that’s left up to the Christian stations. Finally, our program director [agreed] and said, ‘What did
you have in mind?’ I wanted it to be a news talk show, but I wanted to talk
about everything that’s in the news, but from a spiritual perspective.

I’d already decided it should be called something really
allen-compassing and not ponderous, so I chose ‘The God Show.’ That really
does include everybody’s faith, or non-faith.

CB:

Who’ve been your favorite
guests so far?

McMahon:

[Noted author] Rabbi
[Harold] Kushner. I also enjoyed talking with the iconoclastic rebel priest that
was just on a few weeks ago, Hans Koln, from Germany; and a number of members
of the Jesus seminar from around the world; and a lot of really wellknown
authors, including Jack Canfield, the co-author of the Chicken
Soup for the Soul
series. I’ve enjoyed interviewing
a variety of bishops, Louis Farrakhan from Nation of Islam, and all the religion
editors from Newsweek, Time,
The New York Times and The
Chicago Tribune
.

CB:

Have any topics or guests been
especially difficult?

McMahon:

It’s been painful the
last couple of years to do shows about the Catholic Church. In almost every
case, it’s either in or around the issue of priests in trouble. For [Rosemary
and me], the most painful part is the recent difficulties with [local priest]
Father Dale Fushek. Not only is he a close friend of ours, he was the guy we’d
always call upon as a guest because he was terrific.

I think it’s cogent and appropriate to talk about this for
your magazine because it’s one of those rare times when your friendship gets
in the way if you allow it. You have to get around that and think to yourself, OK,
here’s someone who says he was a victim of a priest and that Father Fushek
knew about it
— and Father Fushek baptized my
grandchild!

We still talk to him every once in awhile on the phone, but he’s
under house arrest. But he’d be welcome to come down and do “The God Show”
with whatever it is he could say about the proceedings.

CB:

Who’s your dream guest?

McMahon:

Jesus.

[Scarfo laughs]

McMahon: They
say He’s coming back, and I’d like to make some kind of a deal where we
could have an exclusive with Him — not forever, just the first couple of
weeks.

Scarfo:

I just wrote two people down
while we were talking: first, the nun who wrote Dead
Man Walking
[Sister Helen Prejean] — we’d love to
talk with her.

McMahon:

I’d like to talk with
Billy Graham because of his mind, and because of his contact with America —
the Presidents dating back to Roosevelt. He seems to be a straight-shooter. And
of late, I’d like to have on Joel Osteen. Oh! And Benny Hinn! I want to show
him this rash under my arm that just will not go
away …

CB:

How do you decide the topics you’ll
cover on “The God Show”?

Scarfo:

Many times, we do things
seasonally. I keep an eye open. We also look for the quirky topics — something
just a little bit ‘off’ — to let everybody know God is in all our lives.
And I get books. People send us books all the time. The authors really know
their subjects, so they’re usually good guests.

CB:

How have you seen “The God
Show” change and grow, both in content and in scope, since it first aired
seven years ago?

Scarfo:

I’d say we’ve become
more socially oriented in our approach to things. We started very basic years
ago by asking, What’s a Mormon like? and
What’s a Muslim like? and
so on.

McMahon:

I still think those are
interesting topics, but not every Sunday.

Scarfo:

Mm hmm. Now we’re into
things that really affect us — the Catholic church scandals are one example.

McMahon:

And we’ll probably end up
doing something on Ariel Sharon. It might appear on the surface to be absolutely
nothing to do with religion — only political. Or it might be all political,
but anybody who’s listening understands there’s a foundation of Judaism
throughout.

Scarfo:

But I do think it’s
necessary to do an in-depth look [at particular religions] every now and then.

McMahon:

Do you remember the mail we
got when we did the show on Jehovah’s Witnesses?

Scarfo:

Hundreds of letters! They
were scared to death Pat was going to really beat up [the guests] with his
questions, but it was absolutely, down-the-road informational. I had hundreds of
people wanting tapes and letters. Unbelievable. A lot of religions have been persecuted for years and years.
They’ve been looked down upon, not treated fairly. We’ve even had
Scientologists on the show.

CB:

Of course, I have to bring up
your long-time role on “Wallace and Ladmo” at some point.Was there any part
of the role of Gerald that let you blend your Christian beliefs with what you
did for work?

McMahon:

Yes. Gerald was a Junior
Satan.

[Scarfo laughs]

McMahon: It
was like this: Wallace was the straight man who tried to keep some order, and he
consistently failed. Ladmo played a lovable buffoon who the kids truly loved —
they could identify with him. He always got into trouble, but he tried really
hard, and his grades weren’t always good.

But Gerald… well, he got straight A’s, and his teachers
loved him. And he always reminded you that he was the wealthiest, most affluent
and influential kid in school.

In truth, though it wasn’t our intent, there were a number
of moral issues addressed according to our standards. Kids understood that if
you misbehaved like Gerald did all the time — if you lied and cheated and
stole — eventually you’d get caught or your privileges would be taken away.
But if you tried really hard, like Ladmo did, that was a good role model.

CB:

Do you think your religious
leanings come through in your other shows?

McMahon:

Oh yeah! When you host a
talk show, your primary obligation is to talk about what you’re interested in.
[Another talk radio host at the station] used to do outdoor shows — hunting,
fishing, camping. I’ve never done that. God help anyone who listens to me
about how to build a fire!

CB:

Your hands are pretty full. Do
you foresee any other religion-based programs in your future?

McMahon:

We’ve talked briefly with
the management about syndicating the show. When you do, most of the time you lose
the localness of it, and I don’t want to do that. Still, I think most of the
shows would have national appeal.

CB:

OK, so what’s the motivation
for a pastor in, say, Iowa to log on and listen to “The God Show”?

McMahon:

We’re talking about the
moral issues of the day. We’re talking about what your kids should know. We’re
talking about world news today, but from a spiritual perspective.

Scarfo:

I think we have an advantage
in being on a news-talk station. We can talk about whatever we want.

McMahon:

We do. I wouldn’t — and
probably couldn’t — do this show on a Christian radio station.

Log on to www.620KTAR.com/?nid=85 to listen live Sundays from
7 a.m. to 8 a.m. and from 12 a.m. to 1 a.m. Mountain Time.