ATLANTA - On a dark Tuesday morning, the radio clicked on with the bulletin that former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani was on President-elect Donald Trump’s short list to become secretary of state.
The sleepy head next to mine began slowly shaking in disbelief. She’d be taking the news better, I thought, if Jamie Dupree had broken it to her.
The presidential campaign we just finished has sparked much talk about voices that were ignored and voices that were too loud. I would like to point to the one that was missing entirely.
Dupree has served as the tether that connects Atlanta's WSB Radio and other Cox Media Group stations across the country to Washington, D.C. He has been the trusted voice of politics for millions — the soothing, evenhanded straight man to the station’s conservative barn-burners. First Neal Boortz, now Herman Cain and Sean Hannity.
Several times every day, “I’m Jamie Dupree” would settle on the ears like a picnic blanket wafting to the ground. But the rug has been pulled out from under him.
In the middle of the most explosive presidential contest of our lifetime, Dupree’s voice abandoned him — and has yet to return. He has not been on the radio since the July conventions in Cleveland and Philadelphia. He can speak only a few syllables before words begin shattering like broken glass. The cause may be unknown, but the condition has a name: muscle tension dysphonia.
“Basically, the muscles in my larynx aren’t working together right now. No one knows why. I had a Botox shot back in September, but it didn’t help,” Dupree, 52, wrote this week. “I’m going to try again after Thanksgiving. And yes, that needle is long. I just try to look away. My friends like to joke that my neck has no wrinkles now.”
We have agreed to conduct this interview via email. Dupree has seen doctors at Georgetown University in Washington, Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and Emory University in Atlanta.
“It’s sort of a medical mystery. My health is good, but my voice is not. I keep hoping a doctor somewhere will have seen something like this before,” he tapped out. “My bosses in Atlanta have been very supportive in recent months. But it is a bit stressful when the key to your employment — in my case, my voice — decides to go away.”
He still has a brood of kids, ages 8, 10 and 12, to see through college.
“Every day I get up in the morning, I hope that my voice will magically appear. It has not as yet, but I remain a relentlessly optimistic person,” he wrote. “The most frustrating part is not being able to speak to my wife, my kids, my father, and my friends.”
The situation is an odd one. If his mouth is full of food, Dupree can speak for perhaps five or 10 seconds. Or if he has some water in his mouth. Or a golf tee or toothpick between his teeth.
“My doctors say those actions interrupt the brain’s signals to the larynx just enough that things operate normally — for a few seconds,” he wrote.
Even speechless, the D.C.-based Dupree kept a full schedule during the campaign. “I do need someone else to ask the questions, though this morning I wrote questions down on my reporter’s notebook and used that to get interviews with a few lawmakers. I took a campaign trip to Pennsylvania in October with a colleague from our bureau. She did the talking,” Dupree wrote.
Fortunately for him, politics isn’t a business in which your subjects need much prompting.
“I remember interviewing U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., after one Clinton-Trump debate. I said, ‘Well?’ He took it from there,” Dupree tapped.
Dupree’s trying his hand at other venues that require fingers rather than vocal cords. He blogs, for instance. “I have a big audience on Twitter, so I have thrown my energy into my blog and social media,” he wrote. “Instead of being on WSB on Election Night, I did as much coverage as I could by tweeting — then my stations used that on the air instead of my voice.”
For 28 years, Dupree has kept a brutal weekday schedule. Atlantans think Dupree is theirs, but so do other communities. When his voice was still with him, Dupree was up at 6 a.m. for a 6:30 a.m. conversation with WGAU in Athens. Fifteen minutes later, he would be on WSB with early morning host Scott Slade. Then Jacksonville, Florida, at 6:53 a.m.; Orlando, Florida, at 7:10 a.m.; Dayton, Ohio, at 7:23 a.m.; Tulsa, Oklahoma, at 7:53 a.m.; back to Orlando at 8:10 a.m., back to Atlanta at 8:15 a.m. and Jacksonville at 8:23 a.m.
“The Wheel” is what they call it.
What I missed most during this campaign were Dupree’s sessions with Cain and Hannity later in the day. Dupree was the neutral provider of facts — a difficult task, given his partners. During this campaign, Cain and Hannity were both enthusiastic boosters of Donald Trump.
“I think it would have been a real test, because a lot of people on talk radio were invested in a visceral sense in this campaign,” Dupree wrote. “One thing I will say is that, in February, I started saying that I thought Trump could win it all. I never said on the air once that Trump could not win, or would not win.
“I think being on stations with talk radio programs has given me an insight into politics that many other reporters have not had. I wasn’t that surprised that Trump won. Many of my colleagues were.”
Dupree is one of those journalists who would rather slit his wrists than tell you what he really thinks. Not a bad strategy for someone whose audience is scattered in diverse pockets across the country.
When he voted on Election Day, Dupree pointedly told his Twitter followers that he had skipped the presidential contest and voted only in local races.
But even a voiceless radio reporter can’t keep all his secrets. He doesn’t like to talk about it, given that WSB broadcasts University of Georgia football.
“I try not to mention on air that I am a graduate of the University of Florida,” Dupree wrote.
“You’re a Gator?” I replied.
“Yeah, I try to keep that a secret.”
It’s something we’ll have to talk about. Later.