The Titan of Talk Radio
Famous guests? He’s got ’em, along with a unique
mix of business and financial programming. Find out why Suffern’s Gary Goldberg has been reeling in local listeners for 22 years
By Peter Gerstenzang
It is just off Montebello Road in the heart of Suffern, but the mansion rises up like something that would fit comfortably among the grand old homes of Newport, Rhode Island. There are impeccably manicured grounds; pots of flowers perfectly positioned on the hillside; a parking lot that accommodates a dozen cars; even two stone lions, half-turned and silently roaring, on either side of the steps that lead visitors inside. It is easy to imagine a tuxedo-clad servant greeting you at the door. Once inside, however, your film noir fantasies fade as you realize that you’ve arrived at the offices of Gary Goldberg Financial Services. A longtime money manager, Goldberg is also the host of the popular, locally syndicated radio show Money Matters — which is broadcast live right from this stately building. In its 22nd year, the show is one of the longest-running financial programs in the nation. But after spending time with Goldberg, the mansion makes sense: This man is as unique as the century-old building where he conducts his business.
The 1902 house was designed by prominent architect Stanford White for wealthy financier Thomas Fortune Ryan and his family. “He basically kept his wife Ida and five kids out here, while he worked and fooled around with his tycoon buddies in New York,” says Goldberg, a tall, tanned, unfailingly charming man, who exudes some of the movie-star charm of George Hamilton (minus the smarm). Goldberg bought the place in 1983 for about $1.6 million and eventually spent another million on renovations. “I don’t even know how many rooms the mansion has,” says Goldberg (for the record, there are 44).
“All I know is that when I decided to purchase it, it was a bit of a gamble. The place was seen as a white elephant. I think we’ve shown it was a smart gamble, after all. We had 15 employees then. Now we have 45, thousands of clients, and a grand total of seven different offices.”
For all his modern flash, Goldberg is truly an old-fashioned American success story. Born and raised in a middle-class family in the Bronx, he snagged a full scholarship to Bard College, where he studied liberal arts before turning to finance in his mid-20s. “I moved to Rockland County in 1972, with the idea of becoming a broker. I had about $5,000 of my own and borrowed about $5,000 more. I got myself a walk-up office in New City for about $250 a month, set up a bridge table and chairs, and simply started cold-calling people. I even went to the local shopping center and handed out fliers and shook hands, just like a politician, urging people to use my company when they thought of buying or selling stocks.”
The proud father of five grown children (along with his wife, Joan, an architect), Goldberg is matter-of-fact about his accomplishments. “I think the firm is a success because I identified a market that was being underserved. I discovered a while back that the average person doesn’t have millions of dollars, but a growing number of them have several hundreds of thousands of dollars to invest, especially with the advent of 401(K)s.
Once I tapped into that, I also made sure that all of my clients knew they had somebody who believed in a hands-on approach. I meet with my clients face-to-face every quarter. I really listen to what is going on in their lives.”
But Goldberg gets downright giddy when he talks about his radio show, “one of the main highlights of my day.” To hear him tell it, Money Matters began as just another stroke of Goldberg good luck. “In 1985, I was asked to be on a radio show on [White Plains-based radio station] WFAS to talk about business. I got stuck in traffic that morning but I had one of those early versions of the car phone, so I suggested we try to do it by phone. People called in, I heard them on the radio, and then I answered the questions sitting right in my car. It was a hit. It seemed to touch a note with people. They were looking for someone who they felt would take care of them, and apparently I came across that way.” WFAS asked if he’d like to host his own show; the rest is radio history.
Being a man who likes a colorful anecdote, Goldberg reels off some priceless vignettes about his beloved program. “I’ve had lots of big names on Money Matters over the years, and mostly they’ve been memorable,” he says. “Some because they’ve been so knowledgeable, some because they were arrogant and totally unprepared.”
In the former group is Jack Welch, the man responsible for getting General Electric back on its feet in the 1980s. “Welch said that one of the ways he increased GE’s productivity and profitability was to get rid of 10 percent of the staff when he took over. He cleared out all the deadwood, the people who weren’t doing their jobs well. He wasn’t afraid to talk directly about those kinds of things when he was on the air.”
And a less successful guest? Well, there was Gene Simmons, the larger-than-life leader of the rock band KISS, who was invited to talk about his role in promoting Indy Racing. “It was sort of hilariously awful,” says Goldberg.
Chris Cordani, the show’s executive producer, estimates that the one-hour show, which airs live at 10:06 a.m. every weekday on six tristate affiliates (including WFAS 1230 AM and WKIP 1450 AM in Poughkeepsie), attracts more than 100,000 listeners. Goldberg believes the main draw is their ability to attract prominent guests from all walks of life. Politicians Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay, magazine publisher Steve Forbes, baseball Hall of Famer Rod Carew, CNN’s Lou Dobbs, and actress Suzanne Somers have all appeared on the program. “We’ve developed a reputation for fairness,” says Goldberg about his ability to reel in the big names. “At the same time, I have developed an ability to peel the onion. In the 20 minutes they’re on, I first develop a comfort level, then I can ask more pointed questions.”
One of Goldberg’s favorite recent guests was former Major Leaguer (and sports announcer) Joe Garagiola. “I told Joe that I used to have his baseball card when I was a kid and that my mother threw it out. A few days later, this arrived in the mail.” Goldberg displays a second card, which the great catcher sent to him with a typically self-deprecating note about what the card would be worth in trade (not much, Garagiola claims).
Both Goldberg and Cordani are quick to point out that Money Matters does not give advice for investors. It is simply a sort of clearinghouse for a wide array of opinions about the worlds of finance and business. The show kicks off each morning with a report from the trading floor; later, trading veteran Peter Dedel provides insight and in-depth analysis on the markets. There’s a daily business trivia contest and then other segments throughout the week: Legal Eagles on Monday, Tax Wednesday, etc. Then there’s the ever-popular Dow Challenge, in which listeners pick five stocks from a list of 30 and try to create a winning portfolio. “We have thousands of people participating from across the country because we’ve been live on the Internet for many years now,” says Goldberg. Adds Cordani: “We offer an outside-the-box financial show. It is completely different from anything else that is out there. That’s why we’re so successful.”
When he’s not managing money or reading up on his next interview subject, Goldberg serves on the board at Mercy College, and contributes to a Rockland County women’s shelter. The money maven also enjoys running (“I get outside four times a week”), playing golf, and traveling with his wife. “We enjoy being together, we’re real pals,” he says about his marriage.
The trappings of business achievements notwithstanding, he also knows how far he has come, this kid from the Bronx. “I’m really pleased that my parents got to see all my success while they were alive,” says Goldberg. “When I bought this place, my father use to kid me. He’d say, â€˜Need a vice president?’ And my mom used to tell everybody, â€˜My son owns a park!’ ”
With that, the financial wizard politely excuses himself to leave for another appointment. As his silver Bentley backs out of its space and heads down the long driveway, one thought comes to mind: Maybe I’d better start listening to Money Matters, too. u
For information on Money Matters Financial Network, visit www.mmfn.net.