It's a strange thing to wear more than one professional hat.
On Monday, I could be working on my websites and answering reader email. Tuesday, I might be buried in social media and running a contest or survey. Wednesday might take me to a school for an assembly, writing workshop or to some other public speaking engagement. Thursday sometimes means book club visits, either in person or via Skype. If I'm lucky, I might find time to actually write something that day.
Before I can breathe, Friday arrives, and it's the day of the week I'm most often invited to appear on the Fox News Channel morning show, "Fox & Friends."
The professional hats of the first four days look similar. But if the others are simple variations of baseball caps, Friday is a fedora.
Perhaps, then, it's no surprise that I'm asked about my political hat so often.
My occasional appearances on Fox began in January 2007. I was invited to discuss my take on the 2008 presidential race and to rank the candidates based on fundraising, polling and blogosphere buzz.
I've appeared on many mornings since that first visit. A few times from Fox’s headquarters in New York City, occasionally from various studios around the country, depending on my touring schedule, but most often from Fox's Washington, D.C., bureau.
The exact moment of the scheduled segment or interview is called a “hit” or “hit time.” "Fox & Friends" is a daily, three-hour show, so it could fall anytime between 6 and 9 a.m., eastern time. More often than not, my segments fall during the 7 o’clock hour.
No matter the hit time, my Fox mornings begin early. I live 95 miles from Fox’s D.C. studios, and I leave my home between 4:30 and 5 a.m. An hour later, I meet a driver at the edge of the Capital Beltway. Like many networks, Fox uses a limousine or car service, both for the guests' convenience and because it provides peace of mind to worried producers that we’ll be on time and well-prepped for the segment.
At the building, I check in at a security desk and get a temporary badge. I pass through two more locked doors upstairs before I’m actually in the Fox office space. It’s a reminder that in today’s world, you can never be too safe. CNN, C-SPAN and the other networks all have similar levels of security.
My first stop is hair and makeup. Staffed by at least two professionals, even at that early hour, the room is so bright it looks like an operating room. Having what feels like three inches of makeup caked on my cheeks is my least favorite part of the television experience. Each time I sit in the chair, I have a little more respect for the morning ritual of women.
After enduring the chair, I park myself on a comfortable couch in the adjacent green room and watch the program on one of several large televisions. Five minutes before the hit time, a producer greets me and walks me to the studio. There are several studios in the massive space, and I never know which we’re using until they lead me down the maze of hallways.
Most of the studios are small, certainly smaller than they appear on television, and feature several monitors and a large camera. The producer “mics me up” by running a wire under my jacket and clipping it to my lapel. They also give me an IFB, or interruptible feedback. It’s the tiny speaker that goes in the ear and loops around the back. You’ve seen them used by singers, television hosts and news or sportscasters.
Soon I find myself all alone, staring into a camera and in my peripheral vision watching the program on a monitor to the left or right. A voice always startles me: “Good morning, Jason, this is New York audio. Can you hear the program?”
I’m asked to count to 10 so they can adjust the mic. Sometimes I see the camera magically adjust, too, and it still amazes me that the entire process is being orchestrated from a control room 250 miles away in Manhattan.
During the last commercial break before my segment, sometimes one of the hosts, usually Steve Doocy, who conducts my interviews more often than his co-hosts, will chime in my ear. “What did you think of the debate last night? Did you see the latest poll numbers?”
It’s always a quick chat and often ends with, “We’re live in a minute.”
Then it happens. After being up for hours and traveling almost 100 miles, I hear myself introduced and the segment begins. The interviews fly by, most lasting just three minutes. I’m reminded why Doocy and his super-talented cohorts are on television for three hours a day.
When we’re done, New York thanks me in my ear and says goodbye.
Off comes the mic, off comes the IFB and off comes the makeup. Just a few minutes later, I’m back on the elevator heading downstairs and outside to meet the driver.
The long trek home begins and by the time I roll in my driveway, it’s been somewhere between four and six hours, depending on traffic, hit time, etc. It’s an average of five hours for three minutes of political punditry.
It's a strange thing to wear more than one professional hat, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Well, except for the makeup.