The clock is just striking three, and upstairs at Smith & Wollensky on 19th and L streets N.W. the champagne corks are being eased gently from their bottlenecks and azure-colored cocktails — Blue RAMMYs — are being poured into oversize martini glasses.
The occasion is the announcement of the nominees for the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington RAMMY Awards, and there to emcee the event is WTOP’s “Man About Town,” Bob Madigan.
An afternoon glass of champagne and a handful of D.C.’s finest hostesses hovering by his side is nothing new for Madigan, who has been doing “Man About Town” since 1999. And his jaunty enthusiasm — set off by a butterfly bow-tie and impeccable pocket handkerchief — suggests he will happily go on attending premier gallery openings, award ceremonies and benefit balls until the invitations stop coming, which seems unlikely. As it is, Madigan attends more than 500 events every year and considers turning down invitations the hardest part of his job.
Madigan, who started at WTOP as a news director and anchor in 1993, recalled getting tired of the negative news he was reporting every day. “It was weighing on me, and I thought the radio station needed more of a presence in the community,” he explained.
It wasn’t long before the idea crystallized into the highly rewarding “Man About Town” concept. As Madigan cheerfully acknowledged, “I invite myself to other people’s parties, eat other people’s food, drink other people’s booze and tell people about it.” Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones couldn’t have done better.
But after 40 years working in radio (his 40th anniversary will be in July), Madigan has earned the right to rest on his laurels.
Madigan’s obsession with radio began at the age of 3, when he and his grandmother listened to the 1952 Democratic and Republican conventions.
“News was being made as I was listening,” he said, gesturing dramatically with ring-clad fingers. “There was no TV, so this was theater of the mind.” Several years later, he built himself a radio station in the attic where — supplied with old UPI copy by his brother — he would broadcast, at least to the far corners of the room.
His childhood passion stuck with him through four years in the U.S. Air Force, when he did radio for the Air Force station, AFRTS. But upon finishing his tour of duty in 1972, Madigan decided it was time to hang up his microphone. He headed to the University of San Diego to get a degree in management.
“I thought my mother might be right,” he recalled, explaining that his mother didn’t take his career seriously until he’d been doing radio for 15 years and was working at NBC in New York. “I thought it was time to grow up, and then I found out you don’t have to!”
After graduation, he began working in Los Angeles for the No. 1 station at the time, KNX-FM. From KNX he moved quickly up the ladder to the NBC radio network as the morning-drive anchor for “The Source,” the financial correspondent producing “The Money Memo” and, finally, the talk-show host for NBC’s TalkNet.
By then, it was 1990, and for Madigan the glamour of radio had once again worn thin. He decided to try his hand at consulting. Within a year, though, he was back on the air again, this time in Washington, D.C., where he has been ever since.
“I love Washington,” he said. “I’ve had plenty of offers to go elsewhere, but I’ve said no each time.”
Granted, it would be hard not to appreciate a city that pours hundreds of invitations into your mailbox each month, all of which are begging you to come enjoy the finest food, performances and art the capital has to offer. Under the circumstances, it seems likely that “Man About Town” will be Madigan’s swan song.
With his palm-size recorder tucked away in his pocket and WTOP microphone in hand, Madigan attends up to three events per week and contributes two stories a day — a schedule that leaves him hard-pressed to remember what he did the night before. The story line generally becomes clear during the event, which makes the editing process easier. “I like pulling a piece together and transporting the listener,” he said.
“My favorite event is the one I’m at,” he continued, adding that he rarely passes up invites from the National Gallery or Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts.
Regardless of the event, “Man About Town” is about telling good news. “It is easy to become cynical if all you hear are the negatives,” Madigan explained in a e-mail, “so I feel that pointing out these positives (the arts, charity work and general good works of others) helps restore balance in our lives. It certainly has in mine.”
His advice to younger reporters: “Don’t do it. I don’t need the competition!”