05/10/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Maddow's Unusual Transition to TV

There's a funny old saying in broadcasting: "You have a face made for radio." It refers to radio personalities who are convinced they can make the "jump" to TV. But most of them fail, and badly.

But MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, fortunately for all of us, has managed to successfully pull off this rare feat. This long-time TV and radio columnist (who also worked in a TV news department) has been pleasantly surprised at how well Maddow's adapted to TV, a medium that has far different skill sets than radio. It's hard to believe she made the jump from Air America Radio only five months ago (and she hadn't even been in radio that long).

Dr. Dean Edell, who does a funny and iconoclastic nationally syndicated call-in radio-doctor show, is one of the few who's successfully made the jump from radio. Edell has been a fixture for years on San Francisco TV, and even briefly had his own midday doctor show on NBC-TV. ("I couldn't even say the words 'breast' or 'abortion,' " reveals Edell. "It was ridiculous.")

"Dr. Laura didn't make the jump from radio, and neither did Rush Limbaugh," says the media-savvy Edell. (We'll pause here to give great thanks).

Most evenings on her show, Maddow -- described by Keith Olbermann as MSNBC's "resident policy wonk," looks relaxed and highly informed. It's obvious that Maddow does a lot of show prep; she brings to light issues often ignored on cable-news outlets.

Paul Krugman, for example, would have been proud of Maddow's detailed, plain-English explanation of why economic stimulus is far better served by creating jobs than by the Feds just handing out tax cuts. That show in February deserves serious Peabody Award consideration.

MSNBC's other liberal hosts can provide the bombast and the passion. The thoughtful Maddow has established a lower-key approach with her "just the facts, ma'am" essays, and she's carved out an important niche for herself at MSNBC.

It also doesn't hurt that she's a Rhodes Scholar and has a sense of humor.

We should all be glad she's made the difficult leap from radio to TV so successfully.
I once tried to make the jump from newspaper critic to radio talk-show host. I soon learned the ugly truth -- that I had (as one radio pro put it) "a voice made for print."