Northeastern grad Leslie Marshall, a nationally syndicated radio host and Fox News contributor, has a message for America

screen capture of Leslie Marshall broadcasting on Fox news
Leslie Marshall, a Northeastern alum who is a contributor at Fox News, regularly appears on the news network.

In an era of deepening polarization and cultural warfare, longtime TV and radio personality Leslie Marshall wants us all to lose the wedge.  

Marshall, a Northeastern graduate, is a Fox News contributor, Democratic strategist and decorated radio broadcaster. She is one of the most successful women to make a name for herself in an industry that remains largely male-dominated — one with no shortage of stories about the barriers facing women. 

headshot of Leslie Marshall
Leslie Marshall. Courtesy photo

Beginning her career in broadcasting in the late 1980s, when radio’s “shock jock” format was starting to take over, Marshall was vying for air time alongside a robust field of male radio talent: Howard Stern, Rush Limbaugh (whom she once topped in ratings one quarter in the early 1990s, she says) and Larry King among them. 

She once sent King 36 cassette tapes of material that he critiqued on lined paper, with meticulous notes for each tape. The best advice she received from someone in the radio industry was tucked away in those notes: “Always be true to yourself,” King told Marshall. “Never lie about what you believe.” 

It’s that ethos of sticking to one’s guns that’s been key to Marshall’s success. But so too has a willingness to venture into enemy territory and trade blows, which is part of the job description as a Democratic strategist on Fox News. For more than 16 years, what’s sustained Marshall during moments of televised live debate is the knowledge that both she and her interlocutors, once the cameras have stopped rolling, could put aside their differences and go out for lunch. 

“When you see a Democrat and a Republican sharing a laugh together today, now it’s front page news,” Marshall told Northeastern Global News

“People always ask me why I went with Fox if I’m a liberal,” she says of the job, which she accepted at the urging of Roger Ailes. “In truth, I’ve always been treated with respect there. No one tells me what to say or what not to say.”

Marshall’s criticism of the current state of civility in the U.S. isn’t just nostalgia for a more centrist politics. Decorum as reflected in the broader culture and modeled by the nation’s leaders is an important hallmark of democratic debate, she says. The slide in decorum, as she sees it, has made it harder for people to “hear what the other side is saying,” she says. Worse yet, at a time when political debate has become almost entirely virtualized, it’s pushed America deeper into its respective news echo chambers.

Though she acknowledges politicians like Donald Trump are largely — and perhaps disproportionately — responsible for the deterioration of civil norms, both sides carry some blame, she says.

Beginning her career in the late 1980s

When she first arrived on the scene, Marshall didn’t set out to mend partisan fences. It was simply to get people talking about “any and everything” — about the animating material of life: “I really wanted to be a female Phil Donahue,” she says. “I didn’t want to do politics; I didn’t want to do news — at the time.”

Marshall had an auspicious start in radio. In the late 1980s, she had an opportunity to sit in for Jerry Wichner, the soporific late-night voice of Florida’s east coast. The weekend broadcast was out of WNWS, a 50,000-watt station in Miami.

Unsure if she possessed the verbosity required to fill the entire broadcast, Marshall remembers feeling nervous before the show. She recalls that there was an issue of People magazine on the desk in front of her. She swiped it and read the cover story; it happened to be about the time Zsa Zsa Gabor famously slapped a Beverly Hills cop. She read the story live and ad-libbed reaction to the situation. 

Almost forgetting to give out the station’s phone number, when she concluded her take, the lines lit up with callers. 

“For me, that was the equivalent of a comedian getting a laugh on a joke,” she says.  “Complete strangers calling me to talk to me about my opinion — and share their opinions with me. After that, I was addicted.”

That night, from Miami, Marshall phoned her parents in Somerset, Massachusetts. “I said — and I was crying — I just found what I want to do for the rest of my life,” Marshall says. 

It was that fateful broadcast that eventually led to Marshall receiving her own weekend show in Miami, the Leslie Marshall Show, which ran from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. In 1990, she was then hired on a full-time basis by WGR in Buffalo, where the show aired during the week. In 1992, Marshall became the youngest radio personality to be syndicated when she replaced Tom Snyder as host of the ABC Satellite Radio Network.

Touting an ability to elicit callers from across the political spectrum, Marshall grew attuned to the issues that mattered most to America, and used her platform to foster robust conversation and debate around them. “Easy phone-ringers are abortion, gun control and capital punishment,” she says. 

But more than just a gift for gab, Marshall’s interest in radio was spurred by desire to talk about, as she frames it, issues of justice. As a self-identified independent in the ’80s and ’90s, that passion for justice encompassed a broad range of topics championed by both parties.

When it came to building her own brand, Marshall was advised against what in the twin spheres of politics and talk radio amounted to an unsalable neutrality — that is, remaining an independent. She says that, as a “fence-sitter,” she simply couldn’t compete with the conservative-male-heavy field filled with firebrands and rabble-rousers, such as Limbaugh, who commanded legions of listeners.

“I’m not joking, I read, I think it was 600 pages: the Democratic platform, the Republican platform and the Libertarian platform — bless them; theirs was like 45 pages at the time,” Marshall says. “And I decided, based on the platform, that I had more in common with Democrats, and I became a Democrat then and have been a Democrat ever since.”

Though she professionally defends more mainstream Democratic opinion today — primarily on television — she often does so by stripping away the partisan packaging, drilling down to the heart of issues. It’s a skill she cultivated during her many years on the radio. 

“If I don’t feel something about a topic, I can’t talk about it for several hours,” she says. “And almost every topic I talk about has some justice element in it.”

Choosing Northeastern

“I liked that the city was your campus,” Marshall says of her decision to pursue an undergraduate education at Northeastern. “I wasn’t looking for a school in a more rural area with rows and rows of fraternities and sororities. That wasn’t my thing. I wanted a city school.”

Marshall pictured herself at Northeastern long before she got in. She would hang out with friends at Speare Hall on the weekends, longing to dine at the cafeteria with the other students.  

“I wanted to be a communications major because I wanted to go into broadcasting,” she says. “I met with financial aid, and between, you know, Pell grants, national direct student loans, co-op or work-study — they made it possible for me to go without having to wait tables until three in the morning.”

She remembers meeting with Michael Woodnick, who taught at Northeastern from 1965 to 2009. She says his classes quickly filled up. Woodnick welcomed Marshall, who was touring campus with her father, into his office without appointment. 

“And the first thing he said when we sat down was, ‘I was just about to have lunch, would you like to have half of my sandwich?’” Marshall says. “It was just that little bit of personalization that I feel I wasn’t getting from the other colleges.”

As it turned out, Woodnick and Marshall shared a birthday. That afternoon, she was sold on the idea of becoming a Husky. 

“Northeastern to me was more of a true representation of real life,” Marshall says. “It was just great preparation for life.”

Tanner Stening is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email him at Follow him on Twitter @tstening90.