Remembering Nancy Reagan: Lesson in Fear, Negotiations and Perseverance



March 6, 2016 –


The passing of former First Lady Nancy Reagan is both sad and poignant for me. She was 94.

From my formative years as a broadcast journalist, I have very fond memories of my two encounters with her as she campaigned for her husband, Ronald Reagan, in 1977 for the presidency.

Thanks to her, I’m reminded about a lesson to avoid fear, negotiate well in strategy and to persevere.

Former Calif. Gov. Reagan had just narrowly lost his convention bid for the 1976 Republican presidential nomination. It was a tense, dramatic battle with President Gerald Ford following the Watergate-scandal years.

Nancy Reagan.jpg

Former First Lady Nancy Reagan, White House photograph


My impressions of her – three years before Mrs. Reagan became one of the most-influential first ladies in American history – were formed when I encountered her as a young news director for an all-news radio station and later for a television news operation in Palm Springs.

On both occasions, she visited the town to fund raise for Mr. Reagan’s upcoming bid for the 1980 presidential election. Palm Springs had a lot wealthy potential donors.

Late-night news conference

The last encounter was when I participated in a late-night news conference by her presidenial-candidate husband at Palm Springs Airport with my KPLM-TV cameraman.

What struck me was that Mr. Reagan seemed tired as he took questions from us in the media. I’ll never forget her loving, admiring gaze at him as he spoke. He seemed to feed on her love and energy.

Clearly, she was his devoted partner.

In our first encounter, Mrs. Reagan came to town and scheduled a news conference for 1:30 in the afternoon at private residence. As news director of K/GUY Newsradio, I was most anxious to attend.

I had been hired from a Dick Clark-owned radio station a year earlier to build the small news operation on a shoestring budget. My job was to build ratings to generate revenue.

As a poorly financed news operation, the station owner had filed for bankruptcy. So we still had portable tape-recorder issues, which meant there was no way I wanted to be embarrassed facing Mrs. Reagan in-person.

“My life really began when I married my husband.”

-Nancy Reagan

The financial issues were compounded by the competitiveness in the market. Competing sales and news people constantly badmouthed us.

It would be further humiliating if we didn’t cover a major story involving Mrs. Reagan. It would hurt our image in the community.

It would also give bragging rights to competing news operations. We were in a tense ratings battle. I worked 12-hours days to build our listener ratings as we faced constant, jealous derisive comments from our competitors.

Ninety percent of the men began listening to us but we were weak among women listeners, for which we took corrective action. We garnered an astronomic 14-share of the audience, which I wanted to protect.

I envisioned the results of her news conference. If we failed to attend, I envisioned our competitors chortling about us all the way back to their studios. I would not let that happen.

The sales pitch – negotiations

So I called the residence where she was staying and asked to speak with her. My plan was to propose doing a telephone interview, recording our conversation, and to commence airing stories at the conclusion of the news conference.

But Mrs. Reagan’s press secretary was appalled by my audacity: “How dare you insult the next First Lady of the United States by not attending her press conference!”

Over and over again for several minutes, I graveled as I tried to reason with her.  She wouldn’t even listen to my complete proposal.

Suddenly, I heard a man’s voice on the phone: “This is Mr. Reagan’s press secretary. Who is this?”

“I’m Terry Corbell, news director of K/GUY Newsradio, the only all-news radio station in this market. I’m terribly embarrassed but we’re unable to attend Mrs. Reagan’s press conference. “

I knew it was important to show professionalism in covering their campaign.

“We really want to report on her visit. How about if I interview her on the phone. I promise to hold the stories until 2 p.m. after the news conference. Then, the stories will be rotated every 30 minutes,” I proposed.

Then I offered a value proposition – additional benefits for him to consider.

“As a freelance correspondent in this area for KNX Newsradio in Los Angeles and for NBC/NIS, I promise she will get outstanding nationwide coverage,” I said as sweat poured off my brow.

“Just a minute,” he answered.

Then the anticipated miracle.

“Hello, this is Nancy Reagan,” she said in her familiar, dignified tone of voice.

“Mrs. Reagan, we’d like to hear what you want to say today to the people of Palm Springs. Then, we’d like to ask you some questions,” I responded.

She patiently answered all my questions. We had enough comments on multiple issues to last us every day for a week. That was quite a coup.

So at 2 p.m., we excitedly hit the airways: “…In an exclusive interview, Nancy Reagan tells K/GUY Newsradio…” Then, I began to prepare my pitches for KNX and NBC.

At 2:15, the phone rang from a very angry caller: “This is _______!!” (The news director at our chief competitor.)

“How in the hell did you get an interview with Nancy Reagan?? You weren’t even there!!” he bitterly demanded an answer.

“Exclusive reports – that’s the K/GUY Newsradio approaching to winning,” I responded. Couldn’t help myself. We had endured a lot of abuse from him and other competitors.

Then, I hung up and did the chortling. We had enough exclusive stories for a week, and we milked it.

Decades later, the event still brings a smile to my face – Mrs. Reagan’s loving patience to benefit her husband  and how it turned a lemon into pure gold.

No surprise to me that she was so admired, and I’m eternally grateful for the experience.

The moral: Don’t succumb to fear, do your best in negotiations, and never give up.



From the Coach’s Corner, editor’s picks for additional reading:

5 Attributes of Leadership Are Needed Now — With all the dysfunction in the economy and the debate over healthcare, Seattle Consultant Terry Corbell calls for leadership. He says the late President Ford, whom he covered as a journalist, leaves a remarkable legacy of leadership with healthy attributes for businesspeople and public officials to emulate.

The 22 Dos and Don’ts for Successful Negotiations — No matter what you need to negotiate, there are easy strategies to get anything you want. But you must first remember it’s important to reach a fair compromise – with win-win negotiating skills. You’ll want both parties to feel positive after the negotiation is complete. In other words, emotional needs for both of you have to be met.

Terror – 2 Democrat Presidents Provide Lessons for Obama — Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, both Democrats, won wide respect for their handling of monster threats to America. Plus, both presidents did not hesitate to identify the enemies, call them out on their lies, and to take decisive action. Why President Obama’s political correctness threatens America’s free-enterprise system.

How to Grow Your EI for Leadership Success — Emotional intelligence (EI) is important for communication and leadership. A person who has EI is able to evaluate, understand, and control emotions.

7 Thought Leadership Tactics for Strong Performance — For a company to achieve strong performance, its culture and employees must be aligned with business strategy to provide value. But more and more, it seems employees can’t even articulate business strategy. Therefore, management must identify and communicate effective programs that are aligned with employee behavior in order to blaze new paths and fuel business growth.

“My life really began when I married my husband.

-Nancy Reagan

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Author Terry Corbell has written innumerable online business-enhancement articles, and is a business-performance consultant and profit professional. Click here to see his management services. For a complimentary chat about your business situation or to schedule him as a speaker, consultant or author, please contact Terry.

Seattle business consultant Terry Corbell provides high-performance management services and strategies.