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Young Turk
18-12-04, 17:42
Cenk Uygur, W'92, Couldn't Stand Finance, Couldn't Get Enough of Controversy

Cenk Uygur likes to joke that he earned "a nice business degree" from Wharton and "a nice law degree" from Columbia University, then took those diplomas and crumpled them up.

It's not quite true. Much to his surprise—he never actually wanted to be a businessman or a lawyer—his Wharton entrepreneurial management and political science studies play a big part in his job as a radio talk show host. But he uses them in a most unusual way.

Uygur co-hosts "The Young Turks" on Sirius Satellite Radio, a show that covers current events from politics to pop culture under the motto, "We don't make the news, we make the news sexy." Think of a cross between Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" and a left-leaning Rush Limbaugh. (If the Comedy Central reference escapes you, you're probably too grown up to be part of Uygur's target audience. The network's show featuring Jon Stewart is something like the irreverent take on the news seen on "Saturday Night Live" news anchor skits.)

Uygur's family left their native Turkey when he was 8 years old and settled in northern New Jersey. A "D" in high school calculus almost kept him out of Wharton. A Penn recruiter went so far as to tell him he should look elsewhere. But Uygur's heart was set, not so much because he had formulated his own dream of Wharton, but because his father wanted him to attend.

Uygur formulated a circuitous plan: concentrate on getting into Penn, then transfer into Wharton. It worked.

Once he was in, however, Uygur's drive fell short of that most hyper-motivated Wharton students exude. He wrote columns for The Daily Pennsylvanian and harbored a vague idea that he might someday jump from business into politics. Then came the job interviews.

"When we had to start interviewing, I was like ‘Wow, so I'm supposed to take one of these jobs. But I'm not sure I want one of these jobs,'" he recalls. He made it through multiple interviews with a New Jersey bank, only to lose out when a vice president asked if he loved finance. He recalls his answer as something like "ah, well, um, sure, yea."

"I don't think I did particularly well," he now says. "I think they could see it all over me that I didn't really want those jobs."

At that point, Uygur's dad stepped in again, this time suggesting law school. Again, Uygur went along. It was during his third year, deeply in debt, that panic set in. He didn't want to be a lawyer either, but accepted a job with Drinker, Biddle & Reath in Washington, DC, to pay the bills, then left work early the first day to spin by the public access television station. By Halloween 1995, he was on air discussing politics and philosophy with a panel of his best friends.

"I didn't care if no one watched. I thought it was great to have my own TV show," he says.

He soon began hosting a weekend talk show on WRC. He made appearances on CNN's "Burden of Proof," and America's Voice "Youngbloods," a political talk show aimed at the younger set. Then it was on to WAMI-TV in Miami, Barry Diller's flagship station for USA Broadcasting. There, among other jobs, Uygur worked as the supervising producer, head writer and commentator for a show called "The Times."

In each case Uygur brought a spicy, hip, well-informed voice to the often staid world of broadcast news. It seemed almost natural that when Univision bought USA, Los Angeles beckoned. What better place to inject entertainment into current events than from the world capital of entertainment?

A friend suggested Uygur pitch something to Sirius Satellite Radio, which was still in its fledgling days. Sure enough, the company agreed to put Uygur on air with Ben Mankiewicz, an anchor he had worked with on "The Times."

Today the duo is on air on two Sirius stations, once during mid-day, the other during afternoon drive. They've also signed up affiliates in Wichita, Pittsburgh and Portland.

Still struggling to pay the bills, Uygur is hoping to again someday earn as much as he did his first year out of law school. "The Young Turks" has already moved from taping in his living room to a series of ever larger, better-equipped studios. With recent guests including former New York Governor Mario Cuomo and NBC's Stone Phillips, it looks as though the show's mix of the irreverence and seriousness might be just the ticket. At 33 years old, Uygur says he has no intention of staying poor, and no plans to return to law.

Unregistered
09-06-09, 23:06
I just wanted to know if you know the Uygurs that lived in Diyarbakir, Turkey. Dr. Uygur, Meziet Uygur, Bulent Uygur, Levent Uygur, Berrin Uygur and Zerrin Uygur were their names. Zerrin joined the US Air Force after graduating from college in Minnisota (white bear lake). Have been trying to connect with them for the past twenty years. Last time I saw Zerrin she was married to an American Air Force officer in San Antonio, Texas. If you have my email address is: beru5000@comcast.net.