PROVO — Utah County is Hannitized.

The phenomenon that is Sean Hannity has taken the predominantly conservative county by storm.

Hannity's nationally syndicated radio show, heard locally on KSL Newsradio 1160, is the top-rated program in Utah County. And with more than 14 million nationwide listeners, the hard-hitting conservative is becoming a household name.

To say Hannity is popular in Utah County is an extreme understatement. His radio talk show dominates the airwaves.

According the recent ratings figures, Hannity's show pulls in a 27.3 share among 35- to 64-year-olds in Utah County. By comparison, a show on an FM station that competes with Hannity's pulls in an 8.2 share.

Carl Bacon, executive director of America's Freedom Festival at Provo, said he handpicked Hannity to host this year's Stadium of Fire because of his patriotic views and his overwhelming popularity in the area.

"He just connects with people," said Rod Arquette, vice president of news and programming at KSL Newsradio. "I think it's a very good program, and it is important to the success of KSL Radio. He's extremely popular here."

Hannity said he believes one of the reasons he is so popular in Utah County is because he shares the same politically conservative values as his listeners.

Nearly 90 percent of residents in Utah County are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The majority of Utahns, one of the most Republican states in the country, are also church members.

"When I think of Salt Lake City, I think of a city that places God, faith, family and country as their top priorities," Hannity said in an interview with the Deseret Morning News. "Well — that's me. So there is a common bond there."

As the youngest of four children in an Irish Catholic family, those conservative values came naturally to Hannity.

"I was raised an Irish Catholic kid in middle-class Long Island, N.Y., and values, honor, truth and dignity, all those things were ingrained in us from the time we were kids," Hannity said. "It's still a very important part of who I am."

The kid from Long Island learned the value of hard work early on. He started his first newspaper route at age 8.

As a tenacious youth, Hannity spent many a late night listening to talk radio greats Barry Farber and Bob Grant instead of rocking out to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

"I always, for whatever reason, I don't know why, I just was drawn to the radio," Hannity said. "I'd stay up all night listening to great radio pioneers."

The late nights never stopped. As Hannity worked his way through school, he kept listening. As the years passed, he started to think talk radio had gone soft.

"As I was pursuing my career and going to school and doing some other things, I never noticed that same level of controversial, very opinionated talk radio," Hannity said.

So Hannity took matters into his own hands. During the Iran-Contra hearings, a U.S. Senate probe into the Reagan administration, a fascinated Hannity took off work to watch the daylong hearings.

"I'd call the talk shows after the hearings were finished for the day," Hannity said. "I found out I was getting more reaction than the different hosts."

And with that, a career was born.

Hannity worked his way from a small college radio station in Santa Barbara to WABC in New York, a station where his talk radio idols worked from every night. The cushy job at WABC is a "dream come true" for Hannity.

"When I get up in the morning, every day, my routine is I thank God for the very many gifts in my life. (WABC) is one of them," Hannity said. "I've been very fortunate to find a job that I love to do. I don't feel like I'm working every day."

Along with his popular radio show, Hannity is the co-host of television's "Hannity & Colmes" on the Fox News Channel. He is also the author of the New York Times best seller, "Let Freedom Ring: Winning the War of Liberty Over Liberalism."

James Grisham, producer of the "Sean Hannity Show," said he is always on the go when working with Hannity.

"He's a high-energy person, and you have to keep up," Grisham said. "A lot of people are hard-pressed to do one profession and do it well. He's engaged in two. Plus, during his book tour it was like he was doing three."

Listeners first heard Hannity on the national airwaves Sept. 10, 2001. The terrorist attacks that took place the next day forever changed the self-proclaimed patriot's life.

Like thousands of other Americans, Hannity lost close friends in the attacks at both the Pentagon and World Trade Center.

"The anger that I felt on Sept. 11 I still feel today," Hannity said. "I've never been more committed to doing my job better. I've never cared more about decisions that we're making as a country and the direction we ought to be going in."

Hannity said the Sept. 11 terror attacks threatened every American's peace of mind.

"You don't appreciate freedom and liberty until it is threatened," Hannity said. "The world does not wake up and have the blessing of liberty that we have."

This year's Stadium of Fire will be broadcast live via the American Forces Network to members of the military in Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan, Asia, Europe and aboard U.S. Navy ships.

Hannity plans on showing the troops how much he appreciates their sacrifice in the name of liberty.

"We're very blessed. We're carefree because others have sacrificed for us. Some of those guys are going to be watching this that day, and we're just proud of them," he said. "We're appreciative of them, and we're very thankful that they are there and they are willing to take on a very tough job for us."


E-MAIL: ldethman@desnews.com