Doesn’t Anyone Remember the Creative and Exciting Insanity of Talk Radio?

| January 18, 2012

by LIONEL
Talk Radio Insanity Historian & Authority

 NEW YORK – As I’ve written before, talk radio was fun as a caller and even more so as a caller who got to “commit radio” himself.  I know, I realize that there’s the romanticization part of memory and recall in general that may and might certainly contaminate my recollection(s), but screw it.  It’s my memory and I’m sticking to it.

 The Prolegomenon

 I read every day of one dour story after another about my beloved radio and granted, there’s good reason for it. And it’s sad because at the rate things are devolving, I’m not sure if there will be new generations of talk radio folks in mainstream, conventional, terrestrial stick radio.  Or talk radio stations.  Or radio stations.  Period.  But I’m talking about the WKRP-esque environment that all of us who had the privilege of working in remember so fondly.

And simply put, there was an unregulated fun about the industry that went the way of the turntable.  I can’t remember any other time when I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of my “job.”  Where folks were crazy, and I mean whacked. There was no HR department.  And, granted, there were at times no civility, comportment or maturity.  But too bad, Sparky, those were the breaks.  Folks were raunchy, very un-PC, crude, brash and unapologetic.  There was instead an unbridled creativity that I loved thoroughly.  And enough can’t be said about fun.  This crazy idea of fun that has been interpreted today as unprofessional.  And, there may be something to that . . . but I digress.

When was the last time you had fun at a job?  Well, Cochise, try every day.  Imagine working at a place where creative and demented and creatively demented people thought nothing of acting like overpaid children.  Where no one ever wore a tie.  Where there was nothing corporate about the corporation.  And you were encouraged to unhitch the yoke of convention.

Now, the following is a series of recollections and the like.  There’s no method to this madness.  No organizational superstructure.  Nothing.  Free flow, word association, free association.  So, if structure’s what you want, you will be gravely disappointed.  These are but a few of the unapologetic memories of radio’s biggest fan.

Destroying a Show

 § § 401.34(a), (B). The classic crank playlist. Talk radio was about phone calls.  I don’t know where and when that ended, but when it did much of talk radio died.  And nothing spelled fun like calling into a show and literally destroying it.  Taking it off the hinges.  And the zeitgeist appreciated such and expected it.  There was no tight-arsed, button-down corporate scaredy-cat culture.  Again, it was fun.

Look, I was good.  I mean real good.  At calling.  I loved it.  It’s how I got into radio in the first place and I’d do it even after I was gainfully employed as a “professional host.”  I’m most proud of my work.  I was a talk terrorist.  The Carlos the Jackal of crank calling.

Here are a few of my favorite routines.

•  The indecipherable ethnic. Very non-PC.  Exquisitely funny.  I’d see if the very nice host would break down and admit he had no idea what I was talking about which would have involved rudeness which he was most usually incapable of.  My speech would get deeper and deeper in the morass of muddled maundering.  Heavily-accented.  Foreign, local, urban, rural and combinations thereof.  Incoherent blathering.  Some hosts were so afraid of offending, I could make up a Latka Gravas/Shmenge Brothers hybrid that even I didn’t understand, but the host would bite her lip and just patiently wait for this moment to end.

•  Speak English, dammit! Nonsensical non sequiturs with a hint of either emotional or psychiatric instability peppered with bouts of inexplicable excitement.  The host, bless his heart, would just listen and when he’d hint at wrapping up the call, I’d implore him desperately and breathlessly to please not go.  This call was important!

•  Background panic.  A great trick was making a call from my kitchen and first lining up pots and pans in preparation mise en placeand then crashing them to the floor in mid-sentence with not so much as a reference to the cacophony. Repeatedly.

•  Dual callers. I’d have a friend standing by listening.  During various stages of explicating the problems I was experiencing or observations I felt must be noted, I’d hand the phone to my confederate.  Then alternate.  Different voice, same idea.  Fluidity in thought but obviously a different person.  Or was it?  It sounds amazing on the phone.

•  Running out the delay. Childish?  You betcha.  This was a favorite staple of the crank. After so many dumps (now that’s a sentence!) the delay’s used up.  And the best way to have a host dump you but keep you on was to mention something that didn’t sound that egregious but was liability questionable.  “I’m not sure if my doctor committed malpractice.  His name is ___. Oh, sorry.  Maybe I shouldn’t mention his name.  I did file suit.”  That worked because you didn’t F-bomb him and the story sounded halfway interesting.  When the delay was used up – and you could tell because what you heard on the phone matched perfectly to that heard on the radio – it was time for an F-bomb Dresden.  And if it was new meat, the horror (aside from that which transfixed the poor schmuck) paralyzed him.  All he had to do was hang up.  But he didn’t.  The board op was usually doing what board ops did, viz. anything but listen to the show.

•  Reverse crank.  Crank the caller.  When a caller left his radio on in the background especially with delay in full force, have him turn his radio louder and demand that he continue talking close to the radio with it virtually next to his head.   The hilarity was nonstop and nonpareil.  Truly great.  As the delay and echo combined into full force, I’d break into Lou Gehrig’s fabled echoed farewell.  “Today-ay-ay-ay, I consider myself-elf-elf … .” Classic. Brutally classic.

Your clitoris needs watering.  This was brilliant. Sick brilliant. There was a plant show years ago. It was beyond popular. Old folks would call three hours early just to get on with the master gardener. And the show started on Sundays at 7 AM. Seriously, it was the radio equivalent of the Stones. The host was a rock star in the plant world, an elderly chap as nice as nice could be who prided himself on knowing every plant that ever existed. I thought it odd that there was even a plant show in the first place. I mean, what kind of calls would rivet the listener? “My philodendron’s looking a tad peaked.” Cue the siren. Promo material, baby! Flag that. Sound the klaxon, Jethro! We’ve got a bad plant here!

But laugh as you might, the show was box office and for reasons I still don’t know, I listened. Perhaps just to his avuncular style. The nicey-nice banter. The give and take. It was soothing. Until that fateful day.

One morning one of the FM fellers down the hall called into the hotline and got a hold of this sweet old man. The seasoned radio pro would have noticed that line eight was engaged; it was the hotline which basically announced CRANK! But Ol’ Pops the Plant Dude didn’t know about that stuff. He had plants to discuss. The colloquy went something like this.

Caller: I’ve got something here I’ll bet you’ve never handled and certainly not on the radio.

Nice Plant Feller: Well, try me, son.

C: It’s my wife’s clitoris.

NPF: [Silence]

As you can imagine there was a significant pause. A smattering of hems and haws, throat clearings. Not because of any embarrassment as to the pudendal provenance of the caller’s uxorial concerns. Nope, it was because Mr. Nice Plant Feller was stumped. A clitoris? Pronounced by the caller clih-TOR-us. It even sounds botanical.

So he suggested watering it regularly and Miracle-Gro. Classic.

Take one step more, and I’ll blow your motherf*cking head off. Yep that’s what a PD told me at a Xmas party. I kid. No, this is a true story.

Morning drive. A most amiable morning host was interviewing a newly-minted local hero who caught a burglar in flagrante delicto in his home, no less. The intrepid homeowner disarmed the miscreant intruder and held him until the police arrived to arrest him.

It being morning drive with the host about to go to our traffic dude in a plane for a live report, the delay was off. REPEAT: the delay was off.

The amiable host asked the reluctant hero what the home invader said when they both met. The homeowner, in a most polite drawl, warned, “Can I say that?” Now that’s a good clue that what’s about to come over the airwaves will be less than polite. The amiable host, perhaps caught up in the freneticism of the morning’s rapid pace, said sure. Go ahead.

(Please refer to section heading supra for the caller’s verbatim response.)

 The Treachery of Sales

 The wrong remote, remotely wrong.  It was my birthday, I shan’t forget the day. A Saturday. Through one of the greatest screw-ups ever, through a scheduling meltdown unparalleled in modern history, I along with a fellow host reported to a Chevrolet dealership for a remote broadcast.

We set up. The promotions gal fired up the big cold air balloon. The station van was conspicuously parked on an angle in the front of the establishment to garner full attention. We brought food, T-shirts, giveaway stuff. We made calls from the dealership beckoning people to come down and join us. Join the fun!

And all the while, I was absolutely taken aback. No, nonplused by the nonchalance these people exhibited. It was almost an ennui. Like they had no idea why we were there or who we even were. It was as if we were inconveniencing them.

To make a long story short(er) . . . we were. It was the wrong day and no one at said Chevy dealership knew who we were or why we were there. Especially why we had commandeered their service reception area and filled it with the usual radio groupies, hangers on and – I’ll say it – complete losers. For three hours we took over, caused a ruckus, a mess, interrupted their business, jammed up their service waiting room, though we did make a series of calls interrupting our regular Saturday show, entreating people to join the fun.

And we never got paid. Even after I threatened to sue said Chevy dealership, which (needless to say) didn’t go over big with our GM. Screw him.

 The Valedictory

 You can talk about radio’s transition all you want. But unless and until you figure a way to reinject the fun of yore into the business, it’ll never be the same. Because fun translated to listeners and that translated to profit and viability and relevance.

And remember my words. Moreover, when you’re in some staid and stuffy meeting, remember these words that I know will bring a smile to your face. And think of me.

Your clitoris needs watering.

Talk radio veteran, panjandrum and survivor Lionel is a daily commentator on New York’s PIX 11 5 PM and 10 PM News (pix11.com/lionel) and a podcast titan on Lionelmedia.com. He may be tracked, stalked and hunted on Twitter @LionelMedia and Lionel’s Fan Page on Facebook. He’d like to thank no one in particular for this article as he did it himself with absolutely no assistance whatsoever from anyone. This article contains gluten.

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