Transmission: Impossible

How to land a radio talk show without even trying

The airwaves beckon. Yet we are captives on the Venetian Causeway. Locked in traffic and reduced to soothing our frayed nerves straight from a bottle. Our larger half, Jim, is not one to obey gridlock protocol. His faded red Mazda lurches left, then right. Soon we are slaloming through the jam like a wall-eyed wasp. As we approach the tollbooth a brief, profane debate ensues over whether to pay or gun through the emblem-only gate. Law and order prevails, barely. We cough up two quarters, offer the toll-tender a swig of our hooch, and splutter on toward our destination, the proud South Beach studios of WMBM-AM (1490).

Before going any further, it is important to note that our bosses did not bother to bid us farewell. They do not seem to care that we are destined to abandon their mullet-wrapper weekly for a higher calling. That we stand on the very brink of talk-show megastardom, poised to join the ranks of the uni-named: Phil. Oprah. Jim. Steve. Or perhaps Steve Jesse Raphael.

No, our bosses obviously feel this little project will come to nothing. A lark.

Then again, they may have a point.
As of the tollbooth we are, admittedly, ten minutes late for our on-air debut.

CAN WE STILL BACK OUT?
There is no dispute, at least, about the genesis of this talk-show venture. It begins as a joke. Because of our penchant for creating scenes in public, for interrogating waitresses and heckling visitors to the newsroom, it is recommended we stick our schtick on the airwaves. (Actually, we receive a number of suggestions as to where we can stick our shtick. The airwaves merely prove the most polite and physically hospitable.)

This is about two months ago, a time when tiny, 1000-watt WMBM is frantically promoting itself as a new talk outlet, "First Talk for the Nineties." We know WMBM's general manager, Eddie Margolis. And we know Margolis to be a man of exceptional qualities: bold, innovative, easily conned. So we call him, and frame a proposal around the possibility of writing a story about our experience as talk-show hosts. Like a famished carp seduced by a dangling hunk of Vienna sausage, he bites. A meeting with station general manager Ira Everett is proposed.

As we hang up, a tremor of terror rattles our otherwise unshakable egos. Wasn't Margolis supposed to laugh the idea into oblivion? But we quickly adjust to the notion of our impending fame. Is it not an American birthright to host your own talk show, like using hair mousse and failing to vote? Do we not possess a veritable gold mine of radio experience?

Was Steve not a substitute DJ at his itty-bitty college station in Connecticut? Was Jim not a phenom during his one pirate radio stint, when he led a pack of stumbling-drunk journalists into his college's station, locked the late-night engineer in a closet, and serenaded his classmates with TV theme songs until dawn? Is not Jim still remembered for his mournful, beer-burpin' rendition of "Rawhide"?

Our timing, of course, is impeccable. For if nothing else, the late Twentieth Century has revealed itself as the era of the talk show, in which broadcast chatter is the moment's medium, an eternal campfire to warm the hearts and inflame the brains of global villagers. Nerdy Larry King, in case you hadn't noticed, plays presidential Kingmaker these days. Rush Limbaugh and John McLaughlin rank as the nation's leading conservatives. Howard Stern and David Letterman are Rolling Stone cover boys. Oprah and Arsenio are...well, Oprah and Arsenio.

With such visions doing a cha-cha through our fat little heads, we march into WMBM and stride down the long dark corridor that leads to Ira Everett's office. Upon entering, we are a bit unnerved. Everett's domain resembles the closet of an agoraphobic pack rat: stacks of yellowing newspapers, tattered promotional posters, record albums, a duffel bag curled houndlike on the floor. As we sit, white specks drift from the water-stained ceiling (lint? asbestos?). Everett, a linebacker-size man with a sonic-boom laugh, sits behind an antique desk that covers approximately four-fifths of the office.

In a made-for-radio baritone, the 35-year-old general manager describes WMBM's niche: issue-oriented talk, an alternative to the giants: WINZ's ten-second news bites and the greasy kids' stuff on WIOD. We agree, of course, and commence spewing forth a variety of possible topics, deftly switching subjects just before it becomes clear we have no idea what we're talking about. This is possible through an intricate form of coded communication that, to lesser minds, sounds a little like constant interrupting.

But Everett knows talent when he sees it. "You two have something very rare in this business," he decides. "Something you can't buy: chemistry."

We had always thought any chemistry we shared was more of a basic disdain-for-laundry/physical-odor-type thing. But Ira A we call him Ira now A assures us that this mystical quality is not something to be trifled with. He repeats the word at least a hundred times in the next half hour.

"It's like with Siskel and Ebert," he explains. "The two of them have that something together. That, that...chemistry." Jim, our plumper half, takes momentary umbrage at the comparison, given the obvious weight implications, but all is forgiven as Ira begins batting around the inside skinny regarding our soon-to-be competitors, Rick and Suds, the afternoon mock jocks on WIOD. "Suds is the real brains of that operation," he assures us, cryptically.

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