Talk Rodeo

WIOD's Phil Hendrie hears voices in his head. They tell him what to do. They tell him what to say. And right now they're telling him to make you laugh.

Already Hendrie has devoted a chunk of his show to his re-creation of a football game. With the roar of the crowd in the background, Hendrie, in an announcer's voice he attributes to Joe Angel, screams, "There goes O.J., he's cutting through the hotel. What a move!" -- caller asks Hendrie if O.J. Simpson is guilty. "Why?" Hendrie asks rhetorically, "because he's a black man in America?"

Now it's time for today's special guest, Manuel Pasa, who, Hendrie reminds listeners, was pictured that very morning on the front of the Miami Herald posing with Fidel Castro, for whom Pasa has designed a guayabera. Earlier Hendrie asked Kalb -- who grew up in Miami and who, at age 25, is already an eight-year radio veteran -- how to pronounce "guayabera." He's new in town.

Neither host nor producer is given to wearing guayaberas, preferring instead the North American equivalent, jeans and casual shirts, and Hendrie sometimes dons a fedora to prevent sunburn. While they're not quite Mutt and Jeff, Hendrie is tall and rough-hewn, with a tattoo and the various creases of wear and tear, and Kalb sports the clean-cut young-man look.

Correctly pronouncing guayabera is important, Kalb says, because, he figures, Hendrie's listenership is probably 40 percent Hispanic. The first bomb threat of the day came early in the show, inspired, apparently, by the simple suggestion that Manuel Pasa would be on the air in a couple of hours.

The call was more a warning than a threat, and Kalb seems unconcerned. WIOD news anchor Tom Hopkins walks into the control room, and Kalb tells him what's going on. Hopkins, a savvy veteran, chuckles and says, "Oh, swell." Policy requires a phone call to the local North Bay Village police department nonetheless.

On the air, Manuel Pasa, in an effeminate voice of indeterminate ethnicity, is dealing with the issue of whether Fidel might look better in pastels than fatigues. Hendrie uses a telephone line, holding the receiver to his mouth, to help alter his voice while doing characters. When he's really rolling, Hendrie will stand and move about as if he's on stage, which essentially he is. One listener declares that Hendrie performs "standup sitting down." Except now Hendrie is not sitting A he's on his feet, flailing one arm, holding the dead phone to his mouth with the other, and having the time of his life. Or rather, Manuel Pasa is. Whatever.

Kalb answers another call, but instead of punching the caller's name into the computer at his side, which relays the information -- "Dave on a Broward line," for example -- silently to Hendrie, he says, "Are you threatening me, sir? Then tell me in English. Thank you." He hangs up, stands, glances over the control board. "Another bomb threat," he mutters before leaving the room as the newsbreak begins.

While Kalb's still away, Hendrie walks into the control room and picks up one of the waiting calls cold. Using an exaggerated backwoods hick voice, he answers, "So ya want ta go on the ray-dio?"

When Kalb returns, the phone lines are flashing frantically. At one point Hendrie says through the intercom, "I'm not taking that guy's call. The next one. He's the 'dip-your-balls-in-it' guy." Kalb punches one of the phone lines: "No. You can't go on today. Why? Because you're the 'dip-your-balls-in-it' guy."

The two police officers make their way upstairs and enter the control room. They ask if Kalb got the day's first threat on tape and if he traced it. Pre-air calls are not taped, and a phone block prevented Kalb from retrieving the number through Caller ID. "I can tell you he sounded like a gringo," Kalb says. One of the cops shoots back, "Ah, frustrated white boy." But they do take the matter seriously, filling out an information report, checking the area, noting that a detective may be sent out.

After they leave, Kalb says he was right -- he had met one of the cops before. "It was right after we went on the air," he recalls. "We were still on nights and we did a thing with Arlix Fuentes, the guy that escaped from prison." Hendrie's ersatz "interview" with the escapee attracted to the station officers from six different police agencies, each of whom learned firsthand just how good Hendrie's shtick can be.

Manuel Pasa, meanwhile, is demanding that Hendrie's listeners help him determine Fidel's best color. A caller keeps mispronouncing the designer's name, calling him "paja," Spanish-language slang for "jerk off." Kalb begins waving both arms, and Hendrie quickly dumps the call, apologizing to 40 percent of his audience for the inadvertent offense. Hendrie, by the way, recently began studying Spanish.

Evening sports-talk host Jeff DeForrest walks into the control room. "This guy Phil Hendrie is a gas," he offers. "Of course, I've known him a while. I knew him when he had hair."

On the other side of the glass, on the air, a caller named Joe is asking Hendrie how long the talk host has lived in Miami.

Hendrie: "About three minutes."
Three minutes, three months -- time isn't real. Management at WCIX-TV (Channel 6) thought something was real enough when Hendrie "interviewed" the station's news director on his show. The TV station reacted by running disclaimers, and for several days WIOD also aired the "fact" that WCIX's actual news director wasn't actually on the actual Phil Hendrie program.

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