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.

For years he worked as a DJ, spinning records at various stations, including a stint at South Florida's WSHE-FM in 1978 and stops in San Diego, New Orleans, and L.A. At age 36, Hendrie says, he realized it was time for a change. In 1990 he found a talk gig at KVEN in Ventura, California. "It was a tiny thousand-watter," he recalls. "There was this great PD [program director] there, and he told me to just come in as if I'm not going to get a single phone call. So I had the freedom to develop the shtick and the voices. I learned to do a monologue for the whole show A we were getting like two calls a day." Kalb, the producer, chimes in, "Like we did when you first got here."

Back at KVEN, Hendrie's producer was Gregory Glaser, who remains a friend of the talk host. "I knew he was going to IOD and I'm excited for him," Glaser says. "It's his kind of station, a crazy station, not the standard talk station at all. Phil's reason for doing what he does is to do something new. He didn't want to be part of what's already been done. He has no personal agenda."

Glaser feels the next step is for Hendrie to go coast to coast via syndication. "He's not doing anybody else's show," the producer says. "People are still trying to rip him off out here on the West Coast. I know he's going to come back to L.A. someday, and when he does, people are going to find themselves without an act, because he's still doing it better than anyone else."

Hendrie left KVEN in April 1992. He had sent a tape to then WIOD program director Gary Bruce. There were no openings at the station, but Bruce sent the recorded resume on to Cox sister station WSB in Atlanta, where Hendrie was hired by PD Jim Ashbery and where he met Bob Green, currently WIOD's general manager. One year later, in March 1993, Hendrie accepted a job at WCCO in Minneapolis offered by Ashbery, who'd moved to that station. "I was offered better bread," Hendrie says, "and I was told that the audience in Minnesota was more, quote, intelligent, unquote. Have you ever been up there and seen those people?" By the spring of this year, the shakeup at IOD had begun.

Producer Andy Kalb was both a victim and a beneficiary of that shakeup. Kalb -- who was born in Brooklyn, came to South Florida at age seven, and began his radio career while still a sixteen-year-old Miami Beach High student -- was handling the morning show, which Green cancelled.

Green decided to move the afternoon Rick and Suds show to morning drive time, and shifted Randi Rhodes from nights to the 2:00 to 6:00 slot. "Phil and I worked together at WSB and I'm a big fan," Green says. "The opportunity arose for us to fill a position, and there was no doubt that he was the most talented." Hendrie was given the night shift, and Kalb was offered the producer's job. "I heard his tapes," Kalb says, "and accepted the offer. I took a chance, but it worked out great."

A month after that, Green moved Rhodes back to nights and put the Phil Hendrie show in afternoon drive time. Rhodes later resigned.

It's too early to know if Green has pulled off a coup. The most recent ratings survey indicates an increase in the size of the station's target audience during Hendrie's afternoon run, but because he was on at night during part of the ratings period, the numbers overall are inconclusive. Green says, "You can't draw any conclusions yet. It's still too early to say. But the indications from audience response lead us to believe good things will happen." Quite a comment -- just the sort of thing that marks general managers as targets for Hendrie's character sendups.

Before WIOD announced that Steve Nicholl had been hired as its new program director, Hendrie had his new PD, Dick Featherstone, on the show explaining how he wanted to tone down Neil Rogers (get rid of the profanity and so forth) and make other changes no sane -- or real -- PD ever would consider.

Today's victim, however, is Brian Greif, outgoing Channel 7 news director. Hendrie has returned from a cig break out back, and Greif is waiting on the phone. "I've had a great run here at Channel 7," he says. "I'm going back to Iowa where I'm from. I'll be consulting, it's a great opportunity."

Hendrie sips Coke from a can as Greif continues to put a positive spin on his departure. Suddenly, without provocation, Greif's tone changes. "Yes, I did have a few problems. There is a certain anchor working here I tried to get to put on a certain color of shoes to get the right look, but instead she comes in wearing red pumps...." In the control room, Kalb smiles broadly: "He's going with the red shoes thing."

While all this is occurring, the small monitors in the control room and on-air studio are tuned to Channel 7, which is broadcasting its 5:00 p.m. news program. Brian Greif is complaining on WIOD about another anchor: "I mean, a teasing comb sticking out of his back pocket and these roach-killer boots. And his car is a little lower than most."

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