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.

After Hendrie interviewed an official from the Florida Department of Transportation, a listener called the governor's office to complain about the offensive behavior of a state employee. Then the governor's office called IOD to find out who this DOT person was. Subsequently, the station heard from the City of North Miami Beach. Administrators there wanted to obtain a tape of the show to instruct workers how not to behave. The ordeal was half historical, half hysterical.

During the hypefest surrounding the recent release of The Flintstones, Hendrie invited an expert to explain how dangerous the high jinks of Fred and Barney can be to children. A real-life expert, a woman boasting a Ph.D., argued relentlessly about how kids are smart enough to know fantasy when they see it. However, she never realized that she was arguing with a fantasy, a Hendrie-drawn cartoon character.

Recently, Hendrie delved into reality and broke a major media story. Ron Bennington, cohost of the Ron and Ron show, which is based in Tampa and airs locally on ZETA-4 (WZTA-FM 94.9), phoned WIOD and spoke live on the air with Hendrie. Bennington was upset because a new rating book had just come out, and his show was beaten badly by IOD's Rick and Suds morning program. Bennington announced that he will resign from the show in August. Doubting listeners were instructed to call ZETA-4 and the Miami Herald to confirm the fact that Ron and Ron will be history come autumn.

Caller: "Hey, Ron, take it easy. When, in the course of human events..."
Hendrie: "Men live lives of quiet desperation. Henry David Thoreau. Seize events at the flood. Shakespeare."

At those awkward moments when a guest irritates a caller with an especially outrageous insult, Hendrie will verbally discipline the guest. Phil is the listener's friend. And sometimes, when callers are particularly, um, out of the loop, the host will make his insults seem comforting. During a segment in which frequent guest Steve Wornell reported that Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula had a compass in his truck (his age makes him forget how to get to Joe Robbie Stadium), a listener phoned to point out that the Dolphins always lose the big game. "Thank you, sir," Hendrie said warmly. "That's very cogent. Insightful. Copacetic." When the next caller made similarly obvious comments, Hendrie politely retorted, "Thanks for those original thoughts, sir."

Caller: "Phil, you must smoke a lot of pot."
Hendrie: "Why?"
Caller: "To do what you do every day."

Hendrie: "No, my lad, I don't smoke pot. Okay, time for a break. I have to run out back and smoke ten cigarettes real quick."

Off the air, Hendrie says, "I like being at WIOD. As far as talent [on-air hosts] and what they do here, it's one of the best talk stations in the country. And I really like the people. I'm no longer the weirdo of the group."

Hendrie might not be a weirdo in the context of WIOD, but he is certainly a racist. An unapologetic racist.

The caller is an African-American student of the opinion that immigrants are treated better than U.S. natives. "Ship 'em all back," Hendrie agrees on the air. "They're all sitting around on barstools. These honkies. Ship 'em all to Canada where they came from." Another time, Hendrie wondered aloud why baseball used to have Negro Leagues, but no Caucasian Leagues. And then there's Floyd, a black man who often graces Hendrie's show with his poignant commentary. On one occasion, Floyd raises the hackles of a woman who considers him an idiot. Rapid-fire, Floyd queries the caller: "Ma'am? What color's your hair? You ever wear it in a ponytail? You ever wear it in pigtails? You ever put it up on your head? You got a nice-looking neck? You ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?"

An hour of one show was devoted to finding white people who worked at McDonald's. "You're a racist," screams a caller. "You're right," Hendrie admits. "I hate all white people. This is KKK radio! There are too many Haitian gardeners! Can you imagine the meetings, 'Where are we bowling this week?' I mean how these guys, they can't get a rally together, so what are their meetings like? Come on, call in KKK Radio."

These incidents can seem off-putting -- until you learn that in real life, Hendrie, of Irish heritage, is currently dating an African-American woman.

And these incidents can be hilarious -- but for how long? Sitting outside WIOD smoking ten cigarettes, Hendrie says, "I think it works even when people are in on it. It's like a puppet show. But we're also trying to build an audience, so you have new people dialing in. When the day comes that people are not suckered, we'll know it's stalled."

"We get callers," adds Kalb, "who say a certain character's voice is the same as one Phil used three months ago. Those are the best calls, because you know they've been listening for three months. The other day we reran a show with Dick Featherstone, and people were calling the real new PD. They fell for it a second time. And we're always coming up with new stuff, trying to take it to the next level."

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