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"Radio has pretty much disappeared as an art form and it's getting worse day by day," says Greg Baker, the former music editor for this paper and, along with Steve Alvin, host of The Beast & Baker Show, quite possibly the best thing you'll find on the AM side of the Miami radio dial. Neither Baker nor Beast (Alvin's self-bestowed nickname), would claim their show is art, nor would they boast of any artistic aspirations, nor are they even particularly artful. Nevertheless, the two hours they spend on the airwaves of WAXY-AM (790) every Saturday beginning at midnight are a lot more fun than what you generally hear on AM or FM, where smarmy DJs and garden-variety rock and roll remain at the top of the programming menu. Sure, their jokes don't always work. Sure, the stop-start dynamics of their banter can be somewhat exhausting (especially in the wee small hours of the morning). And sure, they sometimes test the limits of surf-guitar tolerance (all that reverb starts to grate after an hour or so). Really, though, none of that matters. Alvin and Baker are doing their part to make radio fun again, and mostly they've done a hell of a job.
"This is sort of what we always looked for on the radio," Baker, age 37, says of the show, which has been on the air for nearly two years and has attracted considerable national interest (including a thumbs-up piece in Billboard, the music industry's bible). "We aren't numbers driven or ratings driven. We don't want people to call in, and we're not trying to force it on anybody. We just want them to trip out on it, to just totally absorb it. If you only want to hear the music and listen to the comedy, that's fine. But you have to really think about the show if you really want to understand it, if you really want to hear it."
The Beast & Baker Show is the brainchild of Alvin, also age 37, who like Baker is a native Miamian. Alvin DJ'ed and served as station manager at WDNA-AM (88.9) and founded the late pirate station Radio X, but after losing all he had in Hurricane Andrew, he decided to travel around the country, working at stations along the West Coast. The idea to do a show with Baker -- who had written about Alvin on occasion in New Times -- came to him after he quit a low-paying radio gig in Santa Cruz, California. "I went to the Big Basin National Park and sat under a redwood and it dawned on me that Baker and I could link up and do a radio show and help the local music scene," recalls Alvin, a fast talker with an in-your-face style that lives up to his nickname as well as a true gift for marketing and self-promotion. "I wanted The Beast & Baker Show to be different than any other show in Miami or in the U.S."
How? By offering what Alvin calls "a sensory overload, a hot blast of air in your face."
"We try to show people that there's something different out there," he explains. "That this is the way radio is supposed to be, that those other radio stations are homogenized and pasteurized and a part of a cookie-cutter culture. We're exactly the opposite. We're giving people a look at another kind of culture -- the stuff you don't get on the cookie-cutter stations." Stuff like Squid McKay, for example, a roving reporter who provides the show's best gags. Every week he's sent to a different locale across the globe to offer a twisted and alternative examination of recent news events. McKay -- actually Alexis Muellner, a reporter at the Miami Daily Business Review -- has recently broadcast from Kathie Lee Gifford's sweatshop in Honduras, Bill Gates' Microsoft headquarters in Seattle, and war-torn Bosnia. Alvin and Baker have also held on-air interviews with the dog-munching chupacabra.
Musically, the format of the show is loose enough to encompass a wide variety of local, national, and international sounds, yet tight enough to maintain some sense of focus. Both Alvin and Baker are aficionados of surf music, particularly the wave of current groups such as Laika and the Cosmonauts, the Halibuts, and Man...or Astro-Man?, as well as surf-guitar innovator Dick Dale (whose name has provided the pair with a running joke that flirts with FCC obscenity restrictions). Also featured are interviews and live performances by close to 300 acts, from locals such as Arlan and the Holy Terrors to national artists including Teisco Del Ray and Los Straitjackets. "Nobody comes to South Florida except the big-name arena acts, so we bring the musicians here through satellite hookups," Alvin explains. "What else do we do, sit around and complain about no one coming here?"
To further underline their interest in the Miami music scene, Baker and Alvin have hosted countless local music events, including three annual festivals and a regular Thursday-night gig at Tobacco Road. Their next wingding is being held at the Road on Saturday, July 20 -- a multiartist blowout to celebrate the release of Protected by Voodoo, the new CD by Miami blues mainstays Iko-Iko. Other groups performing include Manchild, the Goods, the Puke Popsicles, Purple Mustard, Rat Bastard, and the Holy Terrors, who played live on the first Beast & Baker broadcast way back when.
Since that first show, the duo has tried to remain true to Alvin's redwood vision, even though Baker admits he never really knew what that vision was. "I don't have a clue. I guess basically the idea was to be provocative and play songs that the other stations weren't playing, and go from genre to genre to genre, have guests on the show and say weird stuff and mess with people. There's nothing we can't do because we have the only radio format you can't break."
-- By John Floyd