By Michael E. Miller
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Phil Hendrie has had it with the goodbyes. Throughout his two and a half years as a comedic force at WIOD-AM (610), callers to his show, whether true suckers or fans playing along with his lunacy, have fueled some of his most hilarious bits. But ever since news of Hendrie's impending departure for KFI-AM in Los Angeles got out this summer, the usual flood of calls has been rife with maudlin jetsam.
"If I'd had my way, man, I never would have said that I was leaving," Hendrie says, then blows a lungful of Marlboro out the half-open window of his rented Pontiac Grand Prix. "I think the shows the last four months have been pretty mediocre because of this whole 'Goodbye, Phil' thing."
It's a little before 1:00 p.m. on Friday, September 27, and Hendrie has severed his most vital tie to South Florida, by dropping off his cable box at the TCI office. His usual mode of transportation, a rust-ravaged '85 Chevy Blazer, is now the Salvation Army's problem. The rental just has to get him around town until Tuesday, when he'll hop an Amtrak at the Hollywood station and begin his westward trek.
Hendrie is enthusiastic about the new job in his old hometown, which he will begin in about two weeks. "The baseball games I do will be perfect for L.A., because it's a big baseball town," he says in the medium baritone that serves as jumping-off point for his arsenal of on-air impressions. "I can't wait till I start doing Vin Scully's voice -- badly, I might add."
If he's at all distraught about leaving South Florida behind, his seamed, ruddy, 44-year-old countenance betrays none of it as he makes his last-ever drive to work in Miami. Maybe he has been venting any frustrations by slaughtering his imaginary friends. Between replaying the greatest hits from his IOD stint ("Margaret's Mother's Day Gifts," "Different-Colored Black People," et cetera) and fielding the farewells, Hendrie has been killing off many of his best characters. After O.J. legal expert Harvey Wireman bought it, the reactionary patrician Margaret from Bal Harbour died after trying to jump her car across an open drawbridge on the way to Wireman's funeral. "The current toll is four dead, three wounded," Hendrie says without a hint of remorse. More carnage is expected today.
The moment Hendrie steps from his rental onto the blacktop of the IOD parking lot off the 79th Street Causeway, he enters a collective psychotic time warp: On the brink of WIOD's switching ownership from Cox Enterprises to West Palm Beach-based Paxson Communications, the facility's current occupants are all reliving the Last Day of School.
Even Coast (WLFC-FM 97.3) and Hot 105 (WHQT-FM 105) employees, who will remain Cox employees and won't accompany WIOD to its new Broward digs, aren't immune to the strangeness. Lane Reeves, overnight DJ for Coast, accosts Hendrie outside the break room and offers him a farewell handshake and a warning: "Steve Nicholl is Rollerblading around in shorts, and he's been drinking champagne since 8:30."
Hendrie's face clenches as he smiles and lets out a short laugh. One of his running gags is "Cocktails with Bob & Steve," in which Nicholl, WIOD's program director, and Bob Green, the station's general manager, get progressively drunker. As with all his other bits, the sketch is totally fabricated, but on this day the line between art and life that Hendrie so skillfully manipulates is falling from his grasp.
Working his way through knots of soon-to-be-former colleagues (including Nicholl, who, despite the champagne, is having no trouble negotiating the stairs in his Rollerblades), Hendrie eventually makes it to the sports office. In this cluttered niche, surrounded by carts, reel-to-reels, cassette players, a boom mike, and other trappings of radiodom, he settles in to sign autographs, pose for pictures, open presents and cards, and consume a Boston Carver sandwich.
Normally this would be "show prep" time, when Hendrie and his producer Andrew Kalb (at age 27 a ten-year veteran of IOD who is moving to New York City to produce another talk-jock show on WABC-AM) would discuss the plan of attack for their two-to-six o'clock slot. Kalb is in and out, but like Hendrie, he's busy collecting hugs, handshakes, and good-lucks from everyone from Hot 105 traffic staffers to Coast news reporters.
Greg Fadick, once production director for all three radio stations in the building and still doing that job for Hot 105 and Coast, has prepared a cart and a cassette with the title "Phil's Pharewell" scrawled on each. The tapes contain recordings of the Jimmy Buffett song "Lovely Cruise," over which is dubbed a selection of Hendrie's best bits from his IOD stint. Fadick, Kalb, and several others cram themselves into the closet-size sports office to hear the tune, guffawing at favorite parodies (Hendrie as WIOD sports commentator Jim Mandich saying "I like celery" is a popular one) while Hendrie reclines in his swivel chair, beaming throughout. As the lazily melancholy tune fades out, Hendrie announces, "That's gonna end the show."
Amid the giddiness Kalb and Hendrie manage to make it to their posts on time, with Kalb taking his seat in the control booth while WIOD's premier on-air personality Neil Rogers finishes up his show in the adjacent studio. Once the two o'clock news break begins, Rogers says a quick yet sincere goodbye to Hendrie and Kalb and vanishes into the chattering bustle of the halls.