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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.
"The chaos is normal," Kalb says, cueing up a reel-to-reel and racking a few carts while several staffers carve into a seven-layer cake on the counter behind him. He then rolls his chair over to the console, where he punches in the names of the callers on hold. "The people taking pictures of each other is not."
Hendrie, meanwhile, continues to accommodate his well-wishers after the show begins. From the outset, people take advantage of the news breaks and taped snippets to drop in and reminisce, proffer bottles of Moët, draw graffiti on the life-size cutout of Luis Miguel, and play with a rubber duckie that has been lynched with quarter-inch tape and has "Cox Enterprises, Lame Duck" written on it.
With all the extracurricular activity, Hendrie remains oddly focused. Perhaps because he let his departure intrude too much on the show all week, he seems determined that his swan song actually be funny. The day's dominant plot line involves WIOD GM Green consummating the sale of the station to Lowell "Bud" Paxson. Green explains that Paxson is going to write out a check for $13 million, and Green and the WIOD attorneys are going to take it to Publix to see if it's good. The transfer of funds does not go smoothly, much to the chagrin of "Bud Paxson" (whom Hendrie makes sound like Gomer Pyle with Down's syndrome).
Though Hendrie maintains that he wasn't forced out by the new ownership and Cox simply offered him a better gig at KFI in his native Los Angeles, it's difficult to imagine him toeing the company line for an aggressively Christian employer like Paxson. While a taped segment is rolling, he is asked about the yin-yang earring in his left earlobe. Although he is wearing a Taoist symbol, he explains, he's actually a Buddhist. Given that Hendrie says this from the chair where he prevaricates for a living, his assertion of faith in the Lotus Sutra is greeted with some skepticism.
"My girlfriend was a practicing Buddhist when I met her, and I went to meetings with her," he says. "It's not a religion that is god-oriented, it's a religion that is life-oriented and value-oriented, and I like that about it." He means it, Hendrie insists. "What I do on the air is shtick; this is real. My life has to be real."
This grounding seems to be helping him handle his last day with aplomb: The parade of personages, actual and invented, continues throughout the show. Brad "The Booger" Belmonte, the ultimate Buffalo Bills fan, takes a turn at the mike. Norman Kent, Hendrie's (real) attorney, arrives not only to say goodbye but to drop off some important paperwork pertaining to the Bryan Cox lawsuit. (The former Dolphin linebacker is suing Hendrie for defamation over sketches in which Hendrie pretended to be Cox and said, among other things, that he was a homosexual. The case is set for mediation October 15.)
Shortly thereafter, Rick Seiderman of rival WFTL-AM (1400) walks in and takes a seat in the studio. The real Rick Seiderman, not Hendrie doing his well-known exaggerated version of Seiderman's laconic delivery and l pronunciation problem. Hendrie and Seiderman take turns -- sometimes within the same sentence -- being Rick Seiderman debating Norman Kent. The discourse soon degenerates into Hendrie-Seiderman repeatedly calling Kent a "wibwuw" (liberal).
After answering a very small number of goodbye calls and playing some more recorded favorites, Hendrie returns to the Bud Paxson-bounced-his-check story line: While Paxson is across the street with his ATM card trying to withdraw cash, Larry King, there to witness the proceedings, goes berserk and garrotes Bob Green with a telephone cord. Green's dying gasps come as the final show enters its final hour.
Hendrie does not go quietly, even when he's not supposed to be on the air. During the 5:42 traffic report, he spontaneously resurrects Margaret from her watery grave. After yelling incoherently over the helicopter noise at reporter Steven J. Gray, she finally snaps, "I hope you crash!"
"You bitch!" Gray shouts. Then, in calmer voice, he addresses the bitch's creator: "Goodbye, Phil.