During the great spring shakeup at WIOD-AM (610) -- including a shuffle of the talk-show lineup and the hiring of a new program director -- afternoon personality Phil Hendrie was, after just a few weeks on the air, suspended for vandalizing the studio. Then he took sick. The station's hopes for bolstering its ratings and reasserting itself as the market's leading talk outlet -- goals that to a large degree hung on Hendrie's talent -- began to fade. Management was counting on Hendrie to come in and, following the firmly entrenched Neil Rogers at 2:00 p.m., solidify daytime programming.
Hendrie, unfortunately, turned out to be about as reliable as South Florida's weather forecasts. Just days after hiring him, WIOD yanked Hendrie off the air, recruiting a competitor to fill in. That replacement was Rick Seiderman of WFTL-AM (1400) in Broward. Seiderman, the victim of a nasal inflection that at times makes his on-air chatter indecipherable, gave it his best shot. A sample encounter with a caller:
Seiderman: "Whup wou you like to di-cuss, thir?"
Caller: "I want to know how you got on the air. You're terrible!"
Seiderman: "Usyl mrr tosu?"
Seiderman: "Said usyl momosly fijho?"
Caller: "You're Sick Riderman, not Rick Seiderman!"
Seiderman: "You like gray po lu mokky?"
Caller: "Sorry, I can't understand you."
Seiderman: "Ell, I'm glad you call and told us that you enjoy other women. That's a fine thing."
Caller: "I didn't say that!"
And neither did Rick Seiderman. Because if you want to know the truth -- and apparently few people do -- Seiderman was never on the air at WIOD. Hendrie wasn't suspended, wasn't ill. He was simply pulling the wool over his listeners' ears. What's remarkable is that he gets away with it every weekday, from 2:00 to 6:00 p.m. Fibs. Lies. Just plain makes stuff up. And day after day, show after show, South Floridians fall for it, allowing themselves to drop headlong into the psychopit where nothing, and therefore everything, is real.
Hendrie both relies on and wreaks havoc upon the inherent credibility of radio broadcasts, which he tosses out the window. That leaves the irony -- those who know it's a put-on call in to testify that they've nearly wrecked their cars while laughing hysterically. The big question is how long Hendrie, an excellent mimic and master of a thousand voices, can get away with pretending to be Donald Wildmon (the raging censor and right-wing religious kook), Michael Dorn (the actor who played a Klingon on Star Trek: The Next Generation), or George Gephart, a powerful horseracing expert who "guested" during this spring's annual Triple Crown series. Gephart called from his vice president's office at Belmont Park, on Long Island, to reveal a dark secret of high-stakes horseracing -- namely that many of the horses that finish out of the money will be quickly "rendered" for use as cat food, glue, and fertilizer. And, damn it, if one of his horses loses, he puts the bullet between the animal's eyes himself. Yeah, the animal-rights folks lit up the phones on that one.
On a recent afternoon, driving around South Beach ("These people are just too goddamn cool for me," Hendrie says sarcastically while off the air) in the WIOD van for a remote segment, the talk-show host giggles while recollecting the best call of the day: a woman horse owner who grew irate -- beyond irate -- while talking to the fictive Mr. Gephart, who rated the Belmont entries in two categories: "Good horse, great future" or "dog bowl." After ranting that Thoroughbreds are far too valuable to be turned into Elmer's, the woman vowed revenge. As soon as she hung up, she growled, she would be calling Belmont to check Mr. Gephart's credentials. "If it's not true," she wailed, "then you're maligning our industry, conducting a fraud on the air!" To which Hendrie, pretending to be Gephart, responded, "And do you know what they do with the jockeys?"
In the van, Hendrie remarks that "you know you're doing something right when they threaten to sue."
Or when they threaten to blow up the place. Inside WIOD's on-air studio, where Hendrie sits before his best friend, the microphone, stands a life-size cutout of Barney Fife. In the flashing-light technodome that is the control room, Hendrie's producer, Andrew Kalb, answers the constantly ringing phone lines -- "Bob on a car phone? Turn your radio down and speak clearly. Hold on, buddy" -- while punching buttons and sliding levers. When a listener asks to speak to Hendrie off the air, Kalb says, "No, you can talk to him on the air. C'mon. Just be yourself. It's exactly like talking to your neighbor over the fence."
Mounted in a ceiling corner of the control room, next to a T&A poster, is a small TV monitor, currently tuned to the station's security channel. Kalb points up at the screen and tells Hendrie, "The cops are here. I think I know these two guys."
On the other side of the glass that separates the studio from the control room, facing Kalb, Hendrie is hollering through a hookup that allows him and Kalb to communicate without their voices going on the air. "I need a police siren [sound effect]." You simply can't do an O.J. bit without sirens.
Already Hendrie has devoted a chunk of his show to his re-creation of a football game. With the roar of the crowd in the background, Hendrie, in an announcer's voice he attributes to Joe Angel, screams, "There goes O.J., he's cutting through the hotel. What a move!" -- caller asks Hendrie if O.J. Simpson is guilty. "Why?" Hendrie asks rhetorically, "because he's a black man in America?"
Now it's time for today's special guest, Manuel Pasa, who, Hendrie reminds listeners, was pictured that very morning on the front of the Miami Herald posing with Fidel Castro, for whom Pasa has designed a guayabera. Earlier Hendrie asked Kalb -- who grew up in Miami and who, at age 25, is already an eight-year radio veteran -- how to pronounce "guayabera." He's new in town.
Neither host nor producer is given to wearing guayaberas, preferring instead the North American equivalent, jeans and casual shirts, and Hendrie sometimes dons a fedora to prevent sunburn. While they're not quite Mutt and Jeff, Hendrie is tall and rough-hewn, with a tattoo and the various creases of wear and tear, and Kalb sports the clean-cut young-man look.
Correctly pronouncing guayabera is important, Kalb says, because, he figures, Hendrie's listenership is probably 40 percent Hispanic. The first bomb threat of the day came early in the show, inspired, apparently, by the simple suggestion that Manuel Pasa would be on the air in a couple of hours.
The call was more a warning than a threat, and Kalb seems unconcerned. WIOD news anchor Tom Hopkins walks into the control room, and Kalb tells him what's going on. Hopkins, a savvy veteran, chuckles and says, "Oh, swell." Policy requires a phone call to the local North Bay Village police department nonetheless.
On the air, Manuel Pasa, in an effeminate voice of indeterminate ethnicity, is dealing with the issue of whether Fidel might look better in pastels than fatigues. Hendrie uses a telephone line, holding the receiver to his mouth, to help alter his voice while doing characters. When he's really rolling, Hendrie will stand and move about as if he's on stage, which essentially he is. One listener declares that Hendrie performs "standup sitting down." Except now Hendrie is not sitting A he's on his feet, flailing one arm, holding the dead phone to his mouth with the other, and having the time of his life. Or rather, Manuel Pasa is. Whatever.
Kalb answers another call, but instead of punching the caller's name into the computer at his side, which relays the information -- "Dave on a Broward line," for example -- silently to Hendrie, he says, "Are you threatening me, sir? Then tell me in English. Thank you." He hangs up, stands, glances over the control board. "Another bomb threat," he mutters before leaving the room as the newsbreak begins.
While Kalb's still away, Hendrie walks into the control room and picks up one of the waiting calls cold. Using an exaggerated backwoods hick voice, he answers, "So ya want ta go on the ray-dio?"
When Kalb returns, the phone lines are flashing frantically. At one point Hendrie says through the intercom, "I'm not taking that guy's call. The next one. He's the 'dip-your-balls-in-it' guy." Kalb punches one of the phone lines: "No. You can't go on today. Why? Because you're the 'dip-your-balls-in-it' guy."
The two police officers make their way upstairs and enter the control room. They ask if Kalb got the day's first threat on tape and if he traced it. Pre-air calls are not taped, and a phone block prevented Kalb from retrieving the number through Caller ID. "I can tell you he sounded like a gringo," Kalb says. One of the cops shoots back, "Ah, frustrated white boy." But they do take the matter seriously, filling out an information report, checking the area, noting that a detective may be sent out.
After they leave, Kalb says he was right -- he had met one of the cops before. "It was right after we went on the air," he recalls. "We were still on nights and we did a thing with Arlix Fuentes, the guy that escaped from prison." Hendrie's ersatz "interview" with the escapee attracted to the station officers from six different police agencies, each of whom learned firsthand just how good Hendrie's shtick can be.
Manuel Pasa, meanwhile, is demanding that Hendrie's listeners help him determine Fidel's best color. A caller keeps mispronouncing the designer's name, calling him "paja," Spanish-language slang for "jerk off." Kalb begins waving both arms, and Hendrie quickly dumps the call, apologizing to 40 percent of his audience for the inadvertent offense. Hendrie, by the way, recently began studying Spanish.
Evening sports-talk host Jeff DeForrest walks into the control room. "This guy Phil Hendrie is a gas," he offers. "Of course, I've known him a while. I knew him when he had hair."
On the other side of the glass, on the air, a caller named Joe is asking Hendrie how long the talk host has lived in Miami.
Hendrie: "About three minutes."
Three minutes, three months -- time isn't real. Management at WCIX-TV (Channel 6) thought something was real enough when Hendrie "interviewed" the station's news director on his show. The TV station reacted by running disclaimers, and for several days WIOD also aired the "fact" that WCIX's actual news director wasn't actually on the actual Phil Hendrie program.
The talk host has had even more fun in WIOD's own back yard. Because the radio station and WSVN-TV (Channel 7) were both once owned by Cox Enterprises (Cox eventually sold Channel 7), the stations share space on the North Bay Causeway, along with Hot 105 (WHQT-FM 105) and the Coast (WFLC-FM 97.3). Though technically not affiliated, Channel 7 and WIOD enjoy a neighborly closeness. Employees of both share the same parking lot, if nothing else.
As a result, Channel 7 makes a perfect target. As if the colorful TV station didn't have enough problems. A few months ago a number of local hotels announced that they would block Channel 7 from TV sets in their guest rooms so as not to terrify tourists. In short order, some poor receptionist at Channel 7 received a call from a man staying at the Clorin Inn in Homestead:
Caller: "Channel 7? How come I no get your station? Is my favorite station!"
Receptionist: "There's an 800 number you can call. They'll answer all your questions about the tower."
Caller: "Who's this tower? My favorite newscast, Channel 7, I can't get! How come I can't get?"
Receptionist (referring to Channel 6, not Channel 7): "Well, because of the hurricane. Channel 6 put up a tower, and the tower blocks other channels. They're fixing it now."
Caller: "Oh my God! Oh my God! Channel 7 with Rick Sanchez is my favorite! I want to see!"
Receptionist: "They didn't do it on purpose."
Caller: "I'm going to call Channel 6 and tell them not do like they do. Can you call them up and tell them to take it down? Pleeeease." At this point, the man breaks down, crying and screaming incoherently.
The receptionist never did realize that the call was about the hotel boycott and not Channel 6's tower troubles. But Phil Hendrie certainly wouldn't let that spoil his gag.
What Hendrie specializes in is gags, bits, skits -- not the malicious profanity of ubiquitous "shock jocks" such as Howard Stern. Much of Hendrie's material works on several levels, dipping in and out of reality, screwing up the natural order of things, confounding talk-radio's drudgery. One day Hendrie telephoned his own station. "I want to talk to the general manager! I want to talk to the program director! What do you mean they're both in a meeting? I want to know who this jerk is who's on the air right now."
The WIOD employee who answered the phone explained that it was Phil Hendrie. "Who?!" She spells Hendrie's name -- incorrectly. He notes this while waiting on hold, adding, "Goddamn it, I have a complaint to make about this station, and I can't get through!"
During WIOD's 4:30 newsbreak on the day that Channel 7 announced the departure of news director Brian Greif, Hendrie is trying out different voices while off the air. "How's that?" he asks Kalb. "Does that work for a news director voice? Hey, by the way, how does this guy pronounce his name? Is it Greef or Grife?"
No one seems to know, so he goes with Greef, learning later he made the wrong choice. Kalb feeds Hendrie more ideas for the Greif interview A noting how Kelley Mitchell once wore red pumps on the air while reporting the O.J. Simpson case and recalling a few other classic Channel 7 moments. As the concept builds right there in the five-minute break, Hendrie continues to bounce ideas off Kalb, like the kid who never got a date to the prom, self-doubting, or at least slightly unsure of himself. Sometimes, while watching this radio revolution spin round, one has to wonder if Hendrie's relentless -- he creates voices and does bits even while off the air -- and often outrageous humor is some sort of shield or self-defense mechanism. You'd think the funniest man on local radio would have more confidence, or at least a bigger ego.
Then again, Hendrie, who's 41, has been in talk radio for only five years. During his shows, he drops in pieces of his biography, but because they often contradict -- he mentions having worked construction one day, then talks about how wealthy and privileged his family was on another -- it's hard to figure how much of it is true. As it turns out, all of it is.
Sitting at a picnic table behind WIOD (the building recently went no smoking, and Hendrie enjoys his Marlboro reds) on a bright early evening, he drops the characters, the voices, the frantic hilarity that typically surround him. He grew up in Arcadia, a suburb of Los Angeles. "My old man made a lot of money, then he lost it. I really did work at McDonald's, bagged groceries, worked as a veterinarian's assistant. Early on, from age eight to about thirteen, we were wealthy. During high school I slept on a couch." His parents split up when Hendrie was fourteen.
He began creating voices when he was four. A couple of years later, after seeing a movie, he discovered he was able to knock off a James Mason impression that was pretty good, at least for a six-year-old. "That's when my mother started to worry," he says.
After high school, Hendrie and a buddy traveled to Orlando to help build Disney World, a place Hendrie recently returned to for live remote broadcasts of his show. (He ran into trouble announcing a fake soccer game; the Disney folks complained, essentially attempting to censor him.) While mixing cement in Orlando, Hendrie decided to make some attempt at fulfilling his ambition to be on radio. He sent a tape to a small station in Winter Park, where he was hired as overnight DJ. "The format was called MOR back then, a lot of Robert Goulet, Percy Faith. I'm nineteen, twenty years old, and I'm playing this shit."
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."
Caller: "I like to listen to Channel 7's news, but I don't watch because the women on there look like they should be on the street."
Greif: "You know the Shangri-Las? Go-go dancers? We should have a cage up there. I told them they have to look professional. They said I was meddling in their personal lives. All I said was that maybe an anchor should get a Buick that's more than two inches off the ground. And then I find these Milky Way bars in his desk. If Rick keeps it up -- "
Hendrie: "Hey! I thought you weren't going to mention any names."
Greif: "-- he's going to look like Dave Thomas from Wendy's. These people need to know that they're coming to work in a newsroom, not a liquor lounge."
Another caller rings in to note that Rick Sanchez sweats a lot, and that the female reporters at Channel 7 are laughed at.
Greif: "I gave him baby wipes. And this anchor with the red pumps and no bra. And do we really have to go without panties?"
Hendrie: "Oh, come on!"
Greif: "And he has these Holley headers on his Buick. It's nice, but he shouldn't drive it to work."
Caller: "Yes. I've complained to Channel 7 several times."
On the monitor, a huge logo flashes "COUNTDOWN TO COLLISION."
Greif: "And this 'Newsplex'! It looks like we're broadcasting from a big TV store. And the weatherman, this guy needs a scaffold for his hair. We got those sets from a pawn shop, by the way. I'm leaving because of that, the hair, the shiny suits. Rick with his gut hanging out."
On the monitor, Rick Sanchez, standing in the Newsplex, is wearing a shirt but no jacket. His belly hangs over his belt. Reality and fantasy collide in a burst of ether coincidence.
Another caller: "I think Rick's great --"
Greif: "Has to drop the candy bars."
Another caller: "How do you know she wasn't wearing underwear?"
Greif: "Well, she was sitting on a stool in the newsroom and she forgot to cross her legs."
The caller seems shocked but laughs anyway: "Wait. How close were you? Maybe she was wearing black underwear."
Greif: "No, no. And something else. You know that television puts 30 pounds on you, right? That makes Rick look about 350. Also, I wanted to dispense with the closed captioning. What I wanted to do, I asked Rick and Kelley to talk slowly and pronounce more so these viewers can simply lip-read, which a lot of them do. We could've saved some money on that."
Another caller asks about Rick Sanchez's weight.
Greif: "That's exactly why I took the Milky Ways from him. To save him from himself."
Both Hendrie and the next caller want to know why fat men are acceptable on TV, but fat women are not.
Greif: "Get real! Women want the women they see on TV to look good. We've learned this from consultants and focus groups."
Hendrie: "You need glasses for your focus group."
Greif: "Well, I know that you need sixteen axe handles to measure his rear end."
Hendrie: "Okay, a call from Steve."
Hendrie: "Oh, Brian?"
Steve: "No, Brian. This is Steve."
The segment -- and the day's show -- ends with a listener calling Greif "a mental case, a sick pedophile." Greif calls the listener a mental case, and the two argue vehemently into the newsbreak. During the segue, Hendrie gets in one last jab: "Brought to you by Milky Way, breakfast of champions."
General manager Bob Green walks into the control room, says hello to Kalb, and points toward Hendrie on the other side of the glass wall. "He's a real piece of work."
Kalb steps outside and sits at the picnic table with Hendrie. "The real Brian Greif just called," the producer reports. He wanted to compliment Hendrie for the spoof, Kalb explains, to say that he thought it was good fun. "Great," Hendrie says. "A consultant that likes me."
Colleagues and listeners seem to like Hendrie, and the most evident reason is that the man with the voices in his head is honest (except when he's lying), a guy with no pretensions, hangups, prejudices. Early in Hendrie's WIOD tenure, the acerbic Neil Rogers, who hates everything except hockey, praised him on the air. Another day, a listener showed up at the station seeking (successfully) Hendrie's autograph. As one former colleague in California puts it, "If Phil is talking to you, it's because he likes you. He doesn't do things to get publicity or attention for himself." WIOD listeners pick up on this. It really is like talking to your neighbor across the fence. Especially if your neighbor is the master of a thousand voices, has a razor wit, and knows a little bit about everything.
That last asset is what really makes Hendrie's show so effective. He can quote great literature and talk about driving his pickup off a cliff (he wants to get rid of it, and feels it deserves "a Viking funeral"). In a split second he goes from dissing a crank caller representing the "three-ball softball team" ("Even the dull and ignorant have their story," Hendrie yawns, quoting a hippie-era psalm called Desiderata) to a live sports broadcast (with Hendrie as all the announcers and color men, covering the Major Indoor Screwing League, an arena event in which celebrity competitors receive one point for bringing a woman to orgasm, two points for maintaining intercourse for 90 minutes, and three points for simultaneous climaxes). Anything can happen here, from scenes of simple insanity to significant historical moments.
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."
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."
Even so, some callers are so smart and crafty that they are able to expose Hendrie for the fraud he is. Almost. When an expert came on to talk about the new Scrabble rules, explaining, for example, that "honky" is actually spelled "honkee," a caller says, "I'm telling you you're wrong. I have the official Scrabble dictionary right here, and that's not how it's spelled." The guest asks the caller which edition of the dictionary she has right in front of her. She checks, and then apologizes profusely: "I'm sorry, you're right, I have the old one."
To help everyone understand the O.J. Simpson case, attorney and criminal-defense specialist Harvey Weirman has appeared on Hendrie's show several times recently. Weirman has pointed out such important factors as O.J.'s fly being open during a hearing. A man called to say that he checked with the Florida Bar, and that there is no Harvey Weirman. "Under what spelling did you look, sir?"
A few days later, the same guy calls again to challenge the veracity and authenticity of Harvey Weirman.
Caller: "I have a letter from the Bar saying he doesn't exist."
Hendrie: "Get Weirman back on the phone."
Weirman: "I will give my Bar number to Phil off the air."
Hendrie: "Sir, call back Monday."
Weirman: "Why are you doing this?"
Caller: "I want to hire you as a lawyer."
Weirman: "You have a telephone, sir? There's a big book with a bunch of white pages -- "
Hendrie: "Don't get smart with him."
Weirman: "What's the case? I do criminal defense. I'm from Davie and I'm listed in the phone book. I'll take your case [he hiccups]."
Hendrie: "Oh, great. Now he's drunk."
Another caller: "How many do you have on your staff?"
Hendrie: "My what?"
Caller: "How many comedy writers work on your show?"
Hendrie laughs at this crazy notion.
How long can Hendrie wield his big shtick in South Florida? As long as things like this happen: WIOD announced the hiring of a new announcer for Dolphins games, a Pennsylvania man named Bill Zimpfer. A few days later, Hendrie interviewed "Bill Zimpfer" live on WIOD. During the interview, the real Bill Zimpfer telephones from Philadelphia, explaining that a friend in Miami heard "him" on the radio and called to alert him. Hendrie immediately dubs him Bill Number Two and begins asking questions to determine which of the two is the real Bill Zimpfer. By the time it's over, even the real Bill Zimpfer doesn't seem too sure.
Recently, Hendrie ventured to Key West for another remote segment, this one in conjunction with the annual Hemingway Days festivities. In the week preceding the trip, which was taken on a DC-3, Hendrie played a game with a "weight wheel." Callers told him how much they weigh, he spun the wheel, and it was determined whether the plane crashed. He interviewed Ernest Hemingway, but it was difficult to understand the author. He had a gun in his mouth. Hendrie elicited from callers a list of famous people who died in plane crashes. And, a couple of days later, he remarked that the airline chartering the Key West trip "has a great sense of humor."
Once they're in Key West, broadcasting live from Sloppy Joe's and taking calls, Hendrie hears from the guy who doesn't believe Harvey Weirman is real. During a newsbreak, Hendrie phones the Florida Bar and is told that they do in fact have a Harvey Weirman, criminal defense specialist, registered in Davie. "I'm weird," Hendrie tells his listeners. "But I never lie."
A caller, however, insists that Hendrie and Weirman speak at the same time. Hendrie: "What?" The caller repeats the request. "What? I'm sorry I can't hear you, sir." Next call.
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Caller: "You get the most calls when you talk about human tragedy, like the plane crashes."
Hendrie: "Yeah, it's true. Either that or when I have some phony-baloney attorney on."
After the Key West trip, back in the WIOD studio, Hendrie receives a call from a listener who asks if he went down to Mallory Square to watch the sunset, if he liked Key West.
Hendrie: "It was so fake, just like South Beach, everyone pretending to be a local. I just want people to be themselves. That's all, just be yourself.