PASSION PHONES (February 9, 1995)

Miami Herald, The (FL) – February 9, 1995
Author/Byline: ELINOR J. BRECHER Herald Staff Writer
Edition: FINAL Section: LIVING Page: 1G

A Water Pik could save your life!

That’s probably not the advice most listeners expected during a recent session of WIOD’s talk show Passion Phones, with Erin Somers. The subject was, after all, masturbation, not appliances; the shower massage was her recommended alternative for women concerned about AIDS.

Given that the American Family Association thinks the Federal Communications Commission ought to yank the show off 610-AM faster than you can say “multiple orgasm,” one might have anticipated four hours of the hottest, nastiest talk on radio
from the six-foot passion princess with the 1-900 voice and the rapier fake nails.

Not exactly. Somers dumps any caller who seems headed for profanity, and lards her discussion of sexual practices with armchair psychology.

“Bob, you’re on Passion Phones.”

Bob: “I’d like to say that masturbation is not bad. It’s a release of stress.”

Erin: “Yup.”

Bob: “Exciting.”

Erin: “Yup.”

Bob: “It’s a necessity.”

Erin: “Yup.”

Bob: “Although it’s a private thing, couples could do it.”

Erin: “Usually, I think it’s a thing you do with yourself or with your mate. As far as the call we got a few minutes ago about the group masturbation, that’s a personal preference and I don’t think that would be a majority of listeners to Passion Phones.”

In January, Erin Somers — nee Murphy — moved her call-in sex-talk show from Orlando’s WTKS-FM to Miami’s WIOD-AM on a two-year contract. She airs 8 p.m. to midnight Monday through Friday.

Somers divides the show’s content into “60 percent entertainment, 40 percent enlightenment.” Its goal: a forum for free discussion of matters sexual.

Its side effect: controversy. To say that WTKS had problems with groups who thought the show indecent is “an understatement,” says assistant program director Rich Boerner. “It’s like a network, and they contact advertisers. We lost a couple of sponsors.”

In Miami, WIOD program director Steve Nicholl says there’s been an “initial rush of interest” from potential sponsors.

The American Family Association’s sensibilities notwithstanding, on many nights the show’s opening disclaimer about “sexually explicit material” seems nearly bait-and-switch. Consider her sign-off from the masturbation show: “Until then, enjoy your masturbation, be safe, use a condom, and happy honey bears.”

Honey bears.

Somers says she has “worked hard to keep it a class adult show. I don’t want it to be a tabloid sex show or anything like boys’ locker-room talk.”

Her favorite expletives: Holy cow! Wow! Gosh! Darn!

Monday night’s show was on “sex with someone of another race or religion. Have you done it? Would you do it?” A recitation of predictable cross-cultural dating experiences ensued.

The next morning, Neil Rogers, WIOD’s midday host and king of South Florida talk, likened the show to Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour. It was one of his gentler critiques (he relentlessly mocks her forced on-air laugh, which defies description but, well, sounds something like a trained seal.)

Nicholl says he “couldn’t be happier” that Rogers ridicules Passion Phones to his huge audience. “Every day he rags on her, the more people hear her.”

Somers frequently reminds the audience that she’s not a therapist. (Until a caller defined it for her last week, she’d never heard the word pudenda. “Is that a clinical term?” she asked. For folks like Somers, that’s the vulva.) Among her primary information resources: Playboy and Cosmo.

But she’s planning to have Coral Springs sex therapist Constance Avery-Clark on the show once a month, as well as a visit from “Tisha, the Love Psychic.” Victoria Paris, retired porn star, was on recently.

Erin says, “I’m really comfortable about sex and open about it.”

Perhaps, but when it comes to the rest of her life, there’s a lot she doesn’t want to talk about.

She didn’t want to disclose her age because “you know what it’s like for women in broadcasting.” (She’s probably 30.)

She didn’t want to identify her husband of three years: Tim Travis, an unemployed rock jock.

She didn’t want to disclose what county they live in
because she fears stalkers.

She didn’t want her picture taken because — as she told a Herald photographer — she’s had five bad photographs taken lately, “and they were all taken by newspaper photographers.”

She won’t say if she and Travis had sex on the first date (although she does admit to a working knowledge of fur-lined handcuffs and to having been caught by passing surfers “a few years back with an old boyfriend having sex at the Palm Beach Country Club at 3 in the afternoon”).

She decided against participating in a Playboy home video featuring women in radio, due out in August.

“I turned it down because I felt Playboy probably would really want the women to undress, and I knew it would affect my credibility as a broadcaster if I took my clothes off,” she said.

“Taking people’s clothes off is what we do here,” said Playboy’s communications director, Bill Farley. He confirms that Somers “got in touch with us when we sent out an appeal for the pictorial, and we talked.”

There was some discussion of lingerie and bathing suits, but Somers says, “I was questionable about lingerie.”

After all, it’s been awhile since WFLX-TV in Palm Beach named Erin Murphy “Bedtime Movie Girl of 1984,” and lingerie came with the territory. The Bedtime Movie Girl introduced the night’s double feature from a brass bed, “in bedtime attire,” according to station general manager Murray Green. The station refused to release a color slide of Erin in a royal-blue teddy and garter, sitting on her knees amid rumpled sheets.

Somers says she grew up in Detroit, the middle daughter of an Irish cop’s 10 kids. Her parents divorced, and she moved with her mother and stepfather to Palm Beach County. She attended Lake Worth High for three years, graduating from high school back in Michigan in 1982. Patty Mandigo, one of her English teachers, recalls her as “a goody two-shoes.”

She says that between high school and Passion Phones, she attended broadcast school in Fort Lauderdale; worked as an entertainer at Disney/MGM Studios; as fill-in talent at WJNO/ WRMF in West Palm Beach; and as a Ford model, under the names Erin Murphy and Erin Lynn (she wouldn’t release modeling pictures because her hair was short).

She took over the “passion lines” at WTKS in November 1993. Boerner says he hired her “because of her presence on the air. The show is about sex and she knew about sex and she was not inhibited on the air.”

Boerner describes her as “equally uninhibited off the air — a lot of talk (radio) people don’t like attention, but she’s great working a crowd and people love her, even if they have reservations about content.”

Nicholl, at WIOD, is “thrilled” about the advance publicity
Somers brought, reflected in her full board of calls nightly.

“I knew the show would be a hit because I’d been monitoring it for a month,” he says. “I’ve talked to a lot of people — not radio people — and to a person, everybody said it’s a natural for South Florida . . .

“Guys, the initial week, told me they realized some things they were not doing in their own sex lives, so it gave them some pause. They admitted there were things they didn’t know.”

Caption: color photo: Erin Somers (a); photo: Erin Somers (a)
Index terms: BIOGRAPHY SOMERS Record: 9501090903
Copyright: Copyright (c) 1995 The Miami Herald