TALK RADIO’S BRASSY ‘GODDESS’ OF GAB
Miami Herald, The (FL) – January 31, 1993
Author/Byline: ELINOR J. BRECHER Herald Staff Writer
Randi Rhodes is braying into the WIOD studio mike, flat and nasal, oozing Queens and Canarsie.
She is 610-AM’s “goddess” of nighttime talk — “the queen” or “the mother of them all,” if you prefer. And one unlit telephone line from the county she now calls home has provoked her to abuse.
“God, you’re making me look so damn crappy! I’ll never forgive you for this as long as I live! Not in a milliontrilliontwohundredthousand-eighthundredfortysevenyears!
“Now” — her tone melts into creamy, FM intimacy — “when I need you most.”
Now, of course, being the relative infancy of her talk show. She replaced Hank Goldberg last September in the 8-to-11 p.m. weeknight slot.
So far, her shtick seems to be selling. . . to nearly 130,000 listeners a week in Dade and Broward.
This, says station mate Neil Rogers, because she’s “outrageous, outspoken, irreverent, unique, and has a great sense of humor.” She’s an inspired choice from program director “Boy” Gary Bruce, who — says the characteristically blunt
Rogers — “usually gravitates to mediocrity. I think he has stumbled onto something phenomenal here.”
A phenomenon indeed, perhaps the only woman in the country hosting a non-issue call-in show. The show also airs 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturdays, and is syndicated on Cox Broadcasting’s WSUN, heard in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater.
“Can I tell you a little secret?” she asks listeners. “When you work in rock ‘n’ roll, the people you meet are a bunch of skeezers, like black T-shirts and green teeth and all filled up with beer and swill, and you guys are a breath of flatulent air.”
During a weeklong audition after Goldberg was fired Sept. 15, “she absolutely blew my socks off,” says Bruce. Goldberg is now doing an afternoon drive-time sports talk show on WQAM.
Most of her career has been as a garden-variety rock jock, including a stint on Fort Lauderdale’s WSHE-FM. Rhodes says the money attached to her one-year contract with WIOD isn’t much to speak of — though she speaks of it often, with disdain — but her creative freedom is worth the sacrifice.
“It’s been ‘hands off’ on show content,” she says. “When you’ve been so repressed and caged, then someone turns you loose, you say you’d pay for the privilege, and essentially I have.”
Though he’d been campaigning for a friend to get the job,
Rogers, the indisputable king of South Florida talk, gave his approval during her second audition show.
“I talked directly to Neil on the show,” Rhodes recalls. ” ‘Do we really want to hear commercials for probate law and funeral planning, or do we want to get into the ’90s and have some fun?’ ”
He called in and said, ” ‘You’re right. You’re exactly what we need: someone who’s gonna kick some a–.’ ”
Which she’s trying to do by replacing much of Goldberg’s older audience with “Neilies” and devotees of Rick and Suds, the schmoozy duo who occupy the 2-6 p.m. slot.
(This week, Rhodes will fill in for the vacationing Rick and Suds. “Best of” Rogers, Rick and Suds and Rhodes tapes will air in her regular slot.)
A chain-smoking bottle blond, Rhodes is part Joan Rivers, part shock jock Howard Stern, part Saturday Night Live’s “Coffee Talk” lady. But mostly, she’s her rude, crude, loud, brazen, gleefully scatological self.
Hosting a call-in show is less broadcasting than “narrowcasting,” and Rhodes aims straight for the peculiar psyches of listeners whose eagerness to risk public ridicule cannot be overestimated. She calls them her “loyal clients.”
Hamstrung by basic social conventions, fear of unemployment or homelessness, they cannot openly insult their mothers — “Josh, your mother’s a bitch” — tell their bosses to go to hell or call their landlords drunks.
Randi does it for them.
“The No. 1 reason to call in is self-gratification, to suck around with the host and get someone to affirm their existence,” says Rogers, who is on 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. “Others want to bait the host. And there are those who think it’s an adventure. A lot of these people have no lives at all.”
Randi: “John in Fort Lauderdale. Do you have any idea what I’m even talking about? Is there a radio on anywhere in the vicinity? Have you listened for the past 26 minutes?
“No. So explain to me something I will never understand in my entire life: What the hell made you call? Why would you pick up the phone and dial a Randi Rhodes, who you do not listen to? Explain it!”
John (laughing nervously): “I listen to Neil Rogers and he calls you a goddess, so I thought well hell, I’ll listen and see what happens. So I have listened for the past two hours, and . . . ”
Randi: “The past two hours? I’ve been on the air for 26 minutes! What is your problem? What is wrong with you? What have you been listening to?”
Rhodes, an FM rock veteran, racked up impressive numbers in her first Arbitron ratings period, October-December. Among adults 25 to 54 in her time slot, she got 5.3 percent of the Dade-Broward audience, compared to Goldberg’s 3.8 percent in the same period last year, says Bruce.
“In all the electronic media, that’s the coveted demographic group,” says Bruce. “That’s where the money is.”
She does best among men age 25 to 54. Her 8.1 percent share of that audience segment ranks her third in the two-county market for the time slot, according to Bruce. Among men 25 to 44, she got 8.7 and ranked second. Among men 35 to 44, the “target sell” range, she got 9.2, placing her first.
Among women 25 to 54, she got a 2.1, placing her 17th. In 35 to 44, she got 3.6, and placed 11th.
“We got our ratings today,” she announced Jan. 19. “They are be-you-tee-ful! Have a little problem with women, though. But it looks like the men are just lovin’ this. Somebody kiss my a– right now, please.
“Women? We must talk. We have to get together. Do a lunch thing. I am all vaklempft over this!”
Randi Rhodes’ show is unscripted stream of consciousness spiked with caller schmooze, snippets of Yiddish, shameless solicitation of sponsors and perks, and cut-ins that sound like long, wet kisses or raspy, sputtering . . . well, flatulence. It’s one of her favorite subjects. She tells a listener, “I’ve got the only house in America where the dog blames it on me.”
She punctuates nearly every sentence with, like, “like,” and favorite words “stinkin’ ” (“Give me a stinkin’ Lexus!”) and “big” (“this big show”).
Most nights, her rap is about Randi Rhodes and what she’s seen in the four newspapers she reads. Her life is an open mike: the sorry state of her bank account, her promotional appearances, her 35th birthday last Thursday, which she kvetched about for days: “Everything is sagging, everything is moving, everything is spreading. I notice that the toilet seat seems smaller than ever before.”
Lately, she’s been obsessed with yohimbe, an alleged aphrodisiac that she and her fiance and manager, law student Jim Robertson, are taking.
He fell so hard so fast that he had her name tattooed on his arm — albeit misspelled — days after they met. On the air.
“The yohimbe is doin’ it for us, and you know how men are,” she tells a woman caller. “Does anybody realize how incompatible men and women really are? Like something is released like Valium into Jimmy’s bloodstream after ‘the wonderful meeting of the minds.’ And like afterwards, he’s (loud snoring noise) and me, I want to converse!”
It comes as no surprise to learn that Rhodes has always had a mouth.
Her mother recalls that when she was 5, Randi, chomping on gum, spied a woman whose coat had a fur collar.
“She said, ‘I’ll give you my gum if you give me that dog around your neck.’ ”
(Her parents are divorced. Her mother, Loretta B., lives in Broward; father Norman B. lives in Oxnard, Calif. They all have the same last name, but Rhodes asked that it not be published. “It’s in the phone book. I am a real person.”)
Loretta B. says she knew from the eighth month of pregnancy that her second daughter would be a handful.
“She kicked me so hard she threw me off the bed. I remember like yesterday. I told my husband, ‘I don’t know what I’m carrying, but this one is different.’ ”
Both parents are tremendously proud — if somewhat chagrined by the show’s frequent descent into incivility. They are more than eager to brag of their daughter’s achievements, dating back to the fifth grade, when she and a classmate wrote a musical revue that won a World Health Organization contest. The two were honored at a dinner with the delegates at the United Nations.
But she also caused them grief.
At 15, after years of truancy and misbehavior, she went to California, where Norman B. had moved. Randi took over his apartment. He moved down the hall and gave her a new Corvette.
“My father said I could keep the car as long as I stayed in school. Of course I didn’t, and he took it away.” She tested out of high school.
Rhodes says she and her father, a retired vice president of Technicolor, hadn’t talked in years until last fall’s presidential campaign, when they began communicating on Prodigy, the computer bulletin board.
“I was really a bad kid,” Rhodes admits. “Such a handful. I really think a big part of my family’s problems was me. . . . The thing about me is, I always go out on a limb, but when I go too far, I always know.”
A valid question: Just how long is that limb?
Randi Rhodes, opening a show from the studios of Tampa’s WSUN: “I have to make a doody.”
She had eaten a steak dinner and was about to stage an apparent radio verite first: broadcasting, via remote mike, from the ladies room, complete with sound effects.
“Was it too much?” Gary Bruce wondered. “I don’t know. We haven’t had any complaints. With her show, everything is entertainment. That’s why ‘theater of the mind’ is so much fun. If it was visual, it would have been disgusting.”
Which some people evidently thought it was anyway.
Dave, from Tampa: “Kiss my a–. We don’t need your kind around here.”
Randi (purring breathily): “Bye, Dave. Bye, Dave. You a –hole!”
Randi B. is far more sober, reflective, literate and adult than Randi Rhodes, a Hillary Clinton-worshiping feminist whose show-biz raunch is tempered by some serious real-life knocks: a miserable teenhood and cocaine addiction.
She says she knew she could do talk radio because as a rock jock on WSHE she spent so much of her break time talking to troubled teens.
“I’d get a real depressed kid from a dysfunctional family on the phone and I knew exactly what the problems were. When you’re locked in your room listening to Megadeth or Cannibal Corpse, not talking to your parents, your grades are falling, your friends are changing, I know exactly what’s going on with you.
“I wasn’t giving them a candy-coated load. I was telling them the truth: Being 13 really sucks, and you have to be stronger than the problems.”
It took Randi B. a while to understand that.
She joined the Air Force in 1977 “to learn discipline and respect for authority,” became one of the Air Force’s first three female flight engineers, and earned an honorable discharge despite an arrest for driving under the influence at McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey.
She spent a year driving a Kenworth 18-wheeler, hauling beer from Milwaukee and paper from Fort Worth.
She’s studying for a bachelor’s degree in political science at Broward Community College, and is trying to get pregnant. She and Robertson will probably get married, if she can conquer her fear of commitment, she confides to her “loyal clients.”
It’s 10 minutes to air time. Randi Rhodes has sweaty palms. She wants to throw up. She rocks back and forth in the chair behind the console, alternately gnawing the stub of a pinkie nail and sucking a Parliament Light. She goes through a pack a show.
Stage fright. It happens every time, just the way it used to plague her when, as a WSHE jock she MC’d station promotional nights at Haggerty’s, a Boca Raton comedy club.
Ralph Williams was house comic at the time.
“All the party animals came on SHE night,” he recalls. “Comics who’d been on the road for 10 years had a hard time working that room. But Randi brought in a lot of people.”
Rhodes had already been riding the radio roller coaster for nearly a decade. But her first media job was reporting — briefly — for a small-town Mississippi paper in 1976.
“The Ku Klux Klan took me to lunch. . . . They sat me down and said, ‘We don’t take kindly to your type,’ ” meaning Jews. ” ‘The next visit we make to your house won’t be so friendly.’ ”
In 1979, she hired on at a 1,000-watt, storefront country station in Seminole, Texas.
Next stop: a rock station in Mobile, Ala., as Randi St. John, The Holy Toilet. Three years later, she headed home to New York’s WAPP — now HOT-97 — as Randi Rhodes, after rocker Ozzy Osbourne’s deceased guitar player.
It was a disaster.
“I was working with a bunch of old timers who . . . didn’t trust me because I was straight,” not a drug user.
“It was the decadent ’80s. I drank pretty good, but I was very much on the outside. The peer pressure really got me. I gave in and became a raging coke fiend. . . . It was getting totally deranged. And the more deranged, the better the ratings got! Thank God it was only one year out of my life.”
At the end of that year, the station was sold. The new owners hired her, but she overslept the first day and was fired.
Getting fired in radio isn’t necessarily a career impediment, and soon she was off to Dallas. Fired again, six weeks later for being stoned.
Her boss said, ” ‘You’re out of control and you need to hit rock bottom,’ and he was right. I had this bizarre notion that you had to pay heavy dues with your personal health and sanity to be successful in radio.”
Her next Dallas job came courtesy of a radio program director called Pig Virus, a veteran of the Howard Stern show.
“Pig Virus said, ‘I know what your problems are. If you promise you’ll go to this treatment program, I’ll hire you.’ I agreed. Valentine’s Day 1986 was the last time I ever did drugs.”
She stayed two years, then moved to Milwaukee as a shock jock’s sidekick. Six weeks later they were fired, after gay listeners boycotted their sponsors. She says she hadn’t realized her partner was “a complete and total homophobe.”
Three days later, she collapsed from a tubal pregnancy. She had no health insurance, and a $8,000 hospital bill.
“That’s how I wound up driving a truck. It was the only thing that paid big money without a sheepskin.”
Rhodes moved to Broward in 1987 to care for her mother, who was ill.
“I started listening around, trying to figure out who was hurting the worst.” WSHE “needed someone like me.”
She was hired for Saturday overnights but left in 1991, after repeated confrontations with then-program director Brian Krysz. For the next year, she took office jobs, managed a rock band with her fiance, and worked weekends at Coast 97.3 FM, WIOD’s sister station.
Krysz, now working in Dallas, says Rhodes was “very opinionated, and at the time, we didn’t need any other opinions but mine. But she’s also bright, smart and crazy. . . . There are not very many women who push the edge of the envelope. She loves to talk. You can’t shut her up.
“I wouldn’t be surprised to see her one day on a major radio station doing mornings, going against Howard Stern.”
Index terms: BIOGRAPHY RHODES; BIOGRAPHY RANDI RHODES (N); PHOTO: RANDI RHODES (B)Record: 9301070483Copyright: Copyright (c) 1993 The Miami Herald