EDITOR’S NOTE: I have been grappling with the news of Mark Stevens’ death all afternoon. It comes as a shock and hasn’t been easy for anyone associated with the Stevens and Pruett Show. Mark was an indelible part of one of the most successful and innovative radio morning pairings in the history of American broadcasting. He taught me and so smany of my castmates so much, on and off the microphone.
My heart goes out to Jim Pruett who isn’t taking the news very well. And understandably so–Jim lost a brother. I feel like I’ve lost a father.
Here’s my latest homage to Mark Stevens.
A heartfelt thanks for all the wonderful condolences. The love you’ve shown has been vast and far reaching. Mark was an icon and his amazing legacy deserves every accolade; every sentiment. It means a great deal to me and the entire Stevens and Pruett family.
The alternate title for this post could be “When Morning Radio Was Funny”, because at least here in Houston, it isn’t. And really, that’s the reason behind this particular posting. Last week, I heard something on our local airwaves that actually made me throw up a little in my mouth.
The hosts of a particular morning show were wondering if the new Oreo cake-like cookie was suitable for dunking in milk. They were asking for calls on the subject.
Yep. That was the topic du jour. I did the only thing I could do, other than swallow my sputum, was to turn off my radio and keep it off in protest. I shook my head, saddened by the state of radio in general and the pathetic way in which it’s passed off as entertainment in my city.
Then I started thinking about Stevens and Pruett, a local radio comedy duo that was…well, they were something else entirely.
OK THEN, WHO WERE THEY AND WHERE WERE THEY ?
For those outside the AM/FM sphere of Houston, the Stevens and Pruett Show was, in my own opinion, one of the best morning radio shows…EVER. And I say that not because I was a part of that show (unofficially from 1992-through 1994 and officially from 1995 through 2000) but because it was. No hyperbole here.
The show was a Houston mainstay for hipsters who could appreciate the often raunchy nature of the show. Bawdy, gross and even vile at times, but hilarious too.
It eventually became the hub of radio station KLOL, one of the first underground FM AOR (Album Oriented Rock) stations in the country. This was back in the day when jocks spoke softly and always sounded stoned–probably because they were–and the only commercials they played were for headshops, free clinics, record stores and upcoming concerts.
KLOL was born in 1970 when Pat Fant (then one of the jocks at KLOL who later became its General Manager and is now known as something of a creative radio wunderkind in Houston) played, “I’m Free” by The Who. That record on that turntable on that station ushered in a new era for radio in Houston. Hence, “The KLOL Legend” was born.
In the early days, 101 was known as “Mother’s Family” and later “K-101” with its trademark ecology fern, which oddly enough looked like a pot leaf.
The station utilized what would be termed a “free form format”. Basically, that meant playing the type of music they wanted, when they wanted, regardless of how deep the cut(s) were on the album. KLOL played a good dose of rock, but in the early years, but its playlist was also interspersed with a little jazz, blues and R&B. And in a day and time when play lists have in power rotation the worst songs possible such as stuff from Beyonce, John Mayer and that strange lady Gaga fellow and the same damn songs come at you every ten freakin’ minutes. I liked Mayer’s new song “Heartbeak Warfare”…until I heard it exactly eight times between 1p and 5p on a particular station in which I have no choice BUT to listen to during the course of my day. Program Directors will tell you that research indicates that people only listen for 20 minutes or less an hour and that’s how a station can justify playing the same hit song a few times an hour. This is something of a fairly recent phenomenon..say over the last 16-17 years or so. As a result, radio and TV people both have learned to despise research AND the consultants who hang on its every skewed, arbitrary word. In TV, I once knew an anchor who was told by a consultant to cut her hair in a Carol Brady shag, a style which was barely in vogue when it was in vogue some 34 years earlier. He thought it would work because viewers aged 45 and older could relate to it as a warm, fuzzy throw back and she went along with it. I’m not sure who was the bigger idiot.
BUT SHE DIGRESSES
In the beginning, KLOL was a new generation of radio station designed exclusively for a new generation of Houstonians and they loved it. In fact, they helped make KLOL was one of the top rated AOR stations in the country in the late 80’s up until about 1992. Its hip, innovative format and cutting edge promotions set the pace for many other AOR stations across the country and Mark Stevens and Jim Pruett played a significant role in that success.
When they arrived at KLOL’s doorstep after a successful stint at The Eagle (KEGL in Dallas) in 1986, they weren’t strangers to Houston. The two paired up years earlier as one of the original Hudson and Harrigan duos at KILT-AM when it was a Top 40 station. They had a dispute with management and went to cross town competitor, KULF-AM, where they dropped the Hudson and Harrigan moniker and started using their own names. There, Stevens and Pruett had yet another dispute with management at KULF, then elected to pull up stakes and head north up I-45 to The Eagle in Dallas where they…..you guessed it… had a dispute with management and that in part, ultimately lead to their return to Houston. At KLOL, they still had plenty of disputes with management, but management had little choice but to take it because The S&P Show was soon cranking out ratings and generating voluminous advertising revenues.
The show was adult oriented with strong sexual overtones . Humor was the main focus. Rarely was the comedy ever particularly high brow, but it wasn’t always at a common, every man’s level either. I often thought it was smart humor, albeit sexual in nature.
In fact, Mark and Jim helped pioneer the broadcast concept, often called ”blue humor” or “shock jock” radio, that many morning hosts have tried to imitate. S&P did it long before Stern ever did. Before Opie and Anthony, Bob and Tom…Mancow, too. Everyone else and I do mean every other show who tries or has tried this format, is in my opinion, a poor facsimile. In fact, Stern never even tried to broach the Houston market because of Stevens and Pruett and their particular brand of comedy.
THERE ARE OTHERS?
There are shows currently on the air now who try, but fail miserably in the process. They aren’t funny, they create nothing special, yet somehow these people are still on the air and a show like S&P ‘s isn’t? I’m not really sure what that means or represents, other than it’s proof that radio is more screwed up than ever.
And yes, I’m well aware that when it comes to The Stevens and Pruett Show, I’m very prejudiced.
You’re about to hear a Thanksgiving version of the legendary “Uncle Waldo”, a daily bit ritual on the show. Essentially, the scripts were just jokes sent in by listeners and retooled by characters that Mark and Jim made famous such as Queen Aretha, Big Bruno, Nymphia Scooter Pie and Uncle Waldo. Boner, their very funny sidekick and one of the nation’s premier reactive comics/second banana, manned the controls and played sound effects while frequently offering hilarious quips and asides with impeccable timing.
Frank Casimiro (Jesus With A Camera because well, with his long hair and beard, he looked like Jesus with a camera) was the show’s videographer. This is from his personal collection. He has a Facebook page with more videos from the show . When did JWAC tape this? Well, based on Mark’s hair and Jim’s weight (two prime indicators of which Stevens and Pruett era was which), I’d say this was shot probably around 1990 or ’91 before the studio was reconfigured. As the video indicated, there was always a bevy of women on the set willing (for some reason) to drop their tops for the guys in order to win prizes like concert tickets. Some just did it because..well I really don’t know why they did it. I’m by no means a raging feminist, but I never understood what compelled a woman to show her boobs to strangers.
Needless to say, strippers were frequent guests and lesbians were a frequent topic.
THE LK/S&P YEARS
My connection with Stevens and Pruett though, goes back even earlier. When I was going through my Journalism degree program, my concentration in the field was broadcasting. We had to take radio and TV courses and when I was in the very beginning of my radio portion, the class (about 50 coeds or so) was listening to examples of radio formats from stations all across the country. Talk, Top 40, AOR jocks, Country, HOT A/C shows and then that example we discussed earlier–Shock Talk ( a term I’ve grown to hate). For that, our professor played a clip of Stevens and Pruett on the KEGL in Dallas.
Someone, I don’t remember, though it was probably Mark, made mention of a euphemism for a woman’s vagina and it was hilarious. I was the only student in that class to laugh. I’d never heard of Stevens and Pruett before that day, but I remember thinking, “I like those guys. I know my sense of humor would mesh with theirs. Someday, I’m going to work with them.”
As mentioned earlier, I joined the show as an official cast member in April 1995, though I’d been a contributing member of the since 1992. I was working at KTRH, KLOL’s AM News/Talk sister station as a Features Reporter. That’s where Stevens had heard my work (which I suppose was a little different) and liked it. He asked me one day to help them out on occasion, because he knew I could do different accents and was strange, I suppose. Locke Siebenhausen, their “do anything I’m told” stunt boy and erstwhile producer would call me in the middle of my gig at KTRH and he’d tell in that inimitable lisp of his, “Hey Laurie, CORRECT, like uh, the Radio Gods need you for a phone bit, yeah right. CORRECT!”
And that was all he’d give me. The rest I just made up as I went along. As the only woman on the show, I knew it was vitally important that I always took a swing at everything Mark, Jim and Boner threw at me. Sometimes I hit it out of the park. Sometimes, I got beaned.
Live and learn.
LOCKE AND LOAD
Locke: otherwise known as Psychological Case Study #28742
We always poked fun at Locke, but in reality he was a harmless, sweet little man who was in many ways, completely fearless. This devoted, loyal adult man-child was made famous for being really, really real. Locke wasn’t an act. What you heard and saw when you met him, was truly who he was. He was one of radio’s very first stunt boys, those overly eager to the point of annoying, “daring to be great young kids still with milk moustaches”, who would go out with a wireless mic and say anything, do anything, try anything, eat anything for their shot at ascending the radio’s Golden Ladder. Locke was never like that. Locke was fearless for reasons I can’t explain here. He simply wanted to please his masters. He’d go out (usually with his handler, Tom “Tubby Peckerwood” Lawler, whose nickname I made up) with a microphone and he would, in this Alan Funt-like manner, record people caught in the act of being themselves. And almost always with hilarious results.
We once put an adult diaper on Locke and filled it in the back with a chocolatey, peanut butter mixture. He’d walk up to people at a bus stop and through his ear piece Mark and Jim would tell him what to do or say. On this day, Mark told him to act a little goofy–kind of a stretch for Locke (?)– then, reach into his diaper and start licking the very gross looking peanut butter stuff from his fingers, acting like was the tastiest stuff he’d ever eaten. The reaction from the bus stop crowd was abject revulsion.
I dressed him in a flesh-colored G-string once and we told him to go to one of those big “do-it-yourself” home stores to purchase a new toilet. In his earpiece, we told him to tell the salesman he needed to try it out first. The salesman said, “OK”, not knowing what that meant. Then Locke proceeded to remove his pants and actually sit on the toilet, making all the appropriate sounds one makes when one sits on a commode trying to pass something as lofty and painful as…well, health insurance reform.
He was summarily kicked out of the store and told never to return.
THE DYNAMIC DUO
Mark and Jim were partners, but Mark was something as the elder statesman of the two. He almost always played straight man to Jimmy’s funny bafoonery. Jimmy was a genius…self taught in life and hilarious, but Mark was funny, too and I don’t think he every really got the credit for his contributions to his own show. He had an eye for talent who could contribute to the attitude. He appreciated those who had a keen sense of the rapid fire humor needed to enhance the show. He was generous that way.
Don’t get me wrong, he could be a complete pain in the ass jerk too, but then again, with his radio pedigree and expertise, he’d earned that right. I had my moments with this man. When I wasn’t hating Stevens for being a total tool, I respected him a great deal.
He wasn’t always the easiest man to work with. He was a stickler for everything being natural and unrehearsed. While the spontaneity was there, anyone who’s ever worked on that show on a full-time basis, and by that I mean contributed to it on air for the entire four-hour duration, will tell you that you walked out of that studio at 10 am absolutely exhausted. Sometimes it took an hour or more to decompress, but it was a good feeling. Really, there’s nothing more fulfilling than knowing you’d just participated in a good show, rife with the funny.
THOSE CRAZY HOLIDAY BALLS
Every Christmas, Mark and Jim hosted the Holiday Ball, which was black tie for men and completely clothing optional for women. In the early years, it was held in various clubs, but got so popular and so huge, that it was moved it to the Hyatt Regency downtown where it became an annual event each December. It was debauchery at its finest and pretty much an uncensored stage version of the show with a very real, very drunken audience.
The guys always made big entrances, usually preceded by something filmed which was shown on huge overhead screens. Then, they’d come into the grand ball room on motorcycles or (if memory serves) by liter bearers with a scantily clad female dwarf throwing rose petals in the path before them. Nudity played a key role at the holiday ball and for the show. During my tenure on the show, it was nothing to see a naked woman in the studio.
You know, radio is a funny thing. When you really need one, it’s often difficult to track down an engineer, these are the men (mostly) whose knowledge of amps, circuits and soldering keeps a station on the air, but on those naked and topless days, you couldn’t get one engineer in particular from leering through the plate-glass window that separated the news and traffic studio from the main broadcast booth. He’d magically appeared out of nowhere. We’d bust him by saying hello to him on the air. Angry, he’d scamper off–his clinking musical tool belt playing that hit, “Engineer’s Delight”. You can hear these cats walking for miles. Just not always when you need them.
Anyway, the show was fun, but that would soon come to a crashing end. The fun would be gone and radio as we knew it, would be as well.
THE BEGINNING OF THE END
When President Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996, he deregulated (and killed) radio. The Act allowed corporate owners to come in and gobble up stations and place them in one big cluster in one big anonymous, sterile looking hi-rise. Prior to that, one person or entity could only own one AM and one FM per market. The Telecom Act shot that out of the water and when corporations came in, they homogenized the sound, made massive budget cuts and fired people who’d spent their lives making scads of money for their owner/masters. Suddenly, they were irrelevant and fired for their years of service and creating large profit margins. That’s when radio started dying. Don’t get me wrong—the radio industry has always been problem riddled. It’s on the lowest rung on the entertainment ladder, but at the same time, a far more creative venue in many ways than TV, yet TV gets all the glamour. You have to think on your feet for both gigs, but in radio, all you have is your wit and your words to create the visual mosaic that your listeners have to hear. I’ve known a lot of TV people who couldn’t bridge that gap. Images were everything and told most of the story. You don’t have that luxury in radio.
Old school types never liked change and the longer they stated, the younger their bosses, Program Directors and co-workers became. “Jaded rage” are two adjectives that can describe anyone who’s spent any significant time behind the mike. But after Telecom passed, it became an even colder, more calculating industry that seemed to attract evil.
Mark Stevens was a victim of this massive Clintonian blunder. In one of the dumbest, most bonehead moves ever, he was fired a few months before a very large radio conglomerate bought KLOL I don’t know if getting rid of Stevens and his impressive salary was part of the deal or if the old owners did it to make it look like were operating in the black…I’m not sure, but firing Stevens was the first salvo fired in an effort to kill KLOL, whether that was the intention or not, it was ultimately, the reality.
Mark’s leaving proved something…or should have, anyway. I’ve heard many people say that so and so was the show. I’ve heard former cast members say they thought they made the show, in truth, it was Mark and Jim’s show and people came and went and the show moved along just fine without them, but when Mark left, so did the magic. It limped along in various lackluster incarnations after that, but these shows never attained anything near the success of the original show. Nothing could grow in the massive shadow cast by the one, the only Stevens and Pruett Show.
R.I.P. ROCK 101 KLOL
Sadly, in 2004, KLOL died as it began.
At ten one morning with no fanfare, “I’m Free” by The Who was played and when the song ended, so did KLOL as we knew it. After a commercial break, it started playing Spanish language music. Something called “reggaeton”.
WHO AND WHAT AND WHY
I know I’m biased.
I thought the show was brilliant, but it wasn’t for everyone. Comedy and what one deems to be humorous are completely subjective. Some of our core listeners grew tired to the nasty monotony and went elsewhere for their morning radio fix.
Some will argue that there are radio shows currently in Houston that are funny and wildly entertaining. I’d argue that point–to each his own–but I assure you, one would be hard-pressed to find the broadcast magic that these two men created with the motliest of crews as back-up.
The witty and urbane Lanny Griffith was the Traffic Master who handled “Traffic and Bondage” (his brilliantly special overview of the city’s traffic scene was always prefaced with the sound of a whip cracking very loudly) in the mornings with S&P and also in the afternoons with Moby, who knew every punchline to every joke ever written or uttered.
There was Martha Martinez, the News Muchacha who was as elegant as she was eloquent. The late Kevin Dorsey, was a former bread truck driver who loved the show. From what I’ve heard, he’d stop by watch on occasion and the guys got to know him. Well my friends, odd as that sounds, that’s exactly how some radio careers are born. It’s all about who you know and of course, cosmic timing.
One of the other ingredients of the show was the dry, very,very funny sports guru, Craig Roberts.
Before Craig, there was Barry Warner, who I think was called “The Sports Mouth”.
The late newsman and resident shit stirrer, Chuck Shramek played a part. He proved that the line between brilliance and lunacy is razor-thin. He was a funny man; wonderfully strange and completely warped. I miss him very much.
Doug Harris, was/is a promotions visionary. As the KLOL Promotions Director in the early years, he made a name for himself by being a brilliantly creative idea man. He devised and concocted the best, most creative station promotions ever. Other promo guys across the country could only scratch their heads and do more acid. No one could conceive ’em like Doug Harris. He was as vital a part of the KLOL fabric as anyone else.
KLOL’s General Manager-the intensely creative Pat Fant who many times has changed the face, the shape and the sound of radio, along with station owner, Jay Jones ( of the powerful Houston Jones’) put all these people together in a big, talented morning radio salad and tossed and shook and stirred and this melange of talent and style kept Houstonians fed, happy and musically and comedically sated for years, though the S&P show rarely played music; save for live bands and a song to cover the recording of listener comments after a n Uncle Waldo.
And there was a host of support staff behind the scenes as well. We had Producers, Jake Ray and Tom Lawler, interns like Jizzy Berkinstock and plenty of hangers-on desperate for their 15 minutes of fame. Mark and Jim would give them 20 if they brought any real content to the show and expressed a willingness to do their bidding. You’d get 30 minutes if you were a woman willing to raise the Uncle Waldo imaginary curtain with a raised shirt, revealing very real (and many not so real) ta-ta’s.
All of this happened at a time when being in radio was fun; when you were free to explore; to push…nay, shove the envelope and boldly go where no one else dared.
And why wouldn’t they? Because they couldn’t. Few had or have the comedy chops for one thing, and maybe they didn’t “dare do be different” because they were scared of the FCC and fines, which S&P racked up like bonus points in the lightning round of TV’s Password. Some may say,
“So, if S&P were so damn funny, where are they now? They’re NOT on the air and these shows that you deem so unfunny still are on the air. What’s up with that? Care to explain?”
Well, the answer is simple.
Radio today just plain sucks and those making the decisions intentionally play it safe by hiring the boring, the banal, the bland and the inexpensive. Mark and Jim helped pioneer the very morning show constructs these shows try to employ. These other shows may be still on their air, but I don’t think any of them are worth a damn. Sorry, I don’t. In my opinion, there is not one funny, listenable male-oriented show in Houston right now. I don’t care which day part. As far as true radio talent goes, this place is Saharan. An arid plain devoid of anything entertaining. If anyone is listening to their shows it’s because they’ve been forced to choose from the lesser of about 13 evils. And not every car is wired for WiFi.
Otherwise, close the sarcophagus.
These hosts are working casualties in my opinion; the working wounded. They phone it in every morning because well, banal repetition and pre-recorded bits which are bought from some service each week is better than unemployment. Maybe, but where’s the dignity in that? A mortgage has forced them to compromise–assuming they have any real talent under all that humdrumness. They’re part of a sad collective created by the radio powers-that-be: yawn-inducing creators of milquetoast radio. Play it safe by not playing at all.
Again, this is my opinion only.
I know male oriented shows where sex as a standard topic is king, won’t always float every audience member’s boat; the subject matter can grow old after a while, but I implore you–please tell me how compelling is listening to a discussion about cake-like Oreos and their dunkablility when driving to work???
My God, it’s so sad. Radio has lost its soul….or sold it, but I strongly encourage you to save yours.
Get an iPod.