The caller's life was falling apart and KLOS-FM deejays Mark and Brian seemed to be assisting in its disintegration.
The caller, who identified himself as Bill, had learned that his best friend and head engineer of his company was having an affair with his wife. He had hired a private detective to follow the two and his suspicions had been confirmed. To add insult to injury, the double-crossing friend had used the company expense account to pay for expensive dinners and gifts for Bill's wife.
"Man! You must be going through a little personal hell here," Brian told the caller.
"Heavy one, Bill," Mark said. "A nasty circle here. No question about it."
Bill's plan to avenge himself in this nasty circle was to confront his buddy and his wife on Mark and Brian's one-of-a-kind morning radio program. And so he did--with a surprising dose of reasoned calm.
When he got her on the phone through the KLOS switchboard, Bill's wife asked the question that must have been on the minds of listeners, many of whom later called in to say they were riveted to their radios.
"Why aren't you here face-to-face with me?" she asked. "Why are you doing this on the air? That really is kind of ridiculous, don't you think?"
"No, I think it's appropriate over the air," Bill said. "I want all your friends to know what kind of woman you are."
Broadcasting may well be the best revenge.
Indeed, more and more people seem to be baring their souls (and sometimes parts of their anatomy) on the wise-cracking duo's popular and unpredictable morning show by allowing the radio audience to eavesdrop as they discuss personal matters with friends, mates and employers.
Mark Thompson, 33, and Brian Phelps, 30, KLOS' masters of guerrilla comedy, have developed what might be called voyeur radio, daily exposing for an estimated 644,300 Southern California listeners, according to Arbitron, a wide range of human frailties and desires.
In the same week that Thompson and Phelps presided over the dissolution of a marriage, they also let listeners hear an on-air marriage proposal. Some of the other life events on which they have provided a window recently include people calling their bosses to ask for raises, couples making up after fights, people trying to get their ex-mates to take them back and a woman confronting her boyfriend of three years, whom she had found in bed with another man.
Their 6-10 a.m. program on KLOS (95.5) has evolved since its September, 1987 debut from two deejay pals who feed off each other's ribald senses of humor to a hugely successful, though quirky and uneven David Letterman-type radio show. They ranked second in the fiercely competitive morning drive-time period in the latest Arbitron ratings, after powerhouse Rick Dees of KIIS-FM (102.7).
Listeners have heard the pair banned at Graceland (and in all of Memphis, for that matter), dipped in chocolate for Valentine's Day, preside over a "mega-marriage" of some 200 couples and, most recently, tie the knot themselves at a Las Vegas chapel. ("It was our two-year anniversary, so we thought it was the thing to do," Phelps said. "All right, we had to get married, OK?"). They regularly broadcast live from events such as hot-air balloon flights and motocross races and chat with a variety of stars ranging from Bob Hope to the Monkees. Last week, they even persuaded deep-voiced singer Barry White to suck some helium and talk like a Munchkin.
But their program has lately become best known for the listeners who call and expose their private lives for public inspection.
Rick Hanson, a 23-year-old computer operator from Riverside, popped the question to his 20-year-old girlfriend, Debbie Bryan, on Mark and Brian's show a couple of weeks ago. She said yes, provided her parents approved. Mark and Brian seized on the remark and persuaded Hanson to call her parents and ask for their blessing. They couldn't reach her father, but the girl's mother gave the go-ahead.
"When they called her parents, I was scared," Hanson said. "I was really, really scared."
Looking back, Hanson is glad he proposed in an unorthodox fashion.
"What the heck, you only live once," he said. "It was a blast and plus, I got Stones tickets and a limo ride to the Stones concert."
What is it about these guys--besides the obvious lure of concert tickets--that attracts their listeners and inspires them to face humiliation before the masses?
"Honestly, I think everybody wants to look at a bright side to a bad situation, and Mark and Brian make the situation a little better," Hanson said. "They try to make a bad situation funny and a funny situation funnier."
They can also provide a sort of catharsis, according to the caller named Bill who fired his best buddy and prepared to divorce his philandering wife.