It's a typical weekday morning and you're driving to work, distractedly switching from one radio station to the next.
First stop: KQLZ-FM, hard-driving "Pirate Radio" (100.3). A commercial seems to be playing. You're about to turn to another station but something sounds a bit strange. . . .
A man with an ordinary voice is saying: "So, it's 3 in the morning, the phone rings. It's some guy from MCI tellin' me how AT&T charges too much for long-distance, and how he can save me all kinds of money. So I tell him put it in writing. Silence. I go back to bed and then the phone rings again! Hello. This time it's a guy from AT&T. He says that when an MCI operator is talkin' to me real friendly and all, she's flippin' me the bird at the same time! She is? So by now it's 3:30, and just as I'm dozing off, the phone rings. Now I'm getting steamed. What! It's the guy from MCI again. He says, 'Sure AT&T gives instant credit, but they're getting the money from widows and orphans!' They are? So just as I'm about to slam the phone down on him, somebody knocks on my door. It's a guy from Sprint! He says AT&T is secretly shipping A-bombs to Iraq, MCI is burning down rain forests when they're not too busy killing dolphins . . . and that all the Sprint operators work in the nude. Why can't they leave me alone? "
Then a real commercial comes on and you move on.
Next stop: KPWR-FM ("Power 106"). The dance-music station also seems to be running a commercial. But upon closer inspection. . . .
"Pillsbury--for years a trusted name in baked goods," intones a soothing female voice. "Now Pillsbury is your trusted name in home health care. Introducing the Pillsbury Pop 'N' Fresh Pregnancy Test. The fastest pregnancy test available. If the dough rises, so will you. . . . Because nothin' tests lovin' like a bun in the oven."
You tune in KIIS-FM (102.7) and recognize the rapping riffs of Vanilla Ice's hit tune "Ice Ice Baby." But the song turns out to be "Rice Rice Baby," chronicling one man's comical adventures in Chinese dining.
Many listeners no doubt assume that morning radio personalities--who are commonly paid seven-figure salaries for their on-air charm and comedic abilities--produced these parodies themselves. But, like Johnny Carson or David Letterman, who have a host of writers preparing their monologues, high-profile disc jockeys also have a stable of writers and producers behind the scenes turning out funny material.
And while some of them are on the station's staff, others are working thousands of miles away and not only don't know the deejays, they may not even know the deejay's name. They are part of a little-known cottage industry of about 20 syndicated comedy services that each week churn out several dozen slickly produced sketches and song parodies for hundreds of subscribing radio stations across the country.
"We're a best-kept secret," said Andy Goodman, president of American Comedy Network, based in Bridgeport, Conn. "In the radio business we're pretty well-known. But if you go outside the radio business, no, people haven't heard of us."
Many of the parodies heard on such contemporary hit stations as KIIS, KPWR and KQLZ, as well as on oldies station KRTH-FM (101.1), urban station KKBT-FM (92.3), classic rock station KLSX-FM (97.1) and country station KZLA-FM (93.9), are created by the top services: American Comedy Network, Premiere Radio Networks and Olympia Comedy Network.
The reason is simple: The morning deejay has got to fill three or four hours every day with new material.
"Unlike a stand-up comedian, who can do the same thing each time he's on stage, (a radio deejay) has to be fresh and incorporate current events," said Tim Kelly, president and co-founder of the Hollywood-based Premiere Radio Networks. "He's got to make it funny, got to make it current, got to make it move."
"You're talking about basically 20 bits a morning in a personality-driven show like (morning jock) Jay Thomas' that we may have to generate," explained Jeff Wyatt, program director at KPWR.
"That's a heck of a lot more than Johnny Carson has to generate on TV. . . . The services help to fill in some of those gaps. . . . If we had to rely on our own staff, I think we'd risk either missing some opportunities or having a totally burned-out morning staff, or we'd be putting out some pretty mediocre stuff."
In big cities like Los Angeles, where radio is a multimillion-dollar business and competition for listeners among 80 outlets can get ugly, stations must find creative ways to distinguish themselves.
"The reason they come to us is because it's a desperate battle," said Kelly, a former KIIS deejay. "Morning shows need to be funny and it's tough coming up with comedy day-in and day-out starting at 6 in the morning."