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COMMENTARY : Howie, Mark and Brian: Just Three Peas in Radio's Pod

November 27, 1992|CHRIS WILLMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It stood to emerge as a titan battle of evil against good, malignant vs. benign, venom vs. virtue, Thor against Jason and an Argonaut. . . .

Or maybe just Fartman versus the Hardy Boys.

This week, morning-radio pit bull Howard Stern viciously took on rival lap dogs Mark Thompson and Brian Phelps, who took the high road by refusing to return the nasty favor. The premier nattering nabob of negativity against virtual exemplars of the power of positive drive-time thinking: Is that any kind of fair fight?

Both hosted midweek media non-events showcasing their contrasting warring styles. Stern (on KLSX-FM) presided over a very open-to-the-public "funeral" for the rivals he bested in the latest ratings book, drawing many thousands to Hollywood Tuesday. The next day, Mark and Brian (on KLOS-FM) ignored the bait, proceeding as usual with their annual Day Before Thanksgiving Parade--whistling through the graveyard, as it were--drawing mere hundreds to Exposition Park.

Thus did the ground shake under all this moral weight. Or maybe that was just the sensation of the gods snoring right through their clock-radio snooze alarms.

In terms of offering the elements that make "good radio," as well as his willingness to scrap, Stern's non-event had the clear advantage. He decapitated Mark and Brian dummies, which (we radio listeners were told) spurted profuse blood. Contest winners from around the nation offered song parodies attacking the duo.

Minor celebrities joined the dissing, too. Flo and Eddie of the Turtles offered a funny-stupid rendition of "Happy Together," retitled "So Crappy Together," about you-know-two. Also, Leslie West, his career momentarily revived by a lucky coincidence in corresponding number of syllables, redid seminal metal favorite "Mississippi Queen" as "Mark and Brian Suck" (catch-phrase of the day).

The circus aspects of Stern's show were even more pronounced than usual, given the plethora of scary fans allowed 15 seconds of fame. "Mark and Brian sucks!" proclaimed full-time sycophant Tom Cipriano (a.k.a. Capt. Janks, the telephone prankster), making a brave but vain attempt to match a subject and verb.

Witty barbs or schoolyard taunts--the latter were in greater supply Tuesday--Stern's show benefits most from its "Revenge of the Nerds" quality, with those around him representing a populist scale that ranges from the average Jerseyite downward to society's outcasts, taking on perceived pretty boys and the PC media elite, with an aversion toward anything remotely reeking of class.

Mark and Brian's student-council-president-as-class-clown quality makes them an easy mark for this equal-opportunity hate, even if they're a little too bland a target to afford Stern and gang very many truly funny digs.

If you were itching to root for Mark and Brian's good-naturedness after Stern's silly slander, though, their Wednesday parade broadcast didn't offer much reason. The dynamic duo tried to catapult a turkey into the Coliseum, had the Cerritos High marching band play "Louie Louie," cracked mild orgasm jokes about a woman who made whinnying horse sounds and made their traffic reporter take off his shirt and flex.

Simulcast for a few minutes on KTLA Channel 5, where it was characterized as "wacky" and "outta control!" by an anchor who obviously doesn't get out much, this 2 1/2-hour procession made for truly deadly radio.

All their pronounced differences aside, though, Stern and the duo about whom he doth protest too much have much in common.

Mark and Brian brought on Lee Meriwether, and paid tribute to their late patron saint, Chuck Connors. Stern had on hand professional recoverer Corey Feldman, rapper Eazy E, Martha Raye hubby Mark Harris (roundly booed) and, of course, Jessica Hahn.

"We're sitting here with three women who had sex with Sam Kinison!" enthused Stern, referring to Hahn, Kinison widow Melika and her sister Sabrina.

This shared, perverse, out-of-proportion affection for C-, D- and Z-list celebs reveals Stern and Mark and Brian as truly kindred spirits, much as they might deny their destiny as soulmates.

Come on, boys, join hands and sing: We are the world . . . .

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