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Handel Back on Air, Smarting From Hoax

Radio: KFI-AM host says prank by fellow station host in his absence created a 'real scare. My credibility was damaged.'

May 30, 1997|JUDITH MICHAELSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Alternately sounding exasperated, philosophical and relieved to be finally having his say on his home turf, Bill Handel, the morning-drive host on KFI-AM (640), on Thursday sought to take the hex off the hoax that had been perpetrated on the previous day's show by substitute host Phil Hendrie.

Clearly the sound of Handel's voice told listeners that he was not, as Hendrie kept repeating throughout the 5 to 9 a.m. broadcast Wednesday, "terminated . . . fired . . . let go." Handel had been on a three-day vacation in Vancouver.

But it was the reason for the alleged firing, done by Hendrie in the voice of KFI program director David G. Hall, that still had Handel upset after he left the station Thursday to return to his practice as a lawyer.

In the voice of Hall, Hendrie had said that Handel was dismissed for stealing Xerox paper, paper clips, headphones and a car radio--"he's a . . . kleptomaniac!" Handel was also accused of ramming Hall's $50,000 Suburban on the company lot near Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles and then leaving the scene without apologizing or providing insurance information.

In response to what it called "a massive influx of calls and faxes protesting the termination of Handel," KFI later acknowledged that Hendrie had been joking. He has pulled similar stunts on his own nighttime program.

But the real Hall defended the broadcast. "Phil's show was a wonderful spoof of what happens when hosts are let go," he said in a news release.

Even after hearing how upset Handel was Thursday, Hall had no regrets. "It would have been better if it didn't affect Bill and his off-air life, but it ended up being a very good promotion for both shows," he said in an interview.

Asked whether fooling listeners isn't a breach of trust with them, Hall replied: "I don't think I'd call it [that]. Phil's show is all about satire."

On Thursday, Handel opened his return by saying it was "nice to be back," adding in a moderate tone that "I went berserk yesterday" after he heard what Hendrie had said.

He allowed that he is "a huge fan" of Hendrie's, who is "a veritable genius--I can listen to Phil and die laughing." The problem, Handel asserted, is that he is a trustee for millions of dollars of clients' money and that when word got around that he was fired for stealing, it created a "real scare."

"My credibility was damaged. I now had to tell people it's not true."

At a break during Handel's 5 a.m. hour, a promotional spot done in a foghorn voice intoned: "Honesty. Integrity. Virtue. The most trusted man in show business. Bill Handel."

Still stung, Handel immediately wondered if that promo was delivered "so I don't feel hubcapped?" Later still he called the satirical allegations "a bunch of crap."

Meanwhile, listeners seemed thankful that Handel was indeed back but a female caller said she was angered that she had been "duped." On the other side, a male caller said he found Hendrie "hysterical."

Most of the heat during the final hour of Hendrie's fill-in show Wednesday was taken by the character of Hall, who was accused--by a listener or a voice parodying a listener; it was impossible to know which--of being a "paranoid child" for constantly interrupting Hendrie. An unidentified woman said "listeners should strike tomorrow morning."

The real Hall said Thursday that he hadn't minded being impersonated. "We all have bosses, people we don't like," he explained. "It helps him [Hendrie] make his point if he can make his boss bigger than life, meaner and badder than life . . . so we have an anti-management theme going."

As for Hendrie, when asked whether he was concerned about what he had said on the air, he replied: "I am concerned about doing the most entertaining and relevant radio. I don't think there are any bodies in the street today, any bloodletting, any tumorous growths" on either his or Handel's body.

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