From where Tommy Bina sits--behind the counter, inside the Canyon Country Store--you can't always see the celebrities in the room. They stop in on their way home, from CBS or Capitol or the Fox lot, lost in the aisles marked "Herbal" and "Diaper," dropping organic papaya nectar and Macanudo cigars into their red plastic baskets. Then, suddenly, Sherman Hemsley will swim into view. Or Christina Applegate, over by French wines. Bina knows, by his own account, 10,000 customers by face and name. And he has never been star-struck, unless you count the time Brooke Shields laughed at his joke while the store owner blushed. (The joke: "How can you be so down to earth when you're so tall?")
So it was bound to happen that Bina would look over his aisles one day and realize that, between the hours of roughly 4 and 9, he possessed one of Hollywood's largest talent pools. And that his occasional confabs with David Byrne across the beef jerky certainly seemed broadcast-worthy. So Bina, with $4,000 of his money and the help of some friends, raised an antenna on a local hillside and began his own radio station, transmitting 24 hours a day.
You have to live in Laurel Canyon, or commute through it, to listen to Wonderland Radio and Bina's interviews, traffic tips and comedy sketches--the signal falters somewhere around Nichols Canyon to the east and Appian Way in the west. Which is really what Bina wanted: a community radio station, with Laurel Canyon playing the role of Lake Wobegon and Bina its Iranian-born Garrison Keillor. "Angelyne, can you tell us about your billboard?" Bina asked the platinum icon. "You make beautiful music," he told Hemsley after playing the actor's recorded synthesizer noodlings.
Laurel Canyon, at the mouth of the Sunset Strip, has been feeding bands into the boulevard's clubs for three decades, and Bina dutifully plays selections from unsigned canyon bands. His mainstay, however, is the interview. He is fond of taping on location (Jim Morrison's former house, Jimi Hendrix's, Houdini's), and has been turned down only once at the cash register, by child star Edward Furlong ("Terminator 2"), although he later relented. Bina also keeps a list of interviews he pines for: Ben Kingsley ("He was Gandhi"), Liam Neeson ("He lived here two years ago--a nice guy") and the down-to-earth Shields ("She doesn't live here, but she came in once").
"Steve McQueen would have been great," Bina says, "but he's dead. I would like to get Dr. David Viscott, though." Informed that Viscott, too, is deceased, Bina replies: "What? No!" And then he rings up a basket of cat food, Pampers and two meat sandwiches.