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From Their Lives to Your Ears

Sam's the body. Sheena's the brain, and each has experienced a lot. But that's the appeal of their lighthearted talk show. (OK, it gets a little raunchy.)

October 01, 2000|MIMI AVINS | Mimi Avins is a Times staff writer

All the rotten boyfriends, the mediocre sex and humiliating breakups, the descent into financial valleys and professional pits were all worth it, because now, at 33, Sheena and Sam are women with experience. Now that they have their own radio talk show, it seems that every moment of their personal histories, no matter how silly, sordid, sensual, or nearly unbelievable, happened for a purpose.

They can lean into the microphone at KLSX-FM, where they've built a following among the station's core 18- to 34-year-old, white, male audience, and share the details of their pasts with their listeners.

Yes, all you show biz dreamers, Sheena Metal and Samantha Phillips, the rather unlikely stars of "The Sheena and Sam Show," have listeners, whom they serve from a small, chilly mid-Wilshire studio a minimum of five hours a week. (They're also the station's pinch-hitters, filling in for other hosts frequently.) Followers send from 450 to 700 e-mails a week, and have created 30 fan sites on the Internet. They tune in for "The Sheena and Sam Show" at 97.1 from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday. The hard-core fans even stay up from 3 to 5 a.m. Sundays to hear more.

The recidivists in the audience have an easier time than a virgin listener. They've heard the duo characterize themselves as the Thelma and Louise of FM talk radio, a slogan that, if it needed to be parsed, would mean that they're two wacky girlfriends speeding down the highway of life. Even with a thumbnail description, it takes a while to figure out who's who. The comically disdainful woman who sounds eminently sane is Sheena, an overweight, Irish American stand-up comedian with a broad range of knowledge. The unabashed erotic adventuress who sounds like Fran Drescher, when her Brooklyn accent was thickest, is Sam, a former Penthouse centerfold who has elevated self-absorption to high art.

Or, as the women put it, "We're Sheena (big brain) and Sam (big breasts)."

Sam is so pretty, a slender, fine-boned blond who talks about her impressive breast implants as if they were favorite pieces of jewelry, that it's difficult to imagine her producing an obnoxious honk of a laugh that would be convincing coming from an asthmatic horse. But the laugh, along with a verbal tic that makes her insert the word "dude" at the beginning and end of nearly every sentence, are hers. Sheena has so skillfully mastered a seductive, mellifluous purr that no one would imagine her as a woman who's abandoned all euphemisms and simply calls herself fat. Listening to her puts you in a conversation with a friend who's just as informed and opinionated as you are, but, thankfully, no more so. You can enjoy her wit without having to feel either condescending or inferior.

On a Saturday afternoon, the topic that will accompany listeners on their rounds of errands is "Can married couples and single people be friends?" Sheena points out that sometimes jealousy is an obstacle. A husband might fear that his buddy has designs on his wife, for example. This observation prompts Sam to launch into a detailed schematic of who she'll sleep with: "Ex-boyfriends of my girlfriends--never!" She's given way more consideration than anyone would think possible to who goes into her "never," "maybe" and "sure, why not" columns, yet Sheena lets her continue, then finally punctuates Sam's earnest tutorial with a withering, "Thank you for sharing," that Sam finds hilarious. And before you know it, all that's left to do is pick up the cleaning.

*

Sam is a male fantasy and nightmare in one. She's the sexy stunner whom most men dream of having on their arm until, oh, no, she opens her mouth, creating aftershocks of embarrassment with every word. It's impossible to hear Sheena react to Sam without picturing her rolling her eyes. No matter what Sheena says, the implied message is, "Nooooo. She didn't really say that, did she?" They demonstrate the definition of a good team: Neither would be as effective without the other.

Their distinct personas go a long way to explaining the show's popularity. Among the talk listeners that advertisers covet most, adults 18 to 54, Sheena and Sam are consistently in the top 10 in their time period, according to Arbitron.

Like most of KLSX's lineup, "The Sheena and Sam Show" presents host monologues on specific topics, interspersed with listener phone calls. The more callers feel they know the hosts, or someone like them, the more likely they are to feel comfortable participating.

"Between Sheena and me, there's someone for everyone to identify with," Sam says. "Everyone has the slutty friend who's quirky and annoying, and everyone has the bigger friend who's smart and easy to talk to. Everyone has a sister like her or me, or a best friend like her or me, or has dated someone like her or me."

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