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Around the Dial

Can Opie, Anthony Find a Home in L.A.?

July 20, 2001|PAUL BROWNFIELD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Whipped cream bikini contests. Bra bingo. Taking the homeless to a New Jersey mall for a shopping spree.

These are the kinds of stunts that can turn you into the next big thing in commercial talk radio, as two guys out of New York named Opie and Anthony are proving.

Born in the days when everyone within three feet of a microphone was doing O.J. Simpson jokes, Opie and Anthony have gone from miscreant Long Island deejays to potential next big thing for Viacom-owned Infinity Broadcasting, which last month signed the duo to a three-year contract (reportedly worth $30 million, although some say that's an exaggerated figure), with the promise of a nationwide roll-out in 22 markets across the country.

Although Opie and Anthony in recent weeks have added Philadelphia, Chicago, Dallas, Cleveland, San Francisco and other cities as new markets, Los Angeles, in the words of Infinity spokesman Dana McClintock, "falls in the category of TBD [to be determined]."

Infinity-owned talk station KLSX-FM (97.1) would seem the natural fit, given that the station already features the ribald antics of syndicated personalities Howard Stern and Tom Leykis. In the second-quarter Arbitron ratings released Tuesday, KLSX finished 15th in the L.A. market, with Stern's show the top English-language morning show among adults 25 to 54.

Jack Silver, program director at KLSX, declined comment on whether Opie and Anthony would hit his station any time soon, instead stressing how happy he is with his current mix of Stern, Leykis and local personalities who can do promotional tie-ins with local advertisers.

Still, others, citing Infinity's investment in Opie and Anthony, don't see their absence in a market as big as L.A. lasting long.

"If I were any of the other shows on KLSX, I'd be concerned," said Michael Harrison, editor of the industry trade Talkers magazine, referring to the station's local talent.

In the short term, the most likely scenario, according to several sources familiar with the situation, is that Opie and Anthony will be added to KLSX's weekend lineup as a recorded segment. Infinity owns eight stations in the L.A. market, including alternative rock station KROQ-FM (106.7), which finished first in the latest Arbitron rankings.

"They will have a full-time slot here at some point," Robert Eatman, the duo's agent, said. "These guys are that good. [Audiences] should know about them here, and they will."

Opie (whose real name is Gregg Hughes) and Anthony (whose name is Anthony Cumia) declined to be interviewed for this article, with their producer saying the pair wanted to wait until they have an L.A. station. In New York, where they are heard weekdays from 3 to 7 p.m. on the FM talk station WNEW, "Opie and Anthony" draws a heavy concentration of young males (with the largest share of audience in its time period), a coveted demographic on television and radio.

"Obviously, CBS believes in these guys, because there are so few shows that get to the younger demographic," said Harrison.

Seen in the context of Stern and Leykis, Opie and Anthony speak to a slightly younger audience, making them even more attractive to advertisers, Harrison added. A recent article on the pair in Brill's Content magazine put them on a continuum with a pantheon of the leading practitioners of rude and crude--from MTV's gross-out stunt show "Jackass" to the World Wrestling Federation.

In a recent giveaway promotion, Opie and Anthony held a contest in which the person who performed the sickest stunt received a trip to Hawaii. The winner swallowed five living feeder mice on the air.

Other regular stunts include getting women to disrobe in the studio (a favorite Stern pastime) and distributing "WOW" bumper-stickers, standing for "Whip 'em Out Wednesdays," encouraging female listeners to flash other motorists.

Opie and Anthony came to New York from WAAF in Worcester, Mass., where they had been on the air from 1995 to 1998. The duo were fired from WAAF after an April Fool's Day stunt in which they reported that then-Boston Mayor Tom Menino had been killed in a car accident. They were subsequently hired by WNEW and became a key component in the station's transition from rock to talk.

Like Stern and Leykis, Opie and Anthony have their true believers, defenders who say the two can't simply be dismissed as a low-rent, lowbrow act. And no one is denying their ability to speak directly to the regular guy in radio-land, whether it's via breast-ogling or other time-honored male pursuits.

"They happen to do lowbrow radio in a very professional manner," says Harrison. "They bring preparation and professionalism to the product. As a result, they're enjoying success."

Actor-comedian Jay Mohr is among those entertainers who regularly drop in on Opie and Anthony's New York studio. "There's two of them, which is an advantage they have over Howard [Stern]. ... I've been in that studio when there's literally nothing to talk about. There's a formula to it, but they're really engaging, great guys. It's just like your friend got a radio show."

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