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Keeping it together on the air

Despite one host's move to the Northwest, KROQ-FM's 'Kevin & Bean Show' stays the irreverent course.

May 28, 2003|Steve Carney | Special to The Times

He says many listeners still don't believe it's true, but half of the Southland's top-rated morning radio team is so uncomfortable with the area that he no longer lives here.

Thirteen years after it debuted on KROQ-FM (106.7), the irreverent "Kevin & Bean Show" topped the most recent Arbitron ratings for morning drive, in the poll of listeners 12 and older from January through March. When the cast found out, Gene "Bean" Baxter was at his home on an island off Seattle, where he maintains sheep, pigs and solitude.

"I never really cared for L.A. I just never really dug it," said Baxter, who, along with his wife, finally moved from his farm in Santa Clarita in 1999. He says he never liked the pace and show-biz culture of Los Angeles, and though the same year he moved the duo received the prestigious Marconi Award from the National Assn. of Broadcasters as major-market personalities of the year, "The Kevin & Bean Show" almost became extinct.

To keep the program alive, KROQ proposed having Baxter broadcast remotely from his new home. He agreed to try but was prepared to look for work in Seattle if the experiment failed. Co-host Kevin Ryder said he was "kind of blind-sided by it."

"When it happened, I thought, 'We'll try it for a couple of months.' We figured we'd give it a shot," he said. "I'm shocked at how well it works. I don't give him very many compliments, but I don't know how many other people could pull that off."

So now every morning before the start of the 5-10 a.m. show, Baxter ambles to a room in his guest house where he has a sound mixing board, recording equipment, a video monitor showing his cohorts in the KROQ studio in Los Angeles, a computer and a microphone attached to a high-quality phone line. Ryder and the other Los Angeles crew can also see him on a monitor in their studio.

"It sounds like we're in the same room," Baxter said. He flies down to the area as necessary for live appearances and concerts, but some listeners still don't believe he's not in L.A. full time. "They can't really get their heads around how it's possible. People thought it was some elaborate setup for a joke."

Unlike many morning shows that rely heavily on bathroom or bedroom humor, Ryder and Baxter and their accomplices -- in between songs by the Foo Fighters or Beastie Boys -- mock every lame movie or TV show, marvel at the latest blockbuster film or local sports triumph and skewer every pseudo-celebrity or fading star, hoping that their listeners enjoy the gags as much as they do. It's a formula that jibes with the iconoclastic image of the station and with an audience that has an appetite for the alternative.

But KROQ program director Kevin Weatherly said the station isn't about to put the pair's faces up on billboards around town, touting them as "the most-listened-to morning show in L.A."

"The appeal of Kevin & Bean is they're the anti-slick," he said.

Laid-back sensibility

In the laid-back atmosphere of the studio, Ryder, clad in corduroy shorts and a polo shirt, wanders in and out of the booth when he's not on the air, even when traffic reporter Lisa May is reading her dispatches. The show defies the conventional mania for silence and soundproofing and to-the-second precision found at other stations. Instead, the easy banter during the program is almost indistinguishable from that off the air. Mistakes and ad-libs are welcomed as much as the planned bits, as long as they're just as funny.

The show is famous for its outrageous April Fool's Day stunts, such as causing a traffic jam last year at Ontario Mills by purportedly broadcasting a live concert from the shopping mall. Or the on-air fistfight that sounded like it erupted between Baxter and Radiohead lead singer Thom Yorke.

But the humor sometimes backfires. Only six months into their job, in 1990, Ryder and Baxter got into trouble with their station and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department by airing a fake murder confession. And in March, entertainment reporter Ralph Garman, while impersonating Jerry Lewis, called the office of French President Jacques Chirac.

After a few minutes of not getting anywhere, he and the others on the show were about to scuttle the gag when someone claiming to be Chirac got on the line and bantered with the ersatz Lewis for several minutes on Franco-American relations and world events. Station and company executives have since imposed a gag order about that incident.

"If you're going to have any kind of edge at all," Baxter said, "you can't be in a mode where you're trying to make everybody happy."

Another staple of the show is the morning concerts with various bands, with small audiences of invited fans. But they also feature guests that might seem unexpected for a comedic morning show, such as Adrien Brody, before he won a best actor Oscar this year for "The Pianist," and filmmaker Atom Egoyan, to talk about his movie dealing with Armenian genocide.

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