Radio Foreplay

A drive-time sex talk team titillates and educates its devoted Houston audience.

THE RECENT SALLY INTO the Texas radio market by the scandalously profane New York disc jockey Howard Stern seems to prove that listeners do not want to be coaxed awake with Top 40 tunes and perfunctory newscasts. Stern’s syndicated talk show starts at five in the morning on Dallas rock and roll station KEGL and ends whenever Stern feels like ending it. Says KEGL program director Brian Krysz: “Some detractors have complained that he’s too controversial and foulmouthed, but generally the response has been fantastic. There are only a handful of people who can pull that off.” So is the Stern show moving into other, bigger Texas markets—like Houston? “Probably not,” says Krysz. “They already have Stevens and Pruett.”

If there are any deejays in the state who can hold their own against the egomaniacal Stern, it’s Jim Pruett and Mark Stevens. These two aging teenagers have figured out what’s on the minds of Houstonians—Sex, with a capital S. For six years, Stevens and Pruett have kidded and provoked their KLOL radio audience in a chummy, involving way that only hometown favorites can do. Their number one rated show heats up morning drive time with a raunchy but good-natured invasion of every caller’s privacy. Ironically, the pair, who have been together for eighteen years, paved the way for Stern at KEGL, where they had a morning show before moving to Houston. Their producer, Brian Shannon, who also produced the KEGL show, says, “We had closet listeners in Dallas—they weren’t ready for us then.

Mark Stevens and Jim Pruett ostensibly play rock and roll for the 18- to 49-year-old set—but the show is so profligately padded with off-color humor that you have to suspect that the music is secondary. “When we first started here, we got about two hundred letters a week telling us how much the audience hated us,” says Jim Pruett, a sturdy 48-year-old with a skill and crossbones engraved on a left molar. But now their popularity is so widespread that it overlaps the normal radio demographic of ages 18 to 49—“It’s twelve to death,” says Mark Stevens. Stevens, though more flamboyantly attired than Pruett (who looks as if he might have gotten dressed in the car), is the quieter of the two. Maybe the laconic 49-year-old hipster just can’t get a word in edgewise, but Stevens seems content to lounge in his chair, looking very nineties in his sixties garb: flowered vest, T-shirt, bracelet, Italian-style loafers, and wire-rimmed glasses.

Stevens and Pruett begin a typical workday preparing for episodes of the Shame Game, Married With Fantasies, and the nine o’clock Sex Survey. Today they are rehearsing a Script about a sexaholic called Uncle Waldo. In this episode, Uncle Waldo parks on a country lane with a young lady—producer Brian Shannon ably supplies car noises and bucolic mooing sounds. The punch line involves a farmer and a shoe. The listeners love the joke, and a few can’t resist phoning in their own embellishments.

The Radio Gods,” as they refer to themselves, don’t lack for callers—many of whom seem to be whiling away Houston’s many traffic delays by phoning from their cars. But calls on the Shame Game are slow today, and Stevens has time to vent his feeling that Stern acts as if he created the format. Finally, Vicki (“That’s not my real name,” she confesses) calls with three things for her boyfriend, Mike, to guess that he should be ashamed of. One is not taking her out to eat, the second is his friend Dennis, and the other is unprintable but, as Pruett later advised her boyfriend, “personal.” Mike strikes out on his first two guesses, but catches Pruett’s drift with the “personal” hint.

The Stevens and Pruett show thrives on couple interaction—or the lack of it. Married With Fantasies, another call-in guessing game, challenges early-morning inventiveness. A caller confides her most secret fantasies to the disc jockeys, who then telephone the husband/boyfriend. “You’d be surprised how often they guess immediately,” says Stevens.

Considering the (ahem) colorful language often employed on the show, I am curious why the Federal Communications Commissions hasn’t snatched KLOL’s license, but Shannon says that they’ve been fined only three times. At $2,000 a pop ($100,000 is tops), they consider the fines minor.

The door to the studio appears to be open to all comers; Dr. Ivan Spector—a psychiatrist known as the Dream Doctor—drops by. Other regulars include a urologist, a plastic surgeon, and another psychiatrist. Dr. Spector reveals to me that many dreams are about sex, but a lot are also about teeth. The doctor reassures her that this is a healthy dream and asks her to consider whether the men around her are wimpy.

Compared to Stevens and Pruett, the men in her life probably are wimpy. Says Shannon: “We like to see how much we can get away with.” But unlike the Howard Sterns of the radio world, who Shannon says offend for the sake of offending, “we aren’t trying to shock—we are just having fun.” Talking about sex is just a good way to do it. “Sex is a common denominator,” says Shannon, “Everybody wants it, and they like hearing what other people are doing. I mean, if you are worried that you’re weird, just listen to the show. There is always somebody else”—like this morning’s female caller with the recurring dream of being licked by hundreds of cats—“who is a whole lot weirder.”

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