In order for a radio pitch to be effective, it is imperative that the person making the pitch expresses some kind of interest. So, while recording an on-air promo for one local charity’s vehicle donation program, it seemed like a plus that talk radio personality Frank Kramer was endorsing the services so animatedly.
“They even accept planes, for Christ’s sake!” Kramer relayed to listeners.
Ordinarily, the enthusiasm would have been fine. This promo, however, was for the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles.
Considering the fact that Kramer mentioned the name of the Messiah in a spot for a Jewish nonprofit, the fallout from the slip-up was negligible. It could have been the regretful look he shot the control room immediately after making the ironic faux-pas or the fact that the mistake was too funny to get all that worked up about, but the most likely explanation for the lack of backlash is that this sort of thing has come to be expected from Frosty, Heidi and Frank.
“We’ve been told to hijack the station,” said Kramer, who along with Frosty Stilwell and Heidi Hamilton accounts for one-third of the talk radio comedy trio Frosty, Heidi and Frank.
The station being commandeered is TalkRadio 790 KABC, an AM frequency best known as the broadcast home of Dodgers baseball.
“KABC is like a heritage station,” Frosty said. “It’s a legendary set of call letters: KABC.”
The three new additions to the station’s morning lineup have been doing their best to complete the task they’ve been given — that is, revitalizing the AM talk-radio format.
Since making their AM radio debut on Oct. 5, KABC’s ratings for the weekday morning timeslot leapt a staggering 187 percent in the first eight days of being on the air.
Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to noon, Frosty, Heidi and Frank discuss the news of the day, though quotes around the words “discuss” and “news” are probably in order. Sometimes the conversation topics are timely and socially relevant, but most of the stories trucked out in the course of the show are gleefully inconsequential and bizarre.
To get an idea of the show’s roundabout meandering through topics, here’s the description accompanying the Frosty, Heidi and Frank Uncensored podcast for Oct. 23: “Guantanamo Bay, snoopers, chivalry, dating, magic jackets.”
In their new home on 790 AM, Frosty, Heidi and Frank have been handed a far older demographic than they’re accustomed to — the station management reports an average listener age of 67.
Beyond tugging down the mean age of KABC listeners, the vibrant personalities they bring to their three-hour show are expected to infuse color into the monotone landscape that is AM radio as most know it.
“If you listen to the AM talk stations in LA or any city that you want to listen to, it’s pretty much right-wing, conservative political talk,” Frosty said. “That’s not what we are.”
Frosty, Heidi and Frank certainly do make for an unlikely presence on the predominantly conservative and woefully low-fidelity AM airwaves.
The three Indiana natives represent a break from the convention of how an AM talk radio host is expected to look, talk or think: Kramer is a self-described “hound dog” with a penchant for the daily enjoyment of both marijuana and members of the opposite sex; Hamilton is a wine fiend and proud lesbian who reportedly to possess an eight-inch tongue; Stilwell, far and away the oldest of the group, is described in the lead-in to the uncensored podcast they record after the main show as the “overweight, middle-aged, sexually obscure one.”
“We butt-slam right into Sean Hannity,” Kramer eagerly pointed out. Sure enough, the Frosty, Heidi and Frank show does in fact precede ultra-conservative pundit Sean Hannity’s three-hour broadcast in the KABC weekday lineup. To any informed observer, the scheduling irony has all the makings of the setup to some sort of big cosmic joke.
Although the trio is practically a study in diversity with very few common interests that don’t come in a bottle or a can, they are fiercely loyal in their support of one another.
“We’re showing people that, you know, you don’t have to totally agree or be a part of whatever that lifestyle is [to defend it],” Kramer said.
He offered the example that, although she doesn’t smoke weed, Hamilton thinks of Kramer when someone asks her to sign a petition against a pot dispensary down the block and refuses. Similarly, when it comes to a gay pride parade, Kramer will usually be sitting right next to Hamilton, waving to the crowd.
The three co-hosts were also there for one another during their recent bout of unemployment.
The seven months of being jobless, which began in late February with the conclusion of their hugely successful experiment in FM talk radio on KLSX 97.1 and ended with the Oct. 5 kickoff of their current gig on 790 KABC, almost proved too much to bear for the talk-radio veterans.
“The audience feedback was great while we were off the air — the support was awesome,” Kramer recalled. “Everyone was saying, ‘We need you guys.’ But I didn’t realize how much I needed them, or I needed to have that outlet … I didn’t realize that this show was my therapy.”
Frosty, Heidi and Frank’s eight and a half-year stint on the novel FM talk station KLSX ended for reasons paradoxical at best.
“When we left KLSX, we left at number one,” Stillwell said. “So we left not through any failing or fault of our own, and the corporate people from New York acknowledged that. They said, ‘It’s nothing to do with you, you didn’t do anything wrong, it’s a corporate decision to save money to eliminate the entire staff.’”
Kramer revealed that the ratings bonuses alone that the three of them were due to receive would have been in the six-figure range, collectively. After so many successful ratings periods (year after year, they sat comfortably at the number one spot for the vast majority of their run on KLSX), they were a part of what was probably the most expensive station in the entire CBS radio chain.
Stillwell speculated that the cut-and-dry decision was an easy one for the dispassionate “bean counters on the other coast.”
“They looked at the payroll and said, ‘Wow, we’re paying this much to keep a station on the air? Let’s get rid of them and go to music for nothing,’” he said.
Heidi added, “We got punished for being successful.”
Kramer approached the others about doing a weekly podcast and on March 9, only 17 days after the dissolution of KLSX 97.1, the first one-hour Frosty, Heidi and Frank Uncensored podcast premiered on iTunes. The now-daily podcast, which was originally recorded in a studio in Santa Monica, Calif. and later in a recording studio Stillwell built in his own dining room (named “Rudy Dog Studios” in memory of his trusty sidekick and loyal pet Rudy Dog), is now recorded just down the hall from where the main KABC show is broadcasted, although in a visibly dinkier studio.
Seven months later, the trio’s savior came in the shape of a former authority figure.
“When we were coming down to the wire of our contracts being paid out, our old boss Bob Moore, who backed us up from day one at 97.1, [wanted] us to come over here and have the opportunity once again to do something that nobody’s ever done before,” Kramer said. “Let’s revolutionize AM radio, let’s revitalize that. Let’s get the defibrillator and shock AM radio back into reality and to be relevant again.”
Consider the paddles fired up.