Amateur Hours Air heads: Hundreds of hopefuls stepped up to the mike seeking to become WCBM's afternoon host. Sixgot a chance to put their talk to the test-live.

April 18, 1996|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,SUN STAFF

Sean Casey hammers PLAY on his industrial-strength cassette player. A woman from Cockeysville sings "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." Good singing, ma'am, but we're looking for a talk-show host.

A man then interviews himself, using a fake voice. "I'm getting a lot of this," says Mr. Casey, the program director for WCBM-AM in Owings Mills. The man's audition tape does a belly-flop into the cardboard box at Mr. Casey's feet.

Maxell tape after TDK tape leap to their deaths in a heap of failed sound as Mr. Casey tunnels through more than 200 audition tapes in search of an afternoon talk-show host. The job, which he expects to fill today, is 15 hours a week on the air that, in the event of no calls, can be the loneliest and most desperate hours a human must endure. But for around $50,000 a year, a human can endure much.

The station had an open casting call this month for anyone wanting to be a talk-show host, which is practically everyone. Must be able to persuade, inform, educate and really entertain. "People think it's easy," Mr. Casey says.

To audition, all people had to do was to get a microphone and get fired up. Talk hosts don't have to think on their feet; they have to think on their seat. "Give me 30 minutes of just you," Mr. Casey tells them. And, people, pretend that the phone lines are out. No callers. Just you talking to Baltimore.

Ready, set, PLAY: A man reads "The Raven" in a dozen dialects in 10 minutes. A novel bit, but wrong for talk radio. PLAY: "Hi. Sean. This is Bill. I hope you like this!" Bye Bill. PLAY: No sound. "A new dead-air format," Mr. Casey says.

By phone, fax and cassette, Mr. Casey assembled a pool of talkers eager to replace the popular Tom Marr, who left for a job in Philadelphia. The candidates are truck drivers, corrections officers, probation officers, an NSA employee (no names, please), former congressional candidates, actors, stand-up comics, stockbrokers, paralegals, government workers, private investigators, doctors, lawyers, mechanics, toastmasters, and one karaoke contest winner.

The prospects theoretically have 30 minutes to sound off, but Mr. Casey gives them about one or two minutes to impress him before hitting the eject button. He finally picks six ordinary people for on-air auditions. Chances are slim he'll pick an amateur to host the afternoon slot on WCBM. He's not in the business of taking too many chances: "I'm not hiring the plumber from Essex off the street."

These folks know it's a long shot. But it doesn't really matter. For once in their lives, six people get a show named after them. Six people get their say. And they get more than 15 minutes of fame; they get three hours in drive time.

Monday, April 8. "The Kathy Scherr Show."

"Kathy says she makes Roseanne look like Mr. Rogers," reads the bio provided by the station.

PLAY: "Who am I? Who am I? My name is Kathy Scherr," the host tells WCBM's estimated audience of 25,000 listeners.

Ms. Scherr, a 32-year-old paralegal from Reisterstown, spends her air time discussing the O. J. Simpson trial and the 1994 contested gubernatorial election, which, of course, was rigged because politicians are all crooked and the world "is going to hell in a hand basket" and "problems in this country started when women starting leaving home and entering the work place" and when are we going to stop "taking it on the chin."

At 3: 25 p.m., Ms. Scherr makes her first call for help. "Throw me a lifeline people. Give me a call."

In her second hour, she asks black people to give her a call -- people who think they got their job based on race and not merit. "Nobody gave me a break. Nobody gave me job training."

At 4: 35, another SOS is sent. "Plleeaassee give me a call." Walt from Essex calls and says caning is what we need, as in public whippings.

Ms. Scherr then reads a commercial for soft dentures.

She gets a few calls now and seems to have found her footing. The talk host tells us we need to put discrimination in the past. Get over it, already. "No one has the market cornered on racism."

A black caller asks the white talk-show host: "So, everybody has been discriminated against? Really? When were you discriminated against?"

"Plenty of times," Ms. Scherr assures him.

The host says school was rough because she's left-handed and left-handed people get discriminated against: "There were no left-handed scissors."

The post-mortem:

Ms. Scherr: "I think I did well. I was very comfortable with the callers."

Mr. Casey: "She sounded like Roseanne on the phone, but it never happened on the air. She's not going to make it."

Tuesday, April 9. "The Glenn and Traci Show" or "The Traci and Glenn Show."

Traci Christensen, 34, is a "Randallstown mother of three and former bartender who loves to talk!" And 49-year-old Glenn Spriggs' is a "gentleman farmer from Towson who has been a service station dealer for over 25 years."

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