The Voice of Love WLIF-FM LATE-NIGHT RADIO HOST FRAN LANE'S SIGNATURE IS A DEDICATION TO HER LISTENERS.

December 24, 1997|By ROB HIAASEN | ROB HIAASEN,SUN STAFF

Hey you. You are missing your baby. You want her back, you want her front and sides, you want her bad. You want another chance. You are a fool for love.

You are on the air.

"Hey you," says the late-night voice of Love. "I'm in the mood for love tonight. How you feeling?"

Bad, Fran. Real bad.

"I'm with you ... until midnight, playing your love songs and dedications," says Fran Lane, host of WLIF-FM's The Nite Lite. Weekdays 7 to midnight, 101.9 on your digital dial. You can't place the face but you know the voice.

The voice listens, seduces, indulges. The voice would buy you a drink, if it could. The voice does not snicker when you request Barry Manilow's "Could it be Magic?" or Chicago's "Colour My World" or anything by Lionel Ritchie. "What song is burning in your heart?" the voice asks.

You're not alone for the holidays. Fran knows the name of your wife or boyfriend and how long you've been together. The voice knows your habits -- the way you call every Tuesday, the way you love the voice's voice. Fran calls you by your nickname -- Slim, The Roving Ambassador, The Key Man, The Captain, Mrs. Captain or The Fat Man. Real names would only break the mood's back.

Now come inside the radio station and sit 5 feet from the voice at work. Broadcasting is all so technical and electronic, isn't it? How does passion possibly escape from these compact office walls?

Don't answer. Just close your eyes and listen.

"I love the magic of radio," Fran Lane says.

The voice makes a plea. Sure, she'd love to be interviewed for this story, but remember the man behind the curtain in Oz? And how it turned out he was just a short, dumpy guy with no powers?

"Don't," Fran says, "take the magic away."

In the studio

Love is a lot of busy work.

At 6: 50 p.m. on this Thursday, Francis Margaret Lane readies herself for The Nite Lite. On the grounds of Towson Commons, the WLIF studio is decorated with Carly Simon, Linda Ronstadt and Davey Jones pictures. The studio itself has a gas chamber feel to it. Cozy, sealed and a host could die from dead air.

Tonight, Fran wears a blouse and skirt. Her dedication songs -- some 12 an hour -- are pre-recorded on two behemoth tape machines that require her every waking moment. The 32-year-old host stands, often for five hours. She has no engineer or producer or intern. Fran is a solo act with a cast of characters on hold.

"If you have a bad day, she makes you feel better," says The Fat Man, a single, 39-year-old man in Glen Burnie. He calls Fran every Tuesday at 7 p.m. to beat the rush. His signature phrase is "Who loves you baby?" -- in honor of his mentor, Kojak. Little else is known about The Fat Man.

"The good part about her show," he says, "is nobody knows who you are." Indeed, The Nite Lite works under the cloak of anonymity. Radio -- the theater of the mind -- performs best at night, too.

At 7 p.m., Fran addresses the microphone, closes her eyes and takes two deep breaths. She gets so close strands of her Stevie Nicks hair cling to the microphone. Watching her seems like an invasion of privacy.

"Hey, you love birds," says the sliding voice. "I'm right where I want to be -- with you." And for you, she plays John Lennon's "Happy Christmas (War is Over)."

Off the air, "Hello, Fran?" a male caller says. His voice sounds muffled, down in the mouth, in the drink.

"Hi, Key Man!" Fran answers, as if she hasn't heard from him in a whole week. She starts the tape recorder in hopes The Key Man is good for a dedication this night.

"After 28 years," The Key Man says, "my wife has found someone else." So this is Christmas, and what have you done ... Lennon sings on the air.

"I don't know what to say," Fran says, off guard and still off the air. The tape is stopped.

"That's life," The Key Man says. "I just had to call you."

"I'm glad you did. Keep in touch with me!" Fran says.

"Just say a little prayer for me," The Key Man says, weeping. "I'm getting drunk."

"I'll call you," Fran says.

She has his home number. Fran has even met The Key Man. A very nice guy, she says. But Fran has to keep her distance. While she gets up-close and personal on the radio, this doesn't mean Fran will drop by your house to shoot the breeze over coffee. Sounds un-romantic, we know, but The Nite Lite is a job.

Fran takes a call from The Barry Manilow Girl. This regular is a 38-year-old housewife from Severn. Fran runs the tape as the woman flips over a recent Manilow concert. "Oh, my God!" The Barry Manilow Girl says. "Oh, my God. I'm telling you, Fran ... We were partying!"

Partying Barry Manilow fans. Savor that image for a moment.

Now recall the 1973 movie "American Graffiti." Remember the scene when Richard Dreyfuss begs Wolfman Jack to play a dedication for that blond in the white T-Bird? Dreyfuss' character walks into the radio studio. It's late. He's desperate. Wolfman Jack sits at the radio board, eating melted Popsicles.

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