The fix is in

The Spirts Junkies -- four guys from Bowie -- hit a home run with a male-bonding radio show that's equalo parts bad taste and good fun

August 10, 1999|By KEVIN COWHERD

FAIRFAX, VA — FAIRFAX, Va. -- Sweet Mother of God, what is this?! In the parking lot of Panda Express, the Chinese joint on Lee Highway, a young guy with two steaming cartons of pork lo mein climbs into a Honda Accord and punches the radio dial, and out of the dashboard now comes a hurricane of noise, a driving, hypnotic chant that sounds like an angry mob taunting patients at a rehab clinic: "Junkies! Junkies! Junkies! ..."

The guy with the lo mein grins.

He powers down the passenger side window and waves a gravy-stained carton in the direction of a nearby hill and yells over the noise: "You looking for the Junkies? Top of Oak Street, dude. Tell 'em the Boss Man says hello."

The Boss Man. Right. Ohhhh-kay.

A few minutes later, in the cramped, dimly lit first-floor studio of WJFK-FM, a place with all the charm of a meat locker, the "Sports Junkies" nightly sports-talk show begins.

FOR THE RECORD - An article on the "Sports Junkies" talk-radio show in Tuesday's Today section incorrectly listed the frequency of WJFK-AM. The correct frequency is 1300. The Sun regrets the errors.

Somebody hits the chant loop -- "Junkies! Junkies! Junkies! ..." -- and seconds later the airwaves fill with the adrenalized voices of Eric "E.B." Bickel, John "Cakes" Auville, John-Paul "J.P." Flaim and Jason "Lurch" Bishop.

For the next four hours, these four lifelong buddies from Bowie will deconstruct, among other things, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, hot-looking women, the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa home run derby, Cakes' recent vacation in South Carolina, celebrities who are screw-ups, athletes who are thugs, the scary new creakiness of Cal Ripken Jr. and the just-concluded "J.P. vs. Cakes Golf Challenge," an exhibition so horrendous ("J.P. thought he was in `The Blair Witch Project,' he was in the woods so much") that it probably set the game back 200 years.

Listening to the Junkies' hip, edgy rants on every topic under the sun, one thing becomes abundantly clear: This is not your old man's sports-talk show.

"Sports is the unifying theme of our show," says Flaim. "But at least half ... is not about sports."

Ratings domination

If "Sports Junkies" sometimes feels like one long, profanely funny Gen-X howl -- all four hosts are in their late 20s -- it has become immensely popular in the Washington market, where it dominates the ratings in its 7 p.m.-11 p.m. time slot. (Since May, it's been airing five nights a week in Baltimore on WJFK-AM, 1390, although it's too soon to gauge the size of the listener audience.)

"It's a different kind of sports-talk show," says Bishop. "It's not ... about numbers and stats and who's the back-up quarterback for this team.

"It's like when you go to a bar and hang out and talk with your boys. I think [listeners] relate to the fact that we're not experts."

Whatever the reasons for their popularity, the Junkies are white-hot right now.

They just landed a 50-market syndication deal with the Westwood One radio network, and Sports Illustrated gave them a nice writeup in its July 12 issue.

Sure, the local sports media critics have hammered them for being crude, tasteless, homophobic and sophomoric, for constantly talking over each other, and for the annoying rock or rap music that serves as a constant backdrop throughout the show.

Picky, picky, picky, respond the Junkies.

Because all in all, it's been a hell of a ride so far for four guys who had absolutely zero broadcast experience four years ago, a ride the Junkies couldn't have envisioned in their wildest dreams.

"Are you kidding?" says Flaim. "We're waiting for some sort of cataclysmic event to end all this!"

Not really rags-to-riches

How the Junkies managed to snare this sweet gig is already becoming the stuff of radio legend.

It's not a rags-to-riches story, because they weren't exactly heating cans of beans over a hotplate before, and they're not lighting their cigars with hundred-dollar bills now, either.

Anyway, the story goes like this: It's the summer of '95 and all four guys are stuck in a dreary post-college limbo.

Auville is in retail management for Toys R Us, a swell job, he says, if you like making no money and working the kind of hours that would make a migrant worker keel over.

Bickel is finishing his master's in education, Flaim is in law school, Bishop is a marketing intern with the Philadelphia Eagles.

One day, they're watching this Bowie cable-access talk show at Bickel's girlfriend's house. The show features some young guys, stiff as storefront mannequins, shooting the breeze about politics.

"You guys could do that!" says Bickel's girlfriend's mother suddenly. "You guys could do a sports-talk show!"

Anyway, it's like in the cartoons. A light bulb goes off over their heads, and the guys think: why the hell not?

So they put together a weekly cable-access show, on this cheesy set filled with rickety wood furniture that could have been fished out of a Goodwill bin and football banners hanging everywhere.

It resembles some horrible hybrid of "Wayne's World" and "NFL Countdown." They call themselves the "Sports Junkies" and wear nice shirts and ties on the air and look about as comfortable as four guys waiting for a colonoscopy.

But somehow it eventually ... works.

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