`Uncle Allie' was a bright spot on Baltimore radio

May 16, 2002|By KEVIN COWHERD

I CATCH UP with Allan Prell at the sumptuous Reisterstown home of Morris the Remodeler, where the two are rehearsing a TV commercial that may set the advertising industry back 200 years.

Right now, they're strolling with umbrellas in Morris' driveway and croaking their way through "Singin' in the Rain," thus doing permanent damage to the memory of Gene Kelly and the 1952 classic.

"It may be so dreadful, it's good," Prell says of the commercial for his longtime buddy, home-remodeling guru Morris Ellin. "This is MGM comes to Reisterstown."

Watching him now, it's hard to believe it has been nearly three years since "Uncle Allie" walked away from WBAL-AM radio, where he was the best thing about talk radio in this town for 17 years.

The thing about Prell was this: You either loved him or you hated him. He had a voice like a chipmunk in the throes of a nervous breakdown, a manic personality and an unshakable belief that if you were boring on the radio, the listeners had every right to storm the studio, yank you from the microphone and beat you with sticks.

But if you "got" what he did, oh, could he entertain you.

Who else but Prell could pull off Honest Al's Yard Sale, where listeners called in to unload the junk in their basements only to have Honest Al unload on them, questioning everything from their taste in furniture to the quality of their marriage partners?

"Other radio stations did it seriously," Prell says of on-air yard sales, "and I thought it was the stupidest thing in the world. I did it as satire - and it worked."

Who else but Prell would trot out a deranged Christmas character named "Allie Elf," who, sounding like he was half in the bag, would urge women with "big personalities" to call in with naughty stories for "heaps of boolah-boolah"?

"That was the evil, lustful, degenerate side of me," Prell says. "Which means it's a large side of me."

Who else but Prell would broadcast from the World's Smallest Office Party in the elevator at WBAL, complete with Christmas carolers, on-air shrink Dr. Jim Dasinger strumming his banjo and trays heaped with egg nog and cookies?

Who else but Prell would conduct an on-air tasting of "beer-sicles," possibly the lowest moment in the history of talk radio?

(In the interest of full disclosure, I was a regular guest on his show for many years. And it was I who he ensnared to help taste the "beer-sicles." You haven't lived until you've swilled Natural Light and Miller Lite in Popsicle form at 11 in the morning. I didn't walk out of there with a buzz - I walked out needing my stomach pumped.)

But Prell was always about more than just skits and yuks.

He wasn't afraid to take on any topic, no matter how controversial. His shows on gun control, crime and race in Baltimore - during which he frequently touched on his own inherent biases - were riveting, as much for the reasoned discourse of the host as for the white-hot emotions they stirred.

He famously hammered former Baltimore County School Superintendent Stuart Berger when teachers and parents were up in arms over his controversial edicts, and his hard-hitting interviews with the head of a Virginia modeling agency exposed a scam that was duping scores of area young people.

"There were no off-limits topics," he says. "Except boring."

Then, just like that, Allan Prell was gone.

On Aug. 9, 1999, he said good-bye to his listening audience for the last time, put down the earphones and went home. His long, philosophical Tong War with the big shots at WBAL had finally taken its toll.

"I liked what I was doing on the air more than station management did," he says.

He had also tired of being the lone liberal voice crying out from a 50,000-watt station dominated by conservative talk show hosts, including Rush Limbaugh, the King Kong of syndicated radio, and popular afternoon host Ron Smith.

"For 15 years, conservatives have ruled the airwaves," Prell says. "And if there's anything I'm not, it's a rabid conservative."

So for the past three years, he has stayed busy and tried not to drive his wife Sally nuts in their Oakton, Va., townhouse.

For a time, he was host of the syndicated The Movie Show on Radio. He also wrote a novel, a comic fable about "two Nebraska farm boys who achieve fame and fortune in a most unusual way."

The novel did not exactly streak up the best-seller lists, partly because it has yet to be actually, um, published.

"I sent 150 query letters to literary agents," laughs Prell. "And as of today, I have received 103 rejections."

But always, there was this nagging feeling that something was missing from his life.

"I miss being on the radio," he says softly. "I miss talking to the listeners. I miss having fun."

Now it looks like that's about to change.

Today he flies out to Denver to complete a deal that would make him the noon-to-3 talk-show host on 10,000-watt KNRC-AM (1510), a former rhythm-and-blues station changing to a talk format.

"It's going to be very much like I did here," says Prell, clearly psyched about his new gig. "A combination of topical talk and lunacy."

In fact, he's already got his first comedy bit in mind: an interview with "Allie Osbourne," the even more foul-mouthed and drug-addled brother of rock star Ozzy Osbourne.

"It'll be one long series of bleeps," says Prell with his trademark cackle.

You wonder if Denver is ready for this.

Baltimore always was.

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