Carrying a tune for John Kerry

October 07, 2004|By KEVIN COWHERD

IF YOU'VE LIVED in this town long enough and remember the great Allan Prell and wonder what he's been up to, I can now supply that information.

Oh, you'll love this one.

For starters, Prell is involved in another major project. By my count, this is about the 800th major project he's been involved with since he left WBAL-Radio (AM 1090) in a huff back in 1999, when he was the absolute best thing on the morning airwaves.

This time, Prell, flaming liberal that he is, has written and produced a song called "Help Is on the Way," which he's trying to peddle to the John Kerry presidential campaign as a rallying anthem for the Democrats.

So far, the response from Kerry headquarters has been a deafening silence.

Which, because he's already sunk 10 grand of his own money into this venture, Prell is taking rather personally.

"No response!" he says over lunch at McCafferty's in Mount Washington the other day. "I sent it to lots of other liberal organizations, too. The NAACP. The Democratic National Committee. The Air America network, you know, the one Al Franken's on? Nothing!"

For a guy like Prell, losing a hand to a meat cutter is easier to handle than no response.

After all, for 17 years, he hosted a popular morning talk show on WBAL-Radio that made all of Baltimore take notice. (Full disclosure: I was a regular guest for many years. Big deal. I made so much money off the gig, there were times I could actually upgrade my brand of beer from Coors Light to Corona.)

He called himself "Uncle Allie" and he had a voice like one of the Chipmunks on amphetamines.

But Prell was magic behind the microphone.

This was a guy who lived to provoke and entertain. This was a guy who did schtick and dreamt up all these crazy radio characters, but who also thrived on intelligent conversation and lively by-play with his listeners.

And when he went head to head with Ron Smith - the station's terrific afternoon host and dyed-in-the-wool conservative - to debate what was going on in the world, it was some of the best talk radio you'd hear anywhere in the country.

But five years ago, tired of butting heads with station management, Prell quit.

At first, he says, "I went through the obligatory year of depression."

Then in 2002, he signed on as the afternoon talk-show host with a Denver radio station.

Which is when he really got depressed. Because to hear Prell tell it, there are skid-row winos ranting in doorways with a bigger audience than he had at KNRC.

"There were 34 radio stations in Denver, and it was the 35th," is how Prell describes it. "It literally had zero ratings.

"Once, we went three weeks without a phone call. In the total time I was there, I got less than 100 calls."

This is a guy who needs caller reaction the way the rest of us need oxygen. So after eight months, he took a hike.

Back home in the D.C. suburbs, he began putting together a nightclub act with his son, Mark Prell.

The act consisted of - see if you can follow this - Allan playing a blues singer named Moonie Schwartz who's half-Jewish and half-Native American and dressed all in white, while Mark, dressed in a tuxedo, plays the synthesizer in the background.

The act, swears Prell, is still in development.

Where it should probably stay, it seems to me.

But meanwhile there's this "Help Is on the Way" song he's flacking, inspired by the populist phrase repeated over and over by John Kerry in his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention.

"I was emotionally moved by the speech," Prell says now. "I [thought]: `My God, I hope help is on the way.'"

And with typical Prell hubris, he thought: Hey, I can help them spread their message.

So he and Mark sat down and wrote the lyrics and music to "Help Is on the Way" in 24 hours.

With the clock ticking - Election Day was a little more than three months away - Prell frantically auditioned singers and musicians, bought studio time, and eventually produced the CD.

The finished product features local entertainer Russ Margo on lead vocals and a soulful back-up chorus, along with a lush orchestral sound and a sizzling guitar-solo finale.

Think, I don't know, Neil Diamond meets the Pointer Sisters. Then Jimi Hendrix crashes the party.

Anyway, the song is kind of catchy. And Prell figures its theme of hope for the common man who's up against the interests of the rich and powerful should resonate with a large segment of the Democratic Party faithful:

People have you heard?/America can do better. (Yes, we can.)

Help us spread the word/It's time to come together. (Yes, we can.)

Reaching out to red and blue/Our flag needs both colors, too.

I tell you: Help is on the way. (Yes, it is.)

"There's no mention of Kerry, no mention of war or politics," says Margo, who is also at the lunch. "It's simply a message that help is on the way. For people who have lost their jobs, lost industrial jobs to other countries ..."

"And people who have lost sons and daughters in Iraq," Prell interrupts.

"Who do you turn to with the present administration?" asks Margo. "One that doesn't give a [darn]."

If you want to hear the song, it'll be available online at in the near future.

In the meantime, Prell is firing off e-mails and working the phones, hoping to generate enough publicity for "Help Is on the Way" that it gets noticed by some Democratic big-shots.

His ultimate fantasy: Kerry hears it, loves it, insists that it be played at all his remaining campaign stops.

And on Nov. 2, "Help Is on the Way" is blaring in the background when a beaming Kerry wins the election and jubilantly addresses the American people.

That's one thing about Prell: He never thinks small.

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