A Rude World
WKLS resurrects DJ Christopher Rude
in search of a lost edge
By Bob NebelIt is 2:45 on a Wednesday afternoon and Chris Rude is sitting relaxed in a 96Rock production booth hammering out comedy ideas for his upcoming drive-time radio shtick that pounds Atlanta's collective eardrum from 3-7 p.m. weekdays.
"Let's see, I love this Lewinsky story. It has everything you need in it! Sex and lies. I love it!" Rude exclaims as he formulates this particular day's "Match Game" question: "I'm no Monica Lewinsky, but I would let the president leave a stain on my _____." Rude gleefully yet professionally explains: "We must have three female contestants match this question with Beth's answer." Beth, Rude's quasi-sidekick who pulls double duty with traffic reports during his program, will call in during the show with her response. Keep your ears peeled, cover the kids' ears and, most of all, stay tuned.
It was not long ago when Rude was a part of the established, popular "Wake-Up Crew" morning radio program once known as "Rude, Love and Radical." Rude and 96Rock seemed to have it all: He had the pleasure of kibitzing about everything from baseball to his favorite subject, sex, with supporting crew members Lorna Love and "Radical" Bradford. The billboards around town weren't too shabby, either. Later, Rude had the honor of shooting down wisecracks supplied by contributing sports reporter and WAGA veteran, Jeff Hullinger. Station management was happy, as well. It seemed like a marriage made in heaven. But something funny happened on the way to heaven.
Enter pressure from upper management in station owner Jacor Broadcasting in September of last year. That's when 96Rock's programming was gutted along with sister station news radio WGST AM/FM.
The fallout was ugly. The "Newsmonster" became "Planetradio," a mix of New Age infotainment and conservative staple-survivors Rush Limbaugh and Kim Peterson. It was even uglier at 96Rock. Music programming was changed and most of all, Rude and his sidekicks received their walking papers. The real salt on Rude and company's wounds was replacing them with the syndicated, redneck "John Boy and Billy Show," based out of Charlotte.
After a barrage of protest by mail, e-mail, phone calls and faxes, WGST and 96Rock have reverted back to their former programming. The listeners voted and their requests were answered. Planetradio exploded and 96Rock deflated "John Boy and Billy's" monster truck tires. Today, it seems most of the wounds have healed. But both stations are trying to gain a greater audience in the age of Steve & Vickie's morning gabfest and Dr. Laura's afternoon tirades.
At 96Rock, it is a tale of irony. Rude was fired from the morning drive-time slot because station management said they were tired of him pushing the envelope with over-the-top comedy sketches and guests ranging from porno stars and strippers to genital-piercing participants.
"I didn't think we did anything that crude," a serious Rude reflects. "We may have been exploring another lifestyle that the public may not have wanted to hear about. We really tried to touch on a lot of comedic bases on the morning wake-up crew and I really miss that and the interaction I had with the listeners." Nevertheless, an even edgier program called "The Regular Guys" -- DJs transplanted from Los Angeles -- is on 96Rock these mornings while Rude is on in drive time doing his best to slip in his comedy on the air between The Beatles' "A Day in the Life" and Sister Hazel's "Concede."
"I miss having sidekicks in the studio. I really miss having a producer," Rude recalls as he waxes nostalgic and puts CDs into their respective bins.
Showman and family manChristopher Rude is the son of an aerospace engineer who moved young Chris around the country during his childhood and adolescence. His life experiences grew rapidly in the several towns he lived in, but his drive for showmanship shone when he was in Los Angeles selling lemonade to stars such as Lucie Arnaz in front of the old Desilu Studios. Later, he put that exhibitionism to use in a Charlotte broadcasting school in the mid-'70s, where he perfected that rich, classic DJ baritone voice. The steady radio work for Chris started in the Charlotte market, where he stayed for five years. He then worked seven years in Jacksonville and two years in California before moving to Atlanta, where he has been for eight years.
Rude experienced his first real down time as a DJ from last September to May. You can bet he wasn't listening to the "John Boy and Billy" program. He and agent Norm Schrutt toured the country entertaining other job offers. When he was at home, he spent quantity and quality time with the family.
"I just loved being around my family and the three Rude boys," Rude recalls, "I've been married for 10 years and being in north Fulton is a great place for a family to be. When we moved there, it was country. Now there is a growth boom and the north Fulton fathers need to make sure that we do not turn into another Gwinnett."
Underneath Rude's plethora of on-air sexual innuendoes is an intense 40-something family man who works like a dog and plays like a kid. At 96Rock the physical evidence of north Fulton family life is worn on Rude's Juicy Juice T-shirt. On the other hand, his naughty-boy attitude is worn on his head that sports a baseball cap which hides a pony tail. Rude admits it is difficult to separate radio from family life.
"The two do bleed over, but my kids learned about me from another perspective. I'm known as 'Dad,' not Chris Rude."
Aside from his day gig, Rude is an accomplished singer-songwriter-musician, playing in the band Pale White Sausage. The group performed at Lakewood's side stage during this summer's Van Halen concert. While Rude is no Eddie Van Halen on guitar and vocals, he enjoys the creative outlet live musical performance gives him. Comedy and music are mixed in songs such as the one about a guy who always wanted to be an Indigo Girl.
Here's to the futureThese days, Rude is resurrected, re-energized and reunited with what he does best. He is not bitter about past disputes. During his time off, he received support from family and friends in the radio community. Chief among his supporters was Jimmy Baron from WNNX who e-mailed Rude with unlimited moral support. Rude notes proudly that with his return and an improved musical play list, WKLS beat its closest competitors in the latest local Arbitron radio ratings report, including WNNX.
In the ever-competitive radio environment, talent and radio station management are about as faithful to one another as a certain politician from Arkansas is to his wife. It is difficult to tell what Rude's program will be like in the future or what time slot he'll have. What he does know is that he signed a two-year deal. He hopes to do more comedy and less music, but at the moment, his program is like most drive-time programs -- which means music, music and more music. Rude pulls out the Talking Heads' classic CD Speaking in Tongues and cues it up to its first single, "Burnin' Down the House."
"Should I cue this track farther in? he asks Beth.
"I have cued it in before, but why?" a husky, yet sensual-voiced Beth replies.
"Well, I hate dead silence on the air," Rude says with a concerned tone. "When I'm in the car, I don't want to have to turn up the volume and then get blasted when the song gets louder,"
"Go for it!" Beth says.
And the band played on.
(C)1998 Eason Publishing