Draw Garabo's idiot-savant success

We're one hour into the Drew Garabo show on a Tuesday evening, and producer Mandy (last name withheld upon request) has found a fax posted on the wall of the control room at Real Radio 104.1. Apparently a resident of the Wilhelm House for the Mentally Challenged recently called in and was cut off. The resident, an aspiring radio host himself, was crushed and entered a deep despondency at having his hopes dashed.

Minutes later, Garabo is on the air chastising the Wilhelm representative for bothering him with such information. He informs the anonymous faxer that this is his show, and he is not responsible for all of his listeners' sensitivities. Within minutes a representative of the Florida Family Association calls to inform Mandy that they are now under surveillance by the organization.

It's been a long road to making the association's shit list. In the wake of Orlando radio's consolidation wars, fewer players hold larger pieces of the broadcasting pie. For many stations this has resulted in narrower programming formats, but it has also allowed for breakthroughs in newer formats such as talk-radio. In 1997, male listeners ages 18-34 and 25-54 made the overnight version of the Drew Garabo show No. 1. Now, as he slides into the 7 p.m.-to-11 p.m. shift, Garabo aspires to repeat that success and make an even bigger impact in 1998.

The journey for Garabo began at WPRK, circa 1991. Garabo, then a student at UCF, was given the opportunity to co-host a morning time slot on the Rollins College station. "I knew a little bit about alternative music at the time," he recalls. "Not too much. Didn't consider going into radio at the time." Fate stepped in when Real Radio decided to program alternative music on the weekend. The program director searched his radio dial until encountering Garabo, who was soon manning the controls of the weekend 3 p.m.-to-midnight time slot.

A visit by former Real Radio host Ed Tyll led to an offer to produce Tyll's afternoon show. The fledgling producer soon found he shared an affinity with many of Tyll's listeners: Tyll was impossible. "I was pulling my hair out after about seven months. Ed and I were just on different ends of the universe. I couldn't take it anymore."

He began hanging out on the air after the show for the "Philips Phile," making "stupid voices and stupid jokes." When the overnight host took a vacation, Garabo stepped in to fill the void. When said overnighter found himself on a permanent vacation in November 1995, "The Drew Garabo Show" was born.

Meanwhile, Mandy was an intern at Real Radio and broadcasting news reports from AM station 740 WINS when an acquaintance asked about her knowledge of Real Radio. He mentioned he was applying for a producer's position. "I said ‘Sorry dude, you shouldn't have told me that because I'm going to call and get the job the next day.' And I did."

By last summer Tyll found himself packing for California, and a reshuffling left the 7 p.m.-to-midnight show open. Tyll's producer, Daniel Dennis, had a knack for providing the effects and "drops" that add a surreal dimension to talk-radio and was snatched up for Garabo's new evening show.

Essentially, Garabo, Mandy and Dennis were dropped into the ocean to learn how to swim. "We are talk-radio idiot savants, absolutely," declares Garabo. "It's talk-radio but it's not talk-radio. We're like a rock station that happens to not play records." What commenced was a free-form stew of sophomoric humor, highlighted by scatological sound effects, local band participation and a parade of "adult entertainers" calling in -- all tied together by the cohesive chemistry of three radio idiot savants.

The early evening slots don't allow time for local music like the overnights did. From time to time, Bughead, Gargamel, the Nature Kids, Clüj, Kow and The Hate Bombs all showed up for late-night, often jamming at the studio. The earlier shift doesn't allow for performances, but the bands are still welcome. Garabo has taken a special interest in championing Bughead and the Nature Kids, the latter calling in with bizarrely edited recordings that have become a staple of the show.

And every once in a while someone causes a little trouble. The fax, it turns out, was a joke on Garabo, who admitted such on the air. Whether or not the Florida Family Association appreciated the irony is unknown.

"Here's the breakdown for ya, folks," says Garabo. "It's entertainment radio, and what we have to do to put together an entertaining show, we will do. I'm not going to say what's real and what's not real, because it's nobody's business. What matters is that we have fun doing what we're doing, and it amazes me what people will buy into sometimes. It absolutely amazes me."


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