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Lex and Terry's wet dream

Michael Lile stood patiently outside the gate of the grand prix racetrack inside the Malibu SpeedZone in North Dallas, intently watching pint-sized cars wheel around the track in their fervid race to post the fastest time on the house clock.

Behind him, a sparse crowd fueled by Miller High Life roamed the sprawling grounds, which consist of a "slick" go-cart track and a drag strip where imitation race cars send speed junkies screaming down a 220-yard track at 70 mph for 15 bucks a pop.

On this crisp Tuesday evening, Cowboys receiver Michael Irvin is there for fun, his bodyguard stationed at his side, but the evening's official attractions are Lex Staley and Terry Jaymes, the hosts of the new Lex and Terry Show, which airs during the morning-drive slot on Q102-FM (KTXQ).

Lile is an avid Lex and Terry fan.
The slender, 22-year-old U.S. Postal Service employee is sporting a Wayne's World baseball cap and a black F-16 Fighting Falcon T-shirt. Lile says he had been meaning to check out the SpeedZone, but when he heard that Lex and Terry were going to be there to pimp their show and Q102, he jumped at the chance to meet his favorite DJs.

The promotional appearance is one of several the duo have made since May, when they brought their show to Dallas from Jacksonville, Florida, where they dominate the morning airwaves and have become local celebrities.

Lile's opportunity arrives when Staley throws his race car into park, pulls his considerable weight out of the car's tiny confines, and lumbers off the track. Jaymes follows behind, his 6-foot-3-inch frame towering above the crowd of low-budget thrill seekers.

Lile's eyes bulge with excitement as he extends his hand and tells Staley that he loves his show--especially when they call up 1-900 numbers and play sound bites from Wayne's World. The best, Lile says, was when Wayne's voice said "a sphincter says what," and they tricked a woman into saying "what" four times.

Jaymes, meanwhile, stands to the side, preoccupied. Earlier that day, the 36-year-old California native bought his dream car, a blue 1996 Porsche. The car is used, but Jaymes is still nervous about the most expensive purchase of his life. After all, the days when he was living in his car are not so far away.

For Lex and Terry, the jump from Jacksonville, the nation's 50th-largest radio market, to the 7th-ranked Dallas market represents a major career move: It's their one, and possibly only, chance to shine in a major market. And not just in Dallas, but across the country.

In September, The Lex and Terry Show became the only Dallas-based morning radio show to launch a national syndication effort. In the coming months, they hope to take their live call-in show, complete with 1-900 gags, fart jokes, and interviews with strippers, to markets across the country. So far, the show is on the air in Dallas, Jacksonville, and Savannah, Georgia, and is expected to begin airing in Key West next month.

For two guys approaching middle age who still relish pontificating about which celebrities they would screw, the syndication effort is their chance to prove that they can compete with Howard Stern, Don Imus, and the other kings of morning radio.

But for SFX Broadcasting, which is financing the syndication effort, its five-year contract with Lex and Terry is hardly a love affair, and knocking Stern off his throne has little to do with the financial success of the relationship.

Rather, the syndication effort is a marriage of convenience in the chaotic world of radio broadcasting, where the passage of the 1996 Telecommunications Reform Act has sparked a mind-boggling frenzy of corporate buyouts and mergers. As a dwindling number of corporations divvy up the nation's radio markets, executives are scouring the country for talent to feed their growing empires.

Thanks to Howard Stern, who proved that morning radio need not be locally produced to be a financial gold mine, the syndication of morning talk shows is an increasingly popular corporate strategy. In it, local talent is replaced by syndicated DJs who have proven they can deliver more consistent ratings and, therefore, attract more advertising dollars in markets across the board.

"You do not have to be in Top 10 markets to be successful," says KTXQ Vice President and General Manager Patrick Fant. "That's not to say we won't try. I think we'll be in a couple of 'em, [but] that's not a measure of success. We can certainly make great money and be very successful in the Top 100 markets."

Consistency is where the money lies, and, not surprisingly, the new wave of syndicated shows relies on time-tested humor that is as predictable and stale as the formats of the stations they air on.

 

In Dallas, Lex and Terry aren't exactly proven talent. Despite their impressive ratings in Jacksonville and a recent jump in their Dallas numbers, the pair has yet to prove they can stay on top in a major market, where the competition is tight and the stakes much higher. That battle will take time. If they are to survive, Lex and Terry are going to need to enlist an army of Michael Liles in a campaign that promises to spawn shows rife with lowbrow humor and stripper interviews.

Not one to shrug off a fan, Staley notices Lile's Wayne's World hat and says he likes it. The compliment prompts a comment from Lile that inadvertently describes the future of morning radio, where everything old is old again.

"I got it used," Lile says, lifting the worn hat up and proudly running his hand through his matted red hair. "I had to wash it a few times, but now I wear it all the time."

Whatever the inspiration is behind Lynyrd Skynyrd's song "That Smell," the oft-heard hit is an appropriate theme song for the band's hometown of Jacksonville, Florida.

Set on the northeast corner of the state, Jacksonville is located in Florida's most industrial county and today is home to seven Superfund environmental cleanup sites.

Back in the 1940s, the city's humid climate, combined with the exhaust from the pulp mills that drive its economy, had created such a pollution mess that women reportedly saw their pantyhose disintegrate as they walked through town. By the 1980s, not long after Lynyrd Skynyrd's tragic plane crash, the city's one million residents were compelled to form an odor committee to combat the smell of rotten eggs that permeated the city.

On December 16, 1992, the city that produced fart smells and "Freebird" gave birth to The Lex and Terry Show. The union was an unplanned event that would set the tone for a morning show that would steadily win the hearts, if not brains, of the city.

A few years before, Staley met Terry Jaymes at a party in California. The two immediately hit it off, bound together by the fact that both of their fathers had sold cars for a living. At the time, Staley vowed that he would one day hire Jaymes as a morning personality just as soon as he reached his goal of running a radio station.

In 1992, Staley was the music director and a midday personality at Jacksonville's Rock 105 (WFYV-FM), a classic rock station. When Staley followed up on his promise, Jaymes couldn't afford to pass up the opportunity.

Once a professional basketball player in Australia and later an actor whose best role was playing "Chad" on the now-defunct soap opera Santa Barbara, Jaymes was barely making a living working weekend radio gigs in California. Jaymes signed on at Rock 105 with the understanding that Staley would join him on the air until the station could hire a co-host.

"Never found anybody," says Staley, who is slumped inside a gray conference room in Q102's 12th-floor offices in the Comerica building just north of downtown Dallas.

Seated across the table, Jaymes says that his and Staley's very first show is still their best, though the station's general manager wanted to put him on a plane back to California halfway through the program.

"We had a guest on, [talking about] how to get the woman you desire in bed, something like that. He was mean to women, but we weren't. But we were getting the credit for it," Jaymes says. "It got the phones all fired up. Everybody was talking about it, and he [the general manager] wanted to pull the plug by the end of the day. It was great."

At first, Jacksonville listeners didn't take to the "two punks in a locker room" routine they were suddenly hearing, and the station's morning ratings immediately took a nosedive.

"It was definitely a different show than what the market and the station were used to, and everybody was pretty uncomfortable with it," Staley says. "We went through a six- to nine-month period where we were just told some horrific things."

"And everybody's looking at us like we're a turd in a punch bowl," Jaymes adds. "People hated us. And then all of a sudden the ratings started to go."

The world of radio is governed by the Arbitron ratings, which are published quarterly and broken down into several age categories that target listeners, in part, by their spending habits. At rock-format stations such as Rock 105 in Jacksonville and Q102 in Dallas, the target audiences are men 25-54 and men 18-34.

For more than three years, The Lex and Terry Show has held the No. 1 overall position in the morning slot in Jacksonville and has consistently reeled in its targeted audience.

 

Even though the show has relocated to Dallas, Rock 105 President and General Manager Mark Schwartz says Lex and Terry have improved their ratings and maintained their local rock star status. Last month, Schwartz says, Lex and Terry returned to the show's hometown for a fundraiser and were mobbed by fans.

"When they were done with the event, they were signing autographs for an hour and a half," Schwartz says. "We couldn't get them out of the venue."

Once they got used to Lex and Terry, Schwartz says, listeners became loyal converts and helped the show evolve into a successful call-in program that mixes the callers' relationship problems with sports talk, news updates, and the occasional Danzig song.

"Unlike a lot of other morning shows that rely on tired bits and material that's stolen from other radio stations, these guys are 100 percent unique," Schwartz contends. "They don't rely on joke services. They're extraordinarily topical."

While Schwartz's description of the show may cause Lex and Terry's Dallas competitors to spit up their coffee, there is no denying that their five years on the air have been a success. The question now is whether they can repeat their Jacksonville ratings victory in Dallas.

"It was a major step in their career path for them to be in a market the size of Dallas," Schwartz says. "I would be shocked if they weren't wildly successful in Dallas within a reasonable amount of time. In Jacksonville, it took six months. In a market like Dallas, it could take a year or two years."

So far, Lex and Terry are repeating the initial nosedive they made in Jacksonville. When the last quarterly Arbitron book was published, the show tied for 18th place overall with two other stations and lodged a sorry 20th ranking in the men 25-54 category.

In that quarter, KHKS-FM's Kidd Kraddick swept the morning ratings categories, and the mighty Howard Stern, whose New York-based show aired for most of the quarter before it was pulled from the Eagle, fell from 3rd to 6th place overall.

But the low ratings were expected, and the last two "Arbitrends" (one-month ratings samples) indicate that Lex and Terry may be catching on in Dallas. After their sixth month on the air, one trend ranked the show No. 3 in adults aged 18-34, No. 5 for men over 18 years old, and tied for 10th overall. A second trend published Friday produced similar results.

While the latest trends are good news, Lex and Terry say they're expecting a slow, uphill battle that may take a year or two before the show takes off.

"A trend is a meaningless thing," Staley says. "The bottom could fall out in the next two, or it could go even higher. You don't know. All that is, is a positive indicator for us."

Jaymes, who has a tendency to cut off his partner and cut to the chase, is more blunt in his assessment of their situation.

"Realistically, on the streets, we're still sucking."

While Lex and Terry's union on the air and their success in Jacksonville may have been unexpected events, there was absolutely nothing unplanned about their arrival in Dallas in May and the launch of their syndication effort in September.

The rollout of The Lex and Terry Show for syndication, which was announced during a live broadcast at the annual National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) convention in New Orleans, was a small part of a head-spinning consolidation of the radio and concert-promotion industries during the first nine months of 1997.

Two months before Staley and Jaymes headed west from Jacksonville, SFX Broadcasting acquired Dallas' KTXQ-FM and KRRW-FM (which later changed its call letters to KBFB-FM) from CBS in exchange for a station serving the Baltimore and Washington markets. The deal increased SFX's presence in Texas, where it now owns four Houston FM stations and easily dominates the nation's 6th-ranked market.

At the same time, SFX also sealed up the Indianapolis market by acquiring three FM stations from Secret Communications. As part of the March deal, SFX also acquired the Indianapolis-based Bob and Tom Network, a syndicated morning show that, at the time, was broadcast in 20 affiliates.

In addition to Lex and Terry, and Bob and Tom, SFX also owns the Charlotte, North Carolina-based John Boy and Billy Show, which airs on 54 stations, including Dallas' classic rock station KZPS-FM (92.5).

Before the dust could settle on those transactions, SFX announced in August that the Dallas-based firm of Hicks, Muse, Tate & Furst--along with Capstar Broadcasting--signed an agreement in which the two corporations would acquire SFX in a transaction valued at $2.1 billion, according to company press releases and Securities and Exchange Commission filings.

 

The transaction, which is expected to be completed early next year, will make Capstar and SFX the nation's third-largest radio broadcasting group, with 314 stations serving 79 markets. Dallas businessman and Stars owner Tom Hicks, who is the chairman of Chancellor Broadcasting Corp. (which recently merged with Evergreen Media Corp.), announced that he will serve as chairman of the newly formed corporation.

The corporate shopping spree began last year after the passage of the Telecommunications Reform Act, which increased the number of radio stations that can be held by a single owner in a market. Since then, more than 4,000 of the country's 11,000 radio stations have been sold or swapped, and there have been more than 1,000 corporate mergers.

In the first antitrust challenge under the act, the U.S. Justice Department last month moved to block the $54 million exchange of two SFX stations in Jacksonville, including Lex and Terry's home station WFYV-FM, for four Chancellor-owned stations in Long Island. As part of its case, the Justice Department argues that the exchange will force businesses to pay higher advertising rates, which would be passed on to consumers.

Meanwhile, in parallel transactions, SFX is extending its reach into the area of concert promotions, multiplying its ability to increase profits by "cross promoting" its concerts on its newly acquired stations.

SFX is now one of the country's leading concert promoters after a recently completed series of acquisitions of promotion companies in New York, Connecticut, and Indianapolis, which have combined assets worth $129 million.

What this corporate feeding frenzy means for the average radio listener is that entertainers pushed by SFX's concert promotions arm will soon be making more guest appearances on syndicated morning radio shows like Bob and Tom and, eventually, Lex and Terry. In essence, the already thin line between concert promotion and the editorial content of syndicated morning shows will be blurred beyond distinction. And the same morning shows, complete with the same star interviews, will be aired for audiences across the country.

The glossy promotional folder that Q102 distributes to potential buyers of The Lex and Terry Show contains a photo of a blonde stripper with gigantic, bursting boobs sandwiched between Lex and Terry, who have white mustaches painted on their faces. The catch phrase reads, "Get milk?" and the spot's headline states: "Welcome to your next Morning Show."

Although The Lex and Terry Show did not get much mention in company press releases when SFX acquired KTXQ in March, KTXQ's Fant confirms that the duo became part of SFX's corporate strategy in Dallas.

"The one agenda of SFX was to go to the market and secure the best morning talent available that was not signed to an employment contract elsewhere," Fant says. "Lex and Terry was the best show that was available that we could find."

In the coming months, Dallas listeners will confirm whether Fant's comment speaks to the quality of The Lex and Terry Show or if it highlights the lack of good talent available in the market. But in the meantime, a massive sales effort to distribute the show is under way.

Q102's director of syndication, Peter Welpton, is the man responsible for the marketing the show, a sales process that requires Welpton to compile promotional kits, work the telephones, and fly from market to market in an attempt to convince station managers that Lex and Terry will bring them ratings and boost their advertising revenue.

(Although the show's promotional material boasts that Lex and Terry are "overachieving budget goals" and attracting "national advertisers," one Q102 advertiser confirms that the station backed down from its $300 asking price for an ad during the show and accepted $125--a low figure that is almost unheard of in Dallas for a morning show.)

But no matter what fancy PR gimmick or sales line Welpton creates, his real weapon in selling the show is its Arbitron ratings, which so far leave much to be desired. The mere mention of the ratings causes Welpton to fidget in his chair, as he vaguely concedes that the show will have to first make big gains in Dallas before his job gets easier.

"If Lex and Terry succeed in Dallas, I think they can succeed anywhere. [Howard] Stern took four years before he became No. 1 in this market. My prediction is that Lex and Terry will be a success in Dallas faster than Howard was," Welpton says. "If it doesn't happen in the first full [Arbitron] book, I don't think it will spell doom for us."

 

The next Arbitron book is due out in mid-January, and it will reflect the first full quarter in which Lex and Terry were on the air without Stern. It will also reflect the show's fall promotional and advertising campaigns.

There are two ways a show can be syndicated. The first is to sell the show to radio stations outside the corporation that owns the program. In those cases, the show makes money off of the syndication fee it charges the station, which is determined by the size of the market and success of the program.

Welpton will not say how much he's charging for The Lex and Terry Show, but it's safe to say that, at least for now, the program can be had at bargain prices. As part of Welpton's sales kit, the show is described as an "affordable major market radio show."

As part of the package, potential buyers are told that the show comes with a dependable satellite service, scheduled breaks so local news and traffic can be inserted, and the marketing and advertising support of SFX. Those amenities are especially attractive to stations in small- and medium-sized markets, which don't have the patience to groom local talent.

"People begin to realize that for a little more [money], they could get someone out of a major market that they would never dream of having," Welpton says. "They could probably get local talent for a little bit less money, but they won't get a major-market morning show and the ratings."

The other way for a show to be syndicated is for its owner, in this case SFX, to place the show on its own stations and hope that listeners will come calling. This is the route that Lex and Terry most likely will follow.

"Where our region is and where we'll break out of will be somewhere southeast, maybe East Coast [and the] eastern seaboard," KTXQ's Fant predicts. "Texas and that area will be the first place."

And it's no coincidence: SFX's presence is strongest in Texas and throughout southern states such as North and South Carolina, and it carries up the eastern seaboard from Florida to Maine.

Fant says the reason SFX signed a five-year contract with Lex and Terry and is now spending several hundred thousand dollars syndicating the show is simple: It's a new way of making money.

"Besides selling 60-second commercial time, we have something else we can do: We can sell programming. Wall Street demands that we continue to find new sources of revenue, and this is one of them," Fant says. "When you're successful with syndication, every new affiliate is essentially pure profit. You've already paid your costs. To license the rights for some other station or outlet to carry our programming essentially adds no fixed cost. It just adds to your net profit."

And the key to making a show successful, Fant says, is promoting it and supplying it with national celebrities, who will attract more listeners and keep the show fresh.

"You don't need to do it every morning, but on a regular basis you want to be able to pop in with a great comic [or] someone that the audience would be able to recognize from television," Fant says.

In recent months, SFX has arranged interviews with NFL junkie and struggling actor Howie Long, Alan Thicke, and Denis Leary, as well as David Lee Roth--all of whom have stood out amid the steady stream of strippers supplied by local titty bars. Fant won't discuss exactly how SFX is helping to arrange the celebrity interviews, except to say that "informally, all of us have industry contacts. We all endeavor to bring whatever influence we have into play so that we can fuel the show with that kind of guest."

The timing of the show's advertisements is similarly calculated. In September, SFX paid for a television commercial that ran on several Dallas stations. The ad depicted a dying boy who asked Lex and Terry to help save his life by doing just one more funny show. The commercial then cut to a shot of Lex and Terry standing over the boy's grave, at which point Staley says, "I thought it was a funny show."

The commercial was yanked from several television stations after viewers reportedly complained that it was offensive. Shortly after the commercial was pulled, SFX replaced it with a second commercial that appeared just a little too preconceived. In that ad, Lex and Terry are standing at the grave when the boy approaches them and asks what they're doing. "Making a new TV commercial because of you," they respond.

Several days after the controversy garnered local and national press, SFX smoothly launched the show's syndication by flying Lex and Terry to New Orleans so they could broadcast live during the annual NAB convention.

 

SFX's confidence in The Lex and Terry Show is reflected by its investment in it, but the company will still be selective in deciding where to place the show, while giving the duo a chance to gain credibility in Dallas. Of course, the company can afford to take its time, especially since it has The John Boy and Billy Show and The Bob and Tom Network at its disposal.

Wall Street analyst Andy VanHouton, the managing director at the New York firm B.T Alex Brown who is tracking SFX's growth, says the syndication of The Lex and Terry Show is simply part of a corporate equation designed to boost ratings.

"The radio ratings business can be volatile," VanHouton says. "You want to try to minimize that volatility, and if you have on-air talent that you want to groom and develop, not only for a local market but to leverage that off regionally, why not do it? This has been the strategy for SFX. It's icing on the cake."

Naturally, Staley and Jaymes are more than thankful that SFX brought them aboard, but they say they're still anxious about the sudden corporate influence on their careers.

"That's the scary part. A lot of people are involved in our careers and making decisions for us, where we really trust our gut instinct. We trusted it when we came here. We trusted it when we met each other," Jaymes says. "Now, there's too many people making decisions for us."

Staley concurs.
"They're trying to give us an off-line producer right now that'll, like, book guests for us and it's, like, we don't want any part of it," Staley says. "It's just another person we gotta deal with."

While many radio personalities would beg for additional support staff, Staley and Jaymes say the prospect of their show expanding seems contrary to the free-for-all format they've embraced since they first went on the air in Jacksonville.

"We don't do recorded things. Nothing on our show is recording. Everything's live. Nothing is set up," Jaymes says.

"And I'll tell you why," adds Staley. "We're lazy."

A steady stream of callers has been flowing into the phone lines at Q102's studio. Although there is a pretty good mix of callers from the metroplex and Savannah, the majority of the calls are coming from Jacksonville.

Stationed at a keyboard off to the left, Maria handles the phones, steadily typing in the location of callers and a brief description of the topic they wish to discuss. The information flashes onto a computer monitor stationed in front of Lex and Terry, who are separated by a sound-effects machine programmed with noises of people humping, buzzers, and sound bites from Wayne's World.

Howie, the producer, mans the sound board and maintains communication with Sam Kouvaris, a Jacksonville television anchor who checks in from his bedroom three times during the show to talk sports. Andrea Pilcher, the "total news babe," is in the neighboring studio, compiling the day's headlines for her news updates.

America's most fucked-up call-in show or America's most wanted call-in show, depending on the promotional spot, is on the air. Despite the number of calls, Lex and Terry haven't found anyone particularly hilarious, but they have found a lot of Michael Liles.

At one point in the morning, the computer monitor reveals that a Jacksonville man was calling to say he was looking for "good-looking chicks to do;" another was convinced that his beard was keeping the chicks away; and a woman from Savannah needed advice on her new boyfriend.

Staley's off-handed description of Madonna as a "skank" prompts a response from a male caller who disagrees, and the pair fall back on their "who would you do" gig, a dated routine that was popular in Jacksonville.

Predictably, the show's tempo gains speed when porn star Juli Ashton arrives at the tiny studio along with the owner of Caligula XXI, where Ashton will strip over the weekend. Ashton was supposed to appear on the show the day before, but forgot.

The host of Playboy's Night Calls, a cable TV show where the star takes sex calls in the nude while fooling around with female guests, Ashton is a good fit for Lex and Terry. Shortly after her appearance, the computer monitor floods with callers for Ashton.

Lex and Terry, their minds working in unison, immediately take a call from a woman who has a question about shaving. Specifically, she wants to know how Ashton shaves "down there" without getting razor burn, cuts, or itchy stubble.

Like a 7-Eleven cashier giving directions, Ashton calmly explains that the woman will need lubrication, a double-edged razor, and really hot water. "The important thing," she says, "is to loofah afterwards."

 

Lex and Terry, who are beside themselves with laughter, respond with exclamations of doubt and disbelief. Taking the response as a challenge, Ashton promptly lowers her pinstriped drawers as evidence. She is not wearing any underwear.

Staley guffaws, and Jaymes' face turns bright red, while Howie cranes his neck for a better view. Seated on the floor, syndication director Welpton covers his eyes with his hands and wonders aloud why he got up in the morning.

Ashton carries the rest of the show, doling out cautionary advice about the demanding erection expectations men face in the porn business and providing a detailed explanation of how women can deep throat "without gagging all over the place."

At 9:30 Lex and Terry cut away for the scheduled song-break, which always precedes the final half hour of the show.

As they do with most of their guests, Lex and Terry insist that Ashton pose for a picture before she leaves. Before he takes charge of the camera, Howie plays a song off of AC/DC's first album, High Voltage, which was filled with enough raw rock hits to propel the Australian band into hard-rock stardom.

As Lex and Terry sandwich the porn star, Bon Scott's voice fills the sound room, surrounding them with insight that is just as accurate today as it was in 1976.

"It's a long way to the top, if you want to rock and roll.


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