Russ Martin is a jackass.
He's a vulgar, pompous bully who for years physically and psychologically tormented his Dallas radio co-workers to gain fame and fortune.
"Stuff he'd say to us on the air he wouldn't say to us in the hall, because he's a coward," says J.D. Ryan, Martin's radio right-hand man for 25 years. "To him everything was a bit, but eventually he crossed the line. It became personal. He made it clear that being successful wasn't enough. For him to be truly happy, those around him also had to fail miserably."
Web extra: See more shots of Russ Martin's headline performance onstage at the fundraiser in this web-only photo set.
Russ Martin is a hero.
He's a talented, wildly popular, temporarily shelved talk-show personality and tireless philanthropist who for years promoted animal rights and raised money for the families of fallen policemen and firefighters.
"I consider him a friend, and I've always respected his unique style," Dallas Police Chief David Kunkle says. "He always came to the defense of the cops, sometimes when nobody else was. Sometimes even at the expense of his own popularity."
Russ Martin is a perpetrator.
He is accused—via Cause No. 1120508—of kicking, pushing and pulling out the hair of ex-fiancée Mandy Blake in July 2008.Martin pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges in Tarrant County on July 10. Initially arrested for felony aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, he for months boasted his innocence. But, according to two sources close to Martin, after a brief reconciliation during which Blake moved into his $3 million Frisco mansion and wore his $30,000 engagement ring, the couple broke up in late June, causing him to fear she might be a "loose cannon" on the witness stand. By accepting a plea bargain, a two-year deferred adjudication probation, Martin avoided a trial and possible jail time. If he completes his probation—which includes a $1,000 fine and battering intervention counseling—there will be no conviction on his record.
"When we're able to work out a plea to get someone counseling, we're going to take that position," Tarrant County District Attorney's Family Violence Unit chief Sean Colston said after the deal. "We consider a situation where someone is going to be monitored for two years a good resolution."
But above all else, Russ Martin is an enigma.
A shining ray of hope...
"Every time I see Russ, we hug, I cry, and I thank him," says Joann Jackson, who received a $5,000 check from the Russ Martin Show Listeners Foundation when her police officer husband, Brian, was killed in the line of duty in 2005. "What he does is amazing. It's essential. He's a lifesaver."
...shrouded in a deep, dark aura.
"Russ is a miserable person," says Lori Miears, ex-fiancée of a former Martin show cast member. "I've seen random acts of kindness from him, but I've never met anyone that genuinely likes him. Or vice-versa. Honestly, I wouldn't want him within 30 minutes of my mother."
For the first time in his life, Martin has been muzzled, grudgingly banished from yakking on the station he successfully slapped on the Dallas radio map. He's all but muted, granting a recent fluff-piece interview to WFAA-Channel 8 but denying months of multiple requests—through his attorney—for a sit-down with the Dallas Observer. At one point in the process, Martin—through friend Trey Trenholm—stipulated that the Observer reveal one of its sources of information pertaining to him in return for an interview. The Observer declined. Martin canceled an ensuing interview last week, citing kidney stones.
It wasn't supposed to be this way for one of the most compelling, crude voices in the history of Dallas radio. In Martin's grandiose vision, he'd be immensely popular, totally isolated and wholly unchallenged in controlling everything. All the time. Forever. But waning ratings, his high-profile arrest and, ultimately, CBS' decision to flip 105.3 FM's format from "contemporary adult talk" to "sports talk" last December 8 re-routed history. (Full disclosure: I have worked part-time co-hosting shows for KRLD-105.3 FM The Fan since January.)
Though he'll be paid his $1.1 million salary through April 2011—he even received his scheduled 10-percent raise in the spring—on a contract being honored by CBS if he'll merely sit down and shut up, Martin is determined to remain relevant.
He does this through his Web site—www.russmartin.com—where, in a sleeveless T-shirt and blue-tinted shades, he delivers typically agitated, condescending messages.
"Not a Goddamn thing has changed!" Martin said in a video posted in June before a backdrop montage including nude women and his arrest mug shot. "I still got jackasses working for me."
He does this via Twitter tweets, reminding the 2,700 followers of his perverted, potty brand of humor with updates detailing everything from farting while on a treadmill at the gym, flashing his scrotum to a random female and, yes, his masturbatory habits. "Todays twitter from the sh#tter," Martin wrote on May 1. "Done w/studio in my house. Internet service died so I had to whack off to a Hammacher-Schlemmer magazine."
And he does this on a hot June 27 afternoon by hosting a classic car show/concert at his Russ Martin Automotive in the Sam's parking lot at Coit Road and Bush Turnpike. Here, the man who once had hundreds of thousands of local listeners hanging on his every smartass syllable and a stable of underling hyenas poised to titter at his one-liners and smooch his royal ass is reduced to toting a cumbersome cardboard box across a searing Plano parking lot in preparation to entertain 150 people. On a 103-degree day that feels like 130, Martin painstakingly transports the heavy box of plaques before grabbing his Batman-logo guitar and hopping up to join his 10-piece Russ Martin Show Band onstage, which today is two flatbed trucks under a giant inflatable promotional gorilla.
A few fans meander about, some paying $25 to have their picture taken with Martin's collection of legendary cars—Starsky & Hutch's Gran Torino, the Dukes of Hazzard's General Lee and the Batmobile. Martin chats. Poses for photos. For 6-year-old Justin Wilson, he even signs an autograph.
"I've loved him since the '80s," Justin's father, Thomas, says of Martin. "I like his personality. His sense of humor. He's a funny guy that just seems like he's down to Earth. It was a sad day when he went away."
Thomas, from Midlothian, doesn't flinch when Martin's arrest for roughing up a woman is broached.
"I didn't have any reaction when I heard the news," he says. "I mean, that's none of our business. That's Russ' personal life."
It's as though Martin—a Dallas radio icon alongside Ron Chapman, Brad Sham, Hal Jay, Kidd Kraddick, Mike Rhyner and Norm Hitzges—has brilliantly brainwashed his fawning fandom. How else could a talk-show host who broadcast his vasectomy live on the radio be afforded the luxury of privacy?
"He said a number of times that he likes dogs more than people," friend and former co-worker Dan O'Malley says of Martin. "A lot of folks may feel that way, but Russ has the balls to say it on a 100,000-watt radio station."
There's a magic and a menace to Martin, simultaneously a rule-bending rebel who counts Chief Kunkle among his allies and a profane, horny dude who has drawn the ire of porn star Ron Jeremy.
He's the product of a modest upbringing, growing up in Pleasant Grove and graduating from Samuell High School long on wit, ambition and hair. The typical class clown who channeled Steve Martin in talent shows, Russ Martin and his mullet got a start in radio at age 19, running the board for religious programs in Greenville. After a pit stop at a station in Terrell, in 1983 Martin was hired by Dallas' KAAM-1310 AM as a part-time weekend disc jockey. Shortly after, he moved to 1310's sister station, 92.5 KAFM, and met a similarly aspiring DJ.
"We clicked right off the bat," Ryan says over a recent lunch in Southlake. "He was a legitimately funny guy and a hard worker. In no time we were finishing each other's thoughts."
He was still Russ, but well on his way to Brusque Martin—the cocky guy with the dip in his lip and the boulder on his shoulder.
"He was very happy-go-lucky, not serious enough for me," said former KAFM program director John Shomby, who hired Martin. "He was kind of nutty and funny. He had an arrogant side to him. A swagger. He was made to be a talk-show host."
Martin collaborated with Ryan on the lifestyle TV show Hot Tickets that aired on Channels 21 and 33 for five years. He then landed a job at KEGL-97.1 FM The Eagle and, in 1997, got his big break when Howard Stern vacated the coveted morning-drive slot. After leaving in a contract dispute, in 2000 he moved to 105.3 and began cultivating the Russ Martin Show into one of Dallas' most listened-to afternoon programs.
With soaring ratings, blossoming chutzpah and a cult following, Martin in 2008 was included in Talkers magazine's "Heavy Hundred" list of the nation's most important hosts.
The secret formula: Anything he damn well pleased.
"It was a show about nothing," O'Malley says on an April afternoon. "But intriguing personalities with great chemistry can make nothing very interesting. It evolved into a show where you could eavesdrop on a bunch of guys. Men liked it because we were a funnier version of their friends, and women liked it because it gave them a peek into a world they never see. At times it was total bullshit, and we could be jackasses, but it also turned Russ into a legend."
The show was Stern-like, with Kunkle appearing one day and strippers the next, topped by the crew undergoing live testicle sonograms and prostate exams. Martin was delivering irreverence and drinking Gentleman Jack on the air (he negotiated the extraordinary privilege into his contract), quickly becoming Dallas' king of White Trash with Cash.
"Russ' timing and wit and how he balanced things, it was just amazing," says Trenholm, a listener who morphed from Martin's e-mail pal to friend, to Realtor, to cast member. "Even on 9/11, I remember being scared to death. But at 3 o'clock when Russ came on, I knew it was going to be all right. He made me laugh, made me cry. Made me somehow feel normal."
While Martin's empire expanded into a seven-figure salary, riskier risks and highly attended "White Trash" concerts featuring his Russ Martin Show Band, O'Malley and Ryan endured as the longest-tenured constants in an ever-changing cast.
"I was in high school when Russ came through Arlington on a Jack in the Box tour in '97," O'Malley says. "When I saw him eating two 99-cent tacos and drinking a 16-ounce Budweiser at 8 in the morning, that was it. He was my role model, my unwitting mentor. All I wanted to do was radio."
It was Ryan who always sensed the darkness. Even as his show thrived and received a stamp of approval from Chapman, Martin would talk of being dead by age 50. He is 48.
"We called our show 'The Tree House'," Ryan says. "But some days it felt like a prison camp."
Martin had the uncanny ability to make you mad, make your day or even make your house payment.
Listeners he might have turned off with grotesque descriptions or insensitive rants, he won back in 2002 with the founding of his Russ Martin Show Listeners Foundation. With donations from advertisers and fans—and proceeds from events such as last month's car show, which raised $1,500—Martin began giving immediate financial aid to families of Dallas police and firefighters killed in the line of duty.
Says Kunkle, "I get emotionally moved by what Russ does. Gets me misty-eyed just talking about it."
Last January when Gang Unit Corporal Norm Smith was shot while serving a warrant, Martin—though his show was already in mothballs—wrote Smith's widow, Regina, a $30,000 check. And in 2005, Martin's charity kept Officer Jackson's widow from losing her home.
"The city benefits come too slow," Jackson says. "Without Russ I wouldn't have been able to pay our mortgage."
During the peak of his popularity from 2002-'06, Martin—with a staff spearheaded by Ryan, O'Malley, Dan Lewis, Eddie Boyd, Clo Rayborn and Everett Newton—consistently jousted with KTCK-1310 AM The Ticket's Hardline for the majority of coveted afternoon listeners (men 25-54), often finishing No. 1. (In his wake and with a new format, 105.3 The Fan is struggling to gain traction as the area's third-rated sports talk station.)
In radio, ratings equal revenue.
In Martin's universe, the two combined to empower and intoxicate his insufferable persona.
"Russ was an asshole on his show, but he wasn't acting," former Live 105.3 host Pugs Moran says. "In nine years working in the same building, he spoke less than 15 words to me."
If there was any question that Martin could be this area's most callous, self-absorbed and warped prima donna this side of Terrell Owens, a December afternoon at Abuelo's restaurant in Plano confirmed it. The day after CBS pulled the plug on the Russ Martin Show, the gang gathered for lunch.
For a strategy session. For comfort.
For a last supper.
While Martin, who sat at the head of the table, received the safety net of having his contract honored, cast members such as O'Malley, Rayborn and Trenholm talked glumly of filing for unemployment in advance of what suddenly would be an unhappy new year. Ruining the therapeutic bonding and commiserating, Martin uttered two words that reinforced the chasm between his haves (himself) and have-nots (everyone else):
Ryan, who didn't attend and no longer communicates with Martin, was disgusted by the news. "Some guys in that room had their lives shattered," he says. "But instead of picking up the tab as a small gesture, Russ saw it merely as one last toast to his empire."
During his three decades in Dallas radio, chances are Martin has also offended you or someone you know. Especially if you've ever worked with him.
Other than his fascination with famous vehicles and James Garner in The Rockford Files, radio was the core of Martin's existence. By all accounts he wasn't close to his family (though he has on his right shoulder a military star tattoo identical to the one sported by his father, who died in February) and has never married, his most meaningful relationships confined within studio walls or cultivated through a microphone.
Ironic then, that he continually knocked down those who propped him up. Minions, he called them.
"He was a bully that was always marking his territory with control and power," Ryan says. "One of his favorite things to say was, 'I am the show. I'm surrounded by idiots.' After a while that gets old."
Says O'Malley, "Is he a good guy? That depends. At times he can be a real asshole and, granted, his humility is less than stellar. But then he can turn around and be one of the most compassionate men you'll ever meet."
From afar, the weekday 3-7 p.m. show seemed a harmonious convergence of camaraderie and cleverness. Martin's "tree house" was actually a plush, private studio (these days used to program Frisco RoughRiders' baseball on The Fan's HD signal) inside CBS' otherwise pedestrian studios along Highway 183 near Mockingbird. Thick carpet on the floor. Customized faux finish on the walls. Magic in the air.
A red siren flashed when Martin's show—and only Martin's show—was on the air. It didn't, however, blare the dirtiest of little secrets: Psst, it wasn't real.
"We faked almost everything," Lewis says in a recent phone call during which he has to twice pause to choke back tears. "If I was supposedly making an angry call to my wife, I was really just standing in the corner. There wasn't even a phone. People thought Russ was just so brushed-up and brilliant on all these topics, but everything we talked about came from a pre-arranged 'phoner' called in by a plant we had on this big list."
The show did have its authentic on-air moments, like the time the crew blasted a cranky computer with real bullets from a real pistol while drinking real alcohol.
"Real stupid," Lewis says.
Though most of the program's bits were shallow, listeners bought the charade, hook, line and thinker. His favorite running gag—as choreographed and manufactured as professional wrestling—was his taunting of program director Gavin Spittle. Was there a "Welcome to Spittleville" sign in the CBS building's front window? Yes. Did Martin actually set the boss' desk on fire or have henchmen O'Malley and Rayborn strip a defiant, struggling and humiliated Spittle of his pants and underwear before locking him in the hall? Nope.
Spittle, who earlier this month became program director at Houston's KILT-610 AM Sportsradio (neither he nor anyone at CBS would comment on Martin's past, present or future), was a convenient and unpopular foil for Martin's antics. But he was nothing more than a skilled actor in a grand theater.
"I think that's why Russ hated us," former Live 105.3 late night host Richard Hunter says of the station's other on-air personalities. "We peeked behind his curtain and saw that it was all contrived bullshit. Except him being a horrible person. That part was totally real."
What was authentic was Martin's ability to feed his bank account and insatiable ego, with initial program director Bob McNeill granting eye-popping raises and requests for outlandish amenities such as the luxurious private studio and a customized gym across the hall. Martin grew tight with his empathy and loose with his money, buying vintage cars and in 2005 moving from Plano into an 8,600-square-foot mansion on Byron Nelson Parkway in Southlake that once belonged to former Dallas Stars' player Richard Matvichuk. It was next door to former Dallas Cowboys linebacker Greg Ellis' home and was accented with three grand peaks, ornate double doors and an upscale swimming pool.
Ironically, at the same time, Martin accused Kraddick (the popular 106.1 KISS-FM morning show host) of hacking into his comedic bits and living a disgustingly lavish lifestyle.
"He used to make fun of Kidd's mansion and always say, 'If I ever get that way, kick my ass'," Lewis says. "Well, he got that way. I told him. And because I did, we had a huge fight."
Martin also aimed his scope at Ticket founder and afternoon host Rhyner, even going so far as to hire a private investigator to follow the rival and rummage through his trash.
"If he wanted to ruffle my feathers, consider them ruffled," Rhyner says. "But you have to consider the source. Russ was trying to be Howard Stern, and there's only one Howard Stern. Listeners eventually saw right through him as a pathetic copycat. At the end of the day, he was harmless. He's gone, and we're still thriving."
Martin saved his most spiteful venom, however, for the few who dared stand up to him or had the stones to leave.
Lewis graduated with Martin from Samuell in 1979 and became integral on the Eagle show in 1997. One of Martin's best friends, he produced the show and played gruff-voiced "Jonathan Dodge" doing traffic.
Says Lewis, "I loved him like a brother."
Long a "third banana" to Martin and Ryan, Lewis had the audacity to accept his own show shortly after the move to 105.3. But after only five months, he was fired, with—according to Lewis—Martin's fingerprints all over the transaction. Asked by Martin to return to his show, Lewis accepted.
During a spotty relationship on Martin's still escalating show, Lewis made what he calls "the biggest mistake of my life."
"One night I told Russ I really cared about him as a friend," Lewis says, his voice cracking. "Soon as I said it he started using it as a weapon against me. Ours turned into an abusive relationship, because Russ has difficulty with people who care about him. His mindset is that he's got to hurt them before they hurt him first."
In the ensuing months, Martin caustically referred on the air to Lewis' wife as "the queen of double penetration." When Lewis took time off to comfort his wife in the wake of her father's death, he received a call from Martin while Lewis was inside the funeral home.
"He was pissed I didn't make time to pre-record some traffic bits," Lewis says. "He was cussing me out, calling me a 'lousy piece of shit.' It was the last straw."
But it was just the first domino.
A year after Lewis' firing in December 2003, Martin began airing the real name of Lewis' son and boasting that he hoped his former partner would commit suicide so he could become the child's father figure. While working at a comic book store in Rockwall, Lewis' 16-year-old daughter suddenly heard her private conversations read on the air by Martin. Lewis says Martin's show initially supplied incentive and a tape recorder to a co-worker at the store, a fact vehemently denied by O'Malley and Ryan.
"I got death threats from Russ' listeners because I had dared leave his precious tree house," Lewis said. "The one I'll never forget was a guy who said he was going to 'rape your daughter and then ass-fuck her until she dies'."
Only a formal complaint by Lewis to CBS stopped Martin's verbal attacks on his daughter, who underwent psychological therapy for her trauma. But Martin merely changed tactics. When Lewis acted in a play in Dallas, Martin publicly threatened to buy every ticket to a performance and give them away to his listeners. And when Lewis took a radio job in Victoria, a co-worker secretly sent his résumé and CD audio clips to Martin as more ammunition for the show.
"Part of me pities him," Lewis says. "Because it's sad for someone to be so insecure they have to act that way."
Since his firing, Lewis has had one word of communication with Martin. In 2007—out of the blue—he received a late-night e-mail:
"Who knows?" Lewis says. "I'm sure he was drunk."
"I'm not totally shocked by his arrest, no," Ryan says. "Russ was always fighting to chase away his demons."
Urban legend has it that Live 105.3 employees were instructed not to look at Martin, much less talk to him. Former 105.3 hosts Hunter and Moran won't go that far, but they do claim that Spittle warned them against uttering anything negative against Martin or his show.
"I was absolutely instructed not to talk about him or to him," says Hunter, who maintains he never had a conversation with Martin in two and a half years working in the same building. "The frustrating thing is we'd have Gavin telling us not to tread on Russ, but then I'd hear [Spittle] on with Russ trashing me and my show. There was a very cancerous element to Russ. The way it worked was that he was protected, and the rest of were expected to take everything he dished out."
Counters O'Malley, "I'm not saying Russ was the most approachable guy. But he's Russ, not Medusa."
Moran—along with Hunter now a host at KMNY-1360 AM—compared working with Martin to the 1957 movie A Face in the Crowd, in which Andy Griffith plays a coarse-yet-charming disc jockey who climbs the corporate ladder by insulting everyone around him. He claims to have seen Martin shout a 20-year-old station receptionist into tears "just for the hell of it" and says he attempted to strike up a conversation with Martin in a private VIP section at a station function only to have Martin turn his back and yell, "Somebody get him away from me!"
"He's as mean as a snake, but he's also a total pussy," Moran says. "He's a big, strong man behind the microphone where he's protected by a double standard. But call him out in public and watch, he'll turn and run."
Though he hosted the most sexually charged program in the history of Dallas radio, Martin even managed to alienate Ron Jeremy. At Live 8, last summer's annual station signature concert at The Palladium, Martin refused to go onstage with his band when the show ran seven minutes ahead of schedule. Though event MC Jeremy had already given Martin a rousing introduction, Martin remained in his secluded "green room" until precisely 10:30 p.m., resulting in the first premature ejaculation of the porn star's illustrious career.
Said Jeremy to Hunter, "Who the fuck does this guy think he is—Mick Jagger? I've introduced Kid Rock, and he's not half this big of a diva."
While the complaints by the shows sandwiching Martin's fell on deaf ears, the yes-men bobbleheads dared nothing more than to kowtow to his quirky controls.
It was one thing for Martin to have a personal video security system that allowed him to peek down the halls and even into Spittle's office. It was another to so neuter his staff that no one had the balls to tell the emperor that he was stark naked.
"Everything he did was founded in manipulation," Ryan says. "Power and control. That's what he got off on."
While his staffers—other than Ryan, who's also having his CBS contract honored—made ends meet on salaries of no more than $35,000, Martin alienated them by shoving his wealth down their throats. It was Ryan who routinely presented the staff with a bigger percentage of his quarterly ratings bonus. It was Martin who once arranged for a uniformed and armed Dallas SWAT team to deliver his personal $100,000 cash bonus to the studio in a briefcase. And on a day when Rayborn groused about not being able to afford new tires for his car, Martin reveled in the fact that he made a $250,000 down payment for his new house in Southlake, brandishing the check around the room.
Martin also made a habit of systematically repeating his philosophy of Darwinian monetary distribution: "Only stupid people are poor."
Over time, Martin's tree house morphed into a gold-ensconced castle. Maximum occupancy: One.
"I don't fault him for the money he made, because he worked hard for it," Ryan says. "But the way he went about making sure everyone in the room knew about his wealth was just classless."
O'Malley admits Martin did have flashes of personal philanthropy, offering to pay the medical bills when his ear was bitten by a dog, picking up the dinner tab for his 12-person bachelor party and attempting to soothe the anguish of his dog's death by buying him a bass guitar.
"Of course a couple weeks later, he ordered me to be in the band," O'Malley says. "That's the genius of Russ."
If it wasn't the psychological mind-fuck of reminding everyone in the room that they were financially inferior, Martin kept his crew in check with random acts of humiliating perversion. It wasn't uncommon for Martin to sneak up behind a co-worker, whip out his penis and flop it on the unsuspecting guy's shoulder.
"If you worked for Russ, you were sexually assaulted in one way or another," says a former staff member who requested anonymity. "I'm not saying he was gay or bisexual, but...how about inappropriate and extremely peculiar? Let's go with that."
Ryan remembers the beginning of the end as the day he told Martin, who was whining on the air about his ballooning weight, to cut back on his whisky consumption because of its high sugar content. Martin became enraged, abruptly ordering his longtime sidekick to "Shut the hell up and get outta here." During the next commercial break, Martin—whom several staffers said often exhibited drastic mood swings fueled by cocktails of Adderall, human growth hormones and Gentleman Jack—continued berating Ryan, telling him, "Go home!" Ryan left, returning only after Spittle called and begged him back.
Martin greeted him as if the incident never happened.
"Apology? Are you kidding?" says Ryan, who missed only four days of Martin's show in eight years. "Russ' next apology for anything will be his first."
Eventually, Martin's act eroded his staff's confidence and ground the show's creativity to dust. In the end the show developed a staleness and repetitiveness that resulted in sagging ratings.
"Russ was a hard worker in the early days, but for the last 18 months we were stuck in a pattern of regurgitation," Ryan says. "Our bits weren't funny, and we couldn't shock anybody anymore. We just ran out of gas."
Ironically, one of the first Martin-Ryan collaborations on their TV show more than 25 years ago included the Jimmy Buffett song "Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes."
If it suddenly ended tomorrow, I could somehow adjust to the fall.
Though painful, Ryan says he's prepared for a career—and perhaps a life—void of his former friend.
"I'm grateful to Russ for everything," Ryan says. "Meeting him and what we did together was one of the greatest things that's ever happened in my life. And, honestly, if I had it to do all over again, I would."
While Trenholm, who works at Martin's auto shop, still considers Martin a close friend, O'Malley does little more than exchange an occasional e-mail, and Ryan hasn't contacted Martin in months. A couple weeks after the show was canceled, Ryan joked that he was in "Russ detox."
"The man is a genius," Ryan says."When we were on, it was pure radio magic. But things changed. He became consumed with fame and fortune. I saw it come true: Alcohol and money magnify a person's true character."
While it may take the loss of his confidants to introduce Martin to humility, his arrest certainly had little initial impact. After finally taking the stage at Live 8, he addressed the crowd about his impending legal battle.
"For those of you who don't support me," Martin screamed, "fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you!"
The Russ Martin Show Band then broke into Elvis' "Jailhouse Rock."
"One of the real radio mysteries is how his show was popular," Rhyner says. "To me it wasn't original or funny or entertaining. The few times I listened I always came away wondering the same thing: What's so great about this?"
Despite his fits of anger, vivid moodiness and general disgust for mankind, only those who know Martin best saw this one coming.
On the night of July 14, 2008, Martin made a phone call to his 27-year-old fiancée, Mandy Blake. Under investigation by the Internal Revenue Service for improper mortgage interest deductions, he was checking if Blake had followed up on the status of mailed documents.
What transpired in the next 45 minutes would change the face of Dallas radio.
"My initial reaction was, 'Well, it finally happened'," Lewis says. "Russ' drinking was out of hand. His ego was out of hand. At some point he was going to take a swing at someone."
On his show Martin often joked about throwing Blake in the dryer as punishment, even once getting the petite blonde to crawl in and pose for a photo he posted on his Web site. But this wasn't fake or funny.
In a statement to Southlake police that prompted an arrest warrant for Martin, Blake said he told her, "You better hide because when I get there I'm going to beat the shit out of you!" Anticipating a confrontation, Blake turned on a recorder.
Martin arrived around 9:30 p.m. and pushed her into a wall when she tried to get her laptop computer and leave. According to the four-page warrant, in the ensuing melee Martin pulled five chunks of hair out of Blake's head, kicked her in the thigh and pulled a Glock semiautomatic pistol out of his waistband, never pointing it directly at her but chambering a round and cocking the hammer.
"Shut up!" Martin yelled on the tape, played during a pretrial hearing last month in Judge Jamie Cummings' Tarrant County Criminal Court No. 5. "Or you are going to get hurt."
As Blake—who refused interview requests through her attorney—got in her car to leave for her parents' house in Plano, Martin ran to the driveway and handed over her smashed, unusable computer.
In his interview with Channel 8, Martin was asked if he touched Blake in any sort of aggressive way, or even touched her at all.
"No," Martin replied. "Not to my...again, you're talking about a year ago...on a night when, in my mind, nothing really happened short of: I was an ass, I busted her laptop and I asked her to leave."
Channel 8's report included a copy of the arrest warrant and photos of Blake's injuries, but fell short of asking Martin the obvious follow-up:
"If you didn't lay a finger on her, how exactly did her hair get pulled out and how'd she get a bruise on her thigh?"
Blake did not call 911 and only approached Southlake police days later when she sought assistance in going to the house to collect her belongings. On July 17 Southlake Municipal Court Judge Carol Montgomery issued the warrant, suspended Martin's concealed-handgun license and enacted a 61-day emergency protective order keeping him at least 200 yards from Blake. Martin was arrested the next morning while working out at Larry North Fitness on Southlake Boulevard.
Martin's Denton-based lawyer, Tim Powers, petitioned Judge Cummings to suppress the warrant and recording because of sloppy police work. After Blake and Martin reconciled, Blake also filed a formal complaint against the police department, alleging that she was "coerced" into pursuing charges against her boyfriend of three years.
At the hearing on Powers' motion more than two weeks before the scheduled July 27, 2009 trial, Martin entered his no contest plea.
Martin answered "yes" when Channel 8 asked if he was innocent, and explained his plea as the "only way out of this for me, and for her family."
For a year Martin's only acknowledgement of the incident came on his Twitter page bio: "Had a big L painted on my scull [sic]."
"Everyone was shocked," O'Malley says. "I know people were quick to crucify him, but if I knew for a fact that he was guilty I would've walked out immediately."
Trenholm said he only saw Martin "put his hands" on another person one time in eight years, calling the object of the anger on that occasion a "computer weasel."
For a guy who made his living off racy bits and made his reputation on good deeds, Martin's arrest caused confusion and consternation amongst his friends, fans, even his enemies.
"I haven't talked to him since his arrest, and I feel really bad about that, but I never know what I would say or how I would say it," says Kunkle, who visited Martin's Southlake home multiple times and went bowling with him and Blake. "In my business, nothing surprises you, but from watching them interact it appeared as though they were truly in love."
Though industry sources—citing the show's fall from No. 2 in the ratings to No. 14—indicate Martin's arrest wasn't a motivating factor in flipping 105.3's format, others aren't so sure.
Says Hunter, "He finally gave his bosses some leverage."
Without his show, Trenholm says Martin stays busy working out, tweaking his Web site and visiting his auto shop every morning. And, of course, cashing his approximately $30,000 checks on the 15th and last of each month.
For doing nothing.
"At gym now. Short HOT blonde on treadmill next to me. May let part of my scrote hang out to taunt her." -- Twitter "tweet" from Martin, May 2, 2009, 10:48 a.m.
Actually, Martin did speak to the Observer for this story. Seeing that it was mannerly to at least introduce myself, I approached him during a break at the car-show concert.
Me: "Russ, Richie Whitt of the Dallas Observer. I know on the advice of your attorney you don't want to be interviewed, but I just wanted to introduce myself as the guy who's writing the story about you."
Russ: "Cool. Well, thanks for coming out."
He is cordial. He is concise. And most of all, he is sweating his ass off.
Almost immediately upon playing, the RMS Band loses power to its instruments. In his first 15 minutes on stage, Martin spews "bitch," "damn" and "bastard."
"Oh, sorry," he says at one point. "Kids."
As the heat escalates, the gathering shrinks. Martin's ensemble valiantly plays through a 45-minute set featuring songs from Loverboy, AC/DC and even the Village People's "Y-M-C-A."
But in the end, the listeners wilt to fewer than 25.
"Russ is fine," Trenholm says. "He's not going out of his mind without the spotlight. He's just biding his time, waiting for the next opportunity that we all know will eventually come around."
Though his representatives could technically talk to stations interested in hiring Martin, most radio experts—alluding to the fact that an ailing economic climate won't support seven-figure salaries for hosts in the foreseeable future—suggest Martin won't be back on the air before his contract expires in 21 months.
"This is Russ' ultimate nightmare," Ryan contends. "Being ignored."
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