MEDIA BISTRO: SO WHAT DO YOU DO PHIL HENDRIE, SYNDICATED RADIO SHOW HOST? ‘[My] radio show is a billboard for the digital business.’
Having just celebrated his 61st birthday at the beginning of September, Phil Hendrie is acting more like a 20-something entrepreneur these days. He’s knee-deep in relaunching The Phil Hendrie Show as a “cartoon” and growing the subscriber base for his recently fully upgraded website philhendrieshow.com.
All on the heels of six years with a syndication service that, by Hendrie’s own admission, did a terrible job of marketing his program. Now, together with a small crew and group of fictitious on-air cohorts, he’s intent on reclaiming his place in terrestrial radio.
As a result, Hendrie has tabled for the moment his pursuit of on-camera acting and voice-over work that had him popping up in 2012 in everything from New Girl to the animated version of Napoleon Dynamite. He’s now on the producer side, getting ready to pitch an animated project developed with a TV series veteran.
Name: Phil Hendrie
Position: Radio personality, actor, voice-over artist, entrepreneur
Resume: Like so many popular radio personalities, Hendrie has had an itinerant career. He began his radio odyssey as a disc jockey at WBJW 1440 AM in Winter Park, Fla., a suburb of Orlando. Fifteen years and a number of stations later, he decided he didn’t want to spin records anymore. Beginning with a weekend show on L.A.’s KFI 640 AM, he made his way eventually to introducing his first fictional character on air at KVEN-AM in Ventura, Calif., during the Gulf War. Raj Feenan’s vociferous defense of Saddam Hussein inflamed callers and the rest was radio history. Hendrie went national with Premiere Networks in 1999, retired briefly from radio in 2006 to pursue acting full-time and is now back at it. His acting credits include King of the Hill, Team America: World Police and This Is 40.
Birthdate: September 1
Hometown: Arcadia, Calif.
Education: One year at Pasadena City College to earn an English degree
Marital status: Single
Media mentor(s) : None
Best career advice received: “Always prep your show as if you’re not going to get one call.”
Guilty pleasure: Reese’s Miniatures
Last book read: Narrative of a Revolutionary Soldier, by Joseph Plumb Martin
Twitter handle: @realphilhendrie
Where do you tape your new radio show?
I’m in a place called Channel Islands Beach, which is close to Ventura [California]. We’re about 40 miles north along the coast from Los Angeles. What I call the land of fog and sea lions, because that’s what we get a whole lot of — fog and sea lions. I have a studio on the beach, about three blocks from my home, in a leased office. That’s my radio base. We have our studios there, my radio company is headquartered there. It’s a great set up, the new reality, you know?
How big is your crew?
On the air, it’s just me, our technical director and our maintenance engineers. Our technical director, C.J. Wheeler, is at our remote studio, which is in Washington, D.C. We don’t have the capability to automate our commercials yet. I’m working on digitizing our studio, so we can do that, but in the meantime, we use the remote studio in D.C. and then the show is up-linked to the satellite.
There’s also the person who will someday be my partner; right now he’s kind of our operations manager: Alex Cohen. He’s also my stepson. Alex is one of those guys who’s kind of a genius in every area, he’s technical and he knows marketing. He’s my closest adviser on how to move the business forward on all fronts.
|“If I get any sense that these are people playing along, they’re gone. As well-meaning as some of those people may be, it always makes for a bad call.”|
What is the current format of your show?
The show has changed dramatically, out of necessity. It has evolved from phone callers calling in to talk to a created person that they think is real to what I call a cartoon. The reason for that is that over the years, for a number of reasons, we’ve lost the churn necessary for these callers.
The caller base has dried up, but that’s not because the show concept has dried up. I did a year on weekends on KFI AM 640 in Los Angeles and we were getting phone calls every weekend. There were no warm bodies out there for the national show because the affiliates that we had basically had no listeners. Basically, the quality of affiliate dropped in the last six years. So that’s one thing that we’re having to build back up. We just got back on in Sacramento, which is huge. We got back on in New York. We need to be on in other markets like Miami and San Diego and Chicago, but we need to be on stations that have good listener bases.
[Now] we’re doing characters interacting with me in a radio play that’s improv-ed, that is a full-on satire of talk radio. I have a panel — Margaret Grey, Bud Dickman and Robert Leonard — all characters I’m doing interchangeably, and they’re all on the air with me and we’re discussing things… And we never get to what we want to discuss, because they’re taking things personally, and people are farting in the studio, and somebody’s got to go to the bathroom. We’re turning the whole thing into one giant clusterf*ck.
And then we bring on guests, which are also characters that I’m doing. Taking the whole thing and turning it into a radio party, with me playing all the characters. The callers will eventually return. We had one actual live caller on Friday — yaaay! — which beat the heck out of the five previous nights. As we get into the right markets, we’re going to pump in more of those calls.
|NEXT >> So What Do You Do, Jay Mohr, Comedian and Fox Sports Radio Host?|
Is there a danger of people eventually all cluing in to what you do? The secret being fully out, so to speak, and not being able to fool callers anymore with your characters?
No. As I said, when I was on KFI for a year starting in 2011, we had phone calls. We had people who knew the act and tried to sneak in, like they do. The talk show caller today may have a little bit more savvy than they used to, but I believe that there is also a large portion of people that are media “un-savvy” because of the Internet that are coming into the game now.
In terms of people knowing my act, yes, more and more people know my act. But nowhere near the number that you would think. And you can become famous, internationally, and people can know your name. But it doesn’t necessarily mean they know exactly what you do.
The honest information here is that we were on the air for six years with a company that did a bad job of supporting our show. From affiliates to sales to everything. We were put on stations that had no listeners. And that station list was not maintained very well. And so on and so forth.
How do you handle callers that are in on the joke, when they call?
If I get any sense that these are people playing along, they’re gone. As well-meaning as some of those people may be, it always makes for a bad call. You’re better off getting rid of those calls. I’ve had that sense ever since we started doing the show 20, 30 years ago. That there are people who want to call up and play along. And they always get hung up on.
What kind of person is signing up to your website at $9.99 per month?
Those are fans. Those are people who totally get the show and love it and want to be a part of it, regardless of the generation. We have a generation of new fans who don’t know about the phone caller aspect as much as they just know that I do all these character voices. Those are stone-cold fans and that is stone-cold money. That’s about as direct as it gets in my business in terms of making revenue.
|“There may be a day when radio revenue comes up to digital. But for now, it’s the digital money that’s wagging the dog. “|
If you want to be real honest, the radio show is a billboard for the digital business. My subscription business makes really good money. The radio show right now, and for the last six years, has not. Radio just in general is in the sh*tter. So, what can I use my radio show for? Well, I can use it as a billboard for digital, which is exactly what we do. Now there may be a day when radio revenue comes up to digital. But for now, it’s the digital money that’s wagging the dog.
What about the TV-film side; do you have any projects you’re working on for those media?
Yes, I’ve kind of gone in a new direction. I’ve partnered with Angela Frame, she’s an animator and a project manager in the animation world. We have developed an animation narrative show. We have partnered with Starburns Industries in Burbank. We have a fully developed show that we’ve attached a couple of huge names to. I’m not currently at liberty to say who. And we’re now going to go out and pitch it.
This is where I feel my theatrical efforts should be focused. It’s a really good product, a really funny show. One of our executive producers is Justin Roiland, who is a co-creator of Rick and Morty on the Cartoon Network. He’s a great guy. I worked for him on Rick and Morty, I asked him to executive produce for us. So he’s with us.
It’s based upon a world that you know, and it’s well written. And there [are] a lot of options and [opportunities] out there, even the large number of new platforms that are out there for video. Whether it’s Netflix or Hulu or all of these smaller places, there [are] tons of places for content. It’s such a wonderful world out there; anybody who has an idea, who’s creative, you’re in a pretty good place. It’s definitely a seller’s market in terms of creative stuff.