PHONE CALLS FROM HELL

"YOU WANT PRINCE ALBERT? I'LL CONNECT YOU. PLEASE HOLD."

HOLD THE PHONE! Was Prince Albert about to get permanently canned?
For a minute there, it looked like it. But several weeks ago, following unsatisfactory negotiations with the Arizona Corporation Commission, U S West Communications put the lid on plans to market Caller ID, a controversial gizmo that enables the person receiving a call to see the telephone number of the person making the call. Had Caller ID become available, the device would have effectively pulled the plug on one of America's most maligned, neglected and subversive forms of humor-the prank phone call.

Admittedly, few would have bemoaned the loss. Just ask anyone who's ever dashed from shower to telephone, only to be told to go catch a running" refrigerator.

Actually, even hard-core phone-prank enthusiasts would be happy to see that hoary fridge gag put on ice. Typically older and bolder than those juvenile jokesters who used to call tobacco shops demanding that Prince Albert be let out of his can, today's pranksters are apt to call you to announce that the Cambodian orphan" you've never heard of is about to be delivered to your home. And chances are, the call is being taped for posterity, for distribution throughout a national gagster underground.

From New Jersey come the legendary Tube Bar" tapes, a series of nuisance calls to Red," an incredibly foul-mouthed bartender who did everything but shove his fist through the telephone (see related story). Almost as famous are Tennessee's Benny" tapes, a string of prank calls to a drawling car salesman who grows increasingly befuddled as his telephone tormentors phone in daily critiques of his wardrobe.

And right up there in the prank-call pantheon are Phoenix's notorious KDIL" tapes, a string of wide-ranging telephone pranks perpetrated 20 years ago by the staff of a pirate radio station that operated out of the Valley.

Manned by a group of college-age radio buffs, the outlaw KDIL was billed as the station that vibrates you!"-largely because of the crew's fondness for broadcasting dramatic readings" from a porno paperback called Dildo Torture. Today, the DIL's pulsating legacy of telephone pranks and broadcasting continues to reverberate through the collector underground via several hours of audiotapes.

Using radio equipment borrowed" from a variety of sources, KDIL's technological terrorists first wreaked havoc on local radio sometime in 1971, where they were heard sporadically over the upper reaches of the AM dial until voluntarily signing off some four years later. Although KDIL's announcers regularly reminded listeners the show was being broadcast direct from the Satanic Tabernacle in Wickenburg, Arizona!," the station actually broadcast from a rotating roster of what one former DILster calls hippie houses."

(Because many of the KDIL vets now pursue legitimate broadcasting careers, some are reluctant to share their reminiscences of the illegal station.)

Unlike most of their hippie-dippy brethren active in the alternative radio community, the KDIL commandos couldn't have cared less about changing the world through song.

I don't think we ever played a song that you couldn't have heard on KDKB that very same day," remembers realtor-radio personality Wonderful Russ" Shaw, one of the handful of radio buffs who manned the illegal station. Instead, says Shaw, the whole station was centered around these lunatic commercials that we would create."

Hello. This is Lou Grubb for Lou Grubb Chevrolet. Listen, we've got some fine resale cars here at 27th Avenue and Camelback. And what's more, if you'll stop out to see us at 27th Avenue and Camelback, you can ask one of our representatives for a special Lou Grubb ice pick. These picks have a stainless-steel prong and a solid birchwood handle and the handles all carry the legend Lou Grubb Chevrolet." Stop on out and get yours. THEN GO OVER AND SEE SOME SMART-MOUTHED FORD SALESMAN AND GOUGE HIS EYES OUT!!! Remember, that's 27th Avenue and Camelback. Our big lot and our fine automobiles. Lou Grubb Chevrolet. Thank you very much.

Shaw's KDIL capers paid off down the road when he later landed legitimate gigs doing similar commercial spoofs for KDKB and, more recently, KSLX. At the time, however, the bogus spots were strictly from left field. Says Shaw, The hope was that people would tune to the station, hear these commercials and think, `My God! What's happening? That's not rightÏhow can they be saying that?'"

If you worked at KDIL, it was easy. You just got on the radio and delivered a pitch for a nonexistent business like Mr. Rory's Drive-Thru.

The Breakfast Rory-a succulent layer of perfectly seasoned, choice hyena tripe, sandwiched between two strips of Rory's hyena bacon on a slab of imitation-egg filler. All this on a toasted sesame-seed bun with a pickle on top to ward off evil spirits. That's the Breakfast Rory, only 99 cents, this week only during the Taste-Me, Get-Acquainted Special. As always, you'll find the latest selection of hyena by-products right in your own neighborhood at your local Mr. Rory's Arizona-Baked Hyena Tripe Drive-Thru restaurant. Make it a family outing. Dad can order a Big Rory. Mom can get a Killer Rat Burger. And the kids can each have a Rory Jr.

To assure themselves that as many people as possible were getting the message (like Globe Shopping City's back-to-school LSD special"), Shaw and his cohorts took to the telephones.

It was the only way we could get anyone to listen to us," Shaw says. The odds that someone would just happen to stumble across the station by accident were practically nil, especially since we broadcast so sporadically and had to change our frequency so often." ²Posing as Pete Globner from KDIL radio," Shaw (or another KDIL staffer") would telephone local supermarkets late at night (right before going on the air) and ask to speak to stock clerks. I'd ask if they'd ever heard of us and, of course, they'd always say they had," explains Shaw. Then I'd tell them, `Tonight, we're at 1550 on your AM dial and we're having a special contest just for grocery-store workers.' The idea was that all the supermarket workers would be so eager to win this $1,000 prize-which never really existedÏthat they'd broadcast the station over the store's loudspeaker systems."

According to Shaw, this ruse never failed; after making the calls, off-duty KDIL staffers reportedly raced from store to store in order to savor the befuddled looks on customers as KDIL's signature sign-on(...one billion watts AM, one billion watts FM, one billion watts horizontal, one billion watts vertical...") blared from the store's public-address system.

The clerks would routinely fall for it," says Shaw. Number one, everyone making the calls had announcer voices, so it sounded legit. Number two, when we were on the air, we'd always say something like, `This song is going out to all our friends over at Safeway or Bayless or wherever.'" Shaw laughs. Still, can you imagine a real radio station calling up people and asking them to be the audience? The weird thing is that I can't remember anyone ever questioning what we were doing. It was really kind of amazing." During the DIL's fledgling days, then-alternative music station KDKB found itself on the receiving end of a particularly pointed DIL spear.

Valley musician Gary Russell, another KDIL alum, recalls the telephone stunt inspired by the rash of rock festivals then in vogue. We called up the station and said, `Hey, we're putting on a show in Seven Springs. Can you run this promo for us? The check is in the mail; it's on the way.'"

Ordinarily, a station will never do that," says Russell, unofficial archivist of the KDIL tapes. You get the money first, then you run the spot. But this was in 1971 and, being groovy hippies, the KDKB people said, `Wow, groovy, man!' So we fake `air-mailed' a cassette to the station and, of course, ever the trusting hippies, they played it."

That's how some Valley listeners happened to hear a promo for one of the strangest concert lineups never heard: A three-day rockathon over the Good Friday weekend, featuring such disparate talent as Jefferson Starship, Jerry When You're Hot, You're Hot" Reed and something called Fried Calves, all culminating in a special Easter sunrise performance" by Black Sabbath. If a pop historian ever decides to document Valley talk-radio of the late Sixties and early Seventies, he need look no further than the KDIL tapes. Thanks to the misguided tenacity and ingenuity of the Phoenix telephone pranksters, it's doubtful that any of the long-forgotten talk-radio programs of that era went untaped by the KDIL clowns.

One particularly popular target was the rash of phone-in swap meets. Here's what happened when KDIL called Shirley," hostess of Country Store" (station unknown):

KDIL: I've got some bricks of Acapulco Gold for sale.
Shirley: Okay.
K: And I'd like $200 apiece for them. S: Okay.

K: They weigh a little over two pounds apiece, real fine stuff. Anybody's interested, they can give me a call at 555-5345.

We were always listening to the radio, looking for somebody to call up and hassle," says Gary Russell. A perfect target was corn-pone celeb Jimmy Dean, then making the media rounds plugging his new pure pork sausage."

One of us would find out that Jimmy Dean was going to be on some talk show," Russell says, so we'd call each other up so everyone got a chance to stick it to Jimmy."

As in this exchange:

KDIL: I tried some of your sausage last week.
Jimmy Dean: You did?
K: I was over at my grandmother's house. She had some sausage, so we cooked up a little bit and had some and she took awful sick.

JD: She took awful sick?
K: Yeah.
JD: Well, if you're one of her offspring, she's probably a little sick to start with. Considering the fact that you're one of her offspring, she's probably a little ill at the whole world, to tell you the truth.

I'd like to think what we were doing was playful, more like a tweak of the nose," says Russell. Of course, I'll admit there were times when some of us did go a little overboard... ." He'd certainly get no argument from one Mary Ross, femcee of a long-ago call-in show on KRDS. During what had to be the worst day in her professional life (thoughtfully taped for posterity by one of the KDIL gang), the perky announcer stood by helplessly as she was besieged by call after call filled with filthy non sequiturs.

After nervously laughing off some of the earlier obscenities, the miffed hostess finally blew her cool in a torrent of kittenish pique, then provided a fitting coda to the piece by abruptly seguing to a cheesy lounge jazz record. Ross, wherever she is, may take some consolation in knowing that her on-air tirade has since earned her a national following among phone-prank scholars.

If Ross has a male counterpart in local prankdom, it undoubtedly was John Sage, onetime KNIX radio personality. Operating out of a glassed-in control booth opposite Park Central Mall in the Seventies, the surly, right-wing commentator became an easy target for the KDIL guerrillas in more ways than one.

John Sage was a delight to prank," recalls Russell, who credits the commentator with nicknaming the KDIL crew The Interceptors." He was a Joe Pyne kind of guy, like an ex-Marine, and some nights when we were on a roll, you could practically see the veins in his neck pulsing while someone was giving him the business."

A psychiatrist would have a field day unraveling the weird hate-hate relationship between caller and victim, with both sides reveling in their emasculating taunts. While Sage generally had the last word (he could, after all, simply hang up the telephone), the commentator had at least one occasion to wonder who was really running the show.

While talking on the telephone with a female caller one evening, Sage interrupted the conversation to describe a police drama unfolding right outside the window of his studio: For some reason, he said, lots of motorcycle patrolmen were zooming into the station's parking lot. Ye gods!" gasped Sage to his listeners. Moments later, cops broke into the control booth to check a report that the announcer had been injured by shots fired through the window. After assuring police that he was fine, Sage gamely returned to his microphone, where he spent much of the rest of the evening ranting about his archnemeses-just as they hoped he would.

Thanks to their knowledge of the local radio scene, the KDIL guerrillas were even able to prank their way onto stations that didn't even feature phone-in shows.

part 1 of 2

PHONE CALLS FROM HELL "YOU WANT PRINCE ... v4-15-92

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