By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
That fleeting display of facial levity soon evaporates.
Asked about one of his billboards that loomed over a competitor's shop near Seventh Avenue and Camelback for several weeks this spring, JJ leans back in his chair and waves his hand imperiously.
"That, I have nothing to do with," he says wearily. "Why would I? I don't need to prove anything." Instead, JJ insists the billboard's ironic placement was just one of those things, freak happenstance that can be chalked up to a luck-of-the-draw contract that gives him no say in where his billboards appear.
If that's true (Eller Outdoor Advertising didn't return calls concerning the terms of JJ's contract), the King of Beepers has been the recipient of some of the most fortuitous placement in the history of outdoor advertising.
To date, few--if any--of JJ's billboard advertising dollars have been wasted in high-income neighborhoods like north Scottsdale, tony 'burbs whose residents would presumably be less receptive to his brand of side-show salesmanship. For months, however, one of JJ's billboards has stood sentry over an intersection near Christown Mall--or "Crip Town," as the decaying neighborhood is known to its detractors. In South Phoenix, the gigantic image of JJ and his beeper-humping blond playmate dwarf motorists as they travel across two major thoroughfares in and out of the gang-ridden area.
And in Los Angeles, one of JJ's seemingly strategically placed billboards even shows up in the opening paragraphs of No Matter How Loud I Shout, Pulitzer Prize-winner Edward Humes' acclaimed study of the L.A. juvenile court system published last year.
Describing prisoners entering an ancient lockup facility in East L.A., Humes writes, "The most observant of them, however, can take heart at their continued, valued place in society and commerce: A lone billboard overlooks the street leading to the lockup, a depiction of a man in a crown and red royal robes, flanked by a six-foot-tall pocket-paging device and a young woman squeezed into a transistor-sized red bikini. The man is 'The King of Beepers,' and his product is especially popular with the hundreds of drug dealers, gangbangers, and assorted other criminals who pass by his shrewdly placed advertisement in shackles each day . . ."
To know JJ, the King of Beepers, is not necessarily to understand him. After doing business on East Indian School Road for less than four months, he claims the public now regards the street as the city's beeper district. After alluding to a list of charitable deeds he's anonymously performed, he rambles on about the specifics of his generosity at length. The King becomes far more agitated over the idea that someone might mistakenly believe he actually drives his own limo than he does over the suggestion that his advertising may be targeting gangs.
And after a lengthy discourse on why there's enough business in Phoenix for everyone, he concludes, "The last thing I want to do for a guy and his family and children is take food from their mouths to put in mouth of me. But it happens. The small ones going bye-bye, okay? The big ones stay. This is life."
All of which has made life with JJ a popular topic of conversation within the local pager-industry circles.
"JJ is wiping out nobody," counters Niv Amnon, manager of Free Beepers, a multistate chain with 19 outlets Valleywide. "He's going to be wiped out himself, and I tell you why: He's doing all this advertising without any sense because of his ego."
Amnon and JJ go way back--or at least far enough back that Amnon remembers when JJ was still calling himself Juda. The pair have been sniping away for years, most recently as business rivals in Phoenix and Las Vegas. Prior to that, both worked in a Los Angeles electronics store owned by Amnon's cousin Danny Gold.
"Danny has a store in L.A., so Juda opens a store in L.A.," singsongs Amnon of the pair's adversarial business relationship. "Danny opens in Las Vegas, Juda opens in Las Vegas. Wherever Danny goes, he goes."
Arriving in Phoenix 18 months ago, Gold evidently tried to throw the brakes on this increasingly predictable scenario. His brainstorm? Beat JJ to the punch by naming his own store--what else?--JJ the King of Beepers.
As the local billboard landscape demonstrates, that ploy didn't work. JJ set up shop in Phoenix anyway--but not before a supposed legal skirmish in which he somehow reclaimed rights to his throne.
Just how that coup was accomplished is--like so many aspects of JJ's career--open to debate. Although JJ insists he spent $150,000 in legal fees to wrest the title from his competitors in a local court case, there's no record of any such litigation in Maricopa County Superior Court.
"Lawsuit?" asks Amnon. "There was no lawsuit! Danny just tells him to take the name back, we don't want it."
Amnon even takes issue with his rival's customers, whom JJ describes as "everyone." "He attracts not even the middle-class," insists Amnon. "They are the garbage of the garbage. He is the king of nothing."
Nothing. That triggers a thought, and Amnon whips out one of JJ's old ads, one that promised customers who already owned pagers that he'd reactivate the units for free.