Paging Bull

At this very moment, someone somewhere in the Valley--a man, a woman, a child, even a parrot, maybe--is undoubtedly mimicking the maniacal mantra that has catapulted an obscure Israeli pager salesman into the forefront of the local pop-culture firmament.

"I'm JJ! I'm the owner! I'm the King of Beepers!"
For the past three months, few Phoenicians within earshot of a radio have escaped his cornball clarion call. A hokey throwback to the yahoo ad campaigns of yore, this ingeniously cheesy catch phrase is at the heart of the screwiest, most obnoxious and inexplicably popular advertising blitz to hit the Valley in recent memory.

Delivered by a devilish-looking character wearing robes and a crown, that self-serving proclamation now reverberates across the city from office buildings and coffee houses to restaurants and playgrounds.

The man behind the squawk, meanwhile, has a very simple explanation for his success.

"People like my commercial," rasps the sultan of self-promotion in a heavily accented voice seemingly divorced from any one nationality.

"It's unique, not your regular commercial."

In a conversation filled with equal parts illusion, delusion and self-aggrandizing hype, that statement turns out to be one of very few indisputable comments to come out of the King of Beepers' mouth.

The talk comes fast and furious, as the King attempts to explain away a growing list of controversies storming the gates of his kingdom. In just four years on the throne, he's felt the sting of the National Organization for Women, the producers of the documentary Heidi Fleiss Hollywood Madam, and rival beeper dealers in three states. But whether defending his name and his business practices in a court of law or in one of public opinion, the self-directed beeper czar appears to thrive on the attention. Any attention.

Yet when JJ strides into his storefront Camelot on East Indian School Road one recent afternoon, few of his subjects pay the slightest bit of attention to the exalted ruler they know only through radio ads and garish billboards.

He's virtually unrecognizable without the Imperial margarine crown, the scarlet cape, the mischievous leer and the manic shouting that he saves for advertising shoots, and it's hard to believe his is the unremarkable countenance that's finally put a face on the Valley's highly competitive pager market.

This is the crazy king who wants to give everyone in town a "free" beeper? The same mad monarch who recently offered $1,800 on local radio for the return of his stolen JJ KING license plate? The mastermind who dreams up the spectacularly hokey publicity stunts, like the upcoming shtick in which a radio deejay will cover his body with vibrating beepers and have 100 listeners page him all at once?

In fact, the balding interloper in the pinstriped suit scarcely rates a cursory glance as he enters his dominion--even though he'd just pulled up outside the store in a black stretch limo.

Evidently dismissing the curiously dressed new arrival as a mere chauffeur, two high schoolers in baggy shorts and flip-flopped baseball caps turn their attention back to a wall-size reproduction of JJ's famous billboard. They're soon cracking each other up as they swap quips about the scantily clad model with the oversize vibrating beeper thrust between her legs. A bored-looking teen mom amuses her baby by taking swipes at an inflatable beeper hanging pinatalike from the ceiling. Across the showroom, a couple in tank tops and tattoos kill time by inventorying their supply of cigarettes.

After making several more passes through the showroom to no apparent purpose without generating any glimmer of recognition, the King retires to his modest throne room.

The royal chambers are far from regal, the furnishings hardly fancier than those found in a basic boiler-room operation. Walls are papered with schedules for the King's upcoming radio spots, most of them on youth-oriented FM stations. Piles of newspaper clippings, most of them documenting what his competition is up to, are strewn around the floor. A phone on the desk rarely stops ringing. In fact, the only thing that distinguishes this office from thousands of other similar low-end warrens is a couple of snapshots taken at a presidential reception sometime in the vague past. Although a dazed-looking JJ appears to have wandered within camera range while Bill Clinton was posing for a photo op, wall-size blowups of the quirky Kodak moment now grace all of the King's showrooms.

As it turns out, JJ's less-than-palatial East Indian School office is just a place to hang his crown while doing business in Phoenix. Although he makes his home in Beverly Hills, much of his time is spent on the road, overseeing a six-store miniempire that encompasses Southern California, Las Vegas and, since February, Phoenix. Valley business has been so good that he's already scouting another Phoenix location, possibly on the west or south side of town. And by the end of the year, His Royal Beeperness also hopes to cast his electronic lasso over Denver and Dallas.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Dewey Webb