The Accidental Shock Jocks
One by one the Junkies slump into the cramped radio studio, plop into their cushioned seats and plug in their headphones. It's 4:50 a.m. in early January. Outside, the highways are still mostly empty; not even Starbucks is open.
"Okay, we start with a 12-minute segment, boys," says J.P. Flaim, the most organized and least disheveled of the crew. He's the only Junkie who bathed this morning. "I just don't feel right if I don't shower," he explains.
The others stick to familiar routines, too, trying to calm their nerves. Eric "E.B." Bickel fiddles with the machine that routes phone calls onto the air. Jason "Lurch" Bishop, who is 6-foot-6, props his size 13 feet up on the table and tries to read the sports page. John "Cakes" Auville sucks down his second Diet Coke of the morning and readies hundreds of digital sound effects.
Starting this morning, these four 35-year-old average Joes from Prince George's County are taking over Howard Stern's long-running -- and highly lucrative -- morning rush hour slot on WJFK (106.7 FM) in Washington and WHFS (105.7 FM) in Baltimore. Before he defected to satellite radio, Stern was the king of FM raunch. It's not clear if the Junkies, despite a new contract worth millions, are up to the challenge of holding on to Stern's listeners in the Washington-Baltimore market. "The next few months will be the most scrutinized of our careers," says J.P. Indeed, just trying to shake off their pre-show jitters and get some sleep last night was a bear.
E.B. was so keyed up that he popped a Xanax before crawling into bed. The anti-anxiety drug, he says, was supposed to ease him to sleep. It didn't.
J.P. also went the pill route, taking a sleeping medication called Ambien. He was wide awake by midnight. "It must have been a sugar pill," he says.
Two bottles of Miller Lite were Cakes's choice of narcotic. But his 18-month-old son kept crying, and throughout the night he and his wife split baby duty. "This shift will haunt me, will put me in an early grave," Cakes declares.
Lurch lost his fight with insomnia around 1 a.m. He got out of bed, cooked some eggs and turned on ESPN.
Now their producer, Chris Kinard, stands behind the control board and gazes at the four old friends. "This is surreal," Kinard says. "We're about to take over Howard Stern's spot."
In the studio, a digital clock measures time by thousandths of a second. The whizzing milliseconds crash into 5:00:000, and the Junkies are live.
"That's right, donkeys, we are back," crackles J.P. He announces that they're "fresh" and ready to go.
"Nobody's fresh," Cakes screams at J.P. "It's 5:01."