'The Junkies,' a Guy Magnet During Morning Radio's Drive-Time

J.P. Flaim, seated, surrounded by fellow Junkies Eric Bickel, John Auville and Jason Bishop, from left, the WJFK guy-talkers who replaced Howard Stern.
J.P. Flaim, seated, surrounded by fellow Junkies Eric Bickel, John Auville and Jason Bishop, from left, the WJFK guy-talkers who replaced Howard Stern. (Courtesy Of J.p. Flaim)
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By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 1, 2008

You've got your usual morning-radio superstars -- your Russ Parrs, Donnie Simpsons, Elliot Segals and the WTOP news gang. But for guy listeners, four guys have become the go-to move in the morning.

Since they took over the morning "drive-time" shift on WJFK (106.7 FM) for the departed Howard Stern two years ago, "The Junkies" have steadily gained ground on local radio's royalty. Now, the latest quarterly ratings from Arbitron suggest that the late-30-something pals from the mean streets of Bowie have arrived.

The Junkies finished 12th among all listeners in the Arbitron survey, but the real story is how they're attracting men, particularly young men, to their brand of testosterone talk. In that category, the Junkies are beginning to dominate, finishing first among adult-male listeners in almost every major age group.

Since their move to the morning, the Junks -- J.P. Flaim, Eric Bickel, Jason Bishop and John Auville -- have gradually cut into the big audience enjoyed by Segal, another guy-talker.

Segal's "Elliot in the Morning" still holds a big advantage overall, primarily as a result of his strength among female listeners (Segal's program finished tied for sixth overall during the most recent quarter). In part, that's because "Elliot in the Morning" is heard on DC-101 (101.1 FM), a rock station that attracts both men and women in roughly equal measures throughout the day. The Junkies, on the other hand, are on WJFK, an all-talk station that barely bothers trying to win over women.

One more bragging point: The Junkies are starting to match, and in some categories exceed, Stern's numbers on WJFK before he left regular old radio for a lucrative Sirius satellite radio deal in early 2006.

"It's been a steady build," Flaim said yesterday. He added: "Our strength is our chemistry. We're lifelong friends who talk about what comes naturally to us. The people who most relate to us are plus or minus 10 years of our age."

The Junkies' radio saga began about 12 years ago, when WJFK hired the quartet, then known as "The Sports Junkies," from a cable-access show to host a weekend fill-in show. They were so obscure that at their first Christmas party at the station, an executive didn't recognize them and wouldn't let them in.

Over time, their shtick has aged -- let's say "matured" -- along with them. "I think we're still kids at heart," says Bickel, "but as you get older, you get a little wiser as you experience more things. So we talk more about marriages and children and the economy and things like that. I'm certainly more interested in real estate than I was 10 years ago. I care more about the prime rate. And about getting exercise."

The Junks' formula also includes special events, such as Flaim's very brief stint as a boxer (he was knocked out by a pro in the first round) and biannual poker tournaments. And with a nod to Stern's emphasis on "babes," the hosts are joined at public appearances and on the air by the Junkettes, a hand-picked group of comely young women.

The program's growing male audience appears to be hanging around for "Big O and Dukes," the new midday show that follows the Junkies. Hosted by Oscar Santana and Chad Dukes, the program sounds something like a younger, more slackerish version of the Junks. On the air for just two months of the three-month winter survey, the duo helped raise WJFK's ratings among men aged 18 to 49 from 11th to fourth, and among men 25 to 54 from 15th to sixth.

In other ratings news: With a 6.6 percent share of the audience, all-news WTOP (103.5 FM) retained the top spot among all listeners from urban-contemporary music station WHUR-FM (No. 2 at 6.1 percent). WTOP usually benefits from bad weather (school closings, traffic reports, etc.), but with a mild winter, politics was the driving force, said Jim Farley, WTOP's top programmer.

"There's a ton of interest in this campaign," he said yesterday. "Thank you, Obama. Thank you, McCain. Thank you, Clinton."

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