They mispronounce names, shuffle papers, talk at the same time and clear their throats whenever they feel like it. They deliberately make fun of their meal tickets--the ads. And they often do exactly the same routines and one-liners they did 20 years ago.
Add it up, and Harden and Weaver should be strong candidates for a one-way ticket to a retirement home. As the former manager of a competing radio station once put it, "They should be so easy to topple, it's ridiculous."
But that station manager has gone away, scratching his head, while Frank Harden and Jackson Weaver continue to turn up six mornings a week, untoppled, on WMAL-AM. For 23 years, for reasons that they don't entirely understand themselves, Harden and Weaver have been Washington's most popular radio tandem, and one of the most popular in the world. "We feel we are like a utility," says Harden. "When people flip on the radio in the morning, they expect us to be there."
Their secret is that they lack a secret. As they often say on the air, and as they write in their new book, "One of these days we've got to do it like it's supposed to be done." Harden and Weaver buffs know better than to hold their breath.
I hope they weren't any more breathless in awaiting "On The Radio With Harden and Weaver." If H&W fans are looking for inside dope on their heroes, or insight into how a show that breaks all the rules has dominated Washington radio for a quarter of a century, they won't find it here.
This is less a book than an assemblage. It is transparently the result of a weekend spent in someone's den, Scotches in hand, dictating memories and quips into a tape recorder. The result is brisk and clever, like good radio. But good radio doesn't necessarily make good reading. This volume is stitched together, not woven. It is a good-sized magazine interview masquerading as a book.
Still, Harden and Weaver exude the same charm in print that they do on the air. Even if you've heard Jackson Weaver announce a thousand times that his fictional Rinky Dink Day School is closed because of snow, you'll still get a kick out of the story on the printed page. And the time Frank Harden got seasick riding the elephant in the circus . . . it's pure boffo, folks.
However, "the boys" and their co-author, Ed Meyer, merely skirt the central themes that a Harden and Weaver autobiography should address. Why do H&W work so well together? How do they feel about their success? How long do they plan to continue? The authors give the slip to these critical questions at several turns in the book. "What if there had been no Harden and Weaver Show? . . . I try not to think about that too much," writes Frank Harden late in the book. Alarmingly, disappointingly, Meyer and his editors let it go at that. It's an appetizer when a meal is called for.
Nor does the book pin down clearly how Harden and Weaver work every day. There is never a thorough description of their current studio, or of how they prepare for the show. Do they wear headphones? Do they drink oceans of coffee? Do they wear ties? T-shirts? Their thousands of listeners must wonder about all this daily, but in the book, there isn't a glimmer of an answer. As for life around WMAL, only saints are on the payroll, apparently. Every time a coworker is mentioned, be he a boss or a floorsweeper, he's terrific, great, marvelous to work with, etc. It's syrupy, and it shouldn't be there.
Counterbalancing this are some surprisingly honest chapters that take Harden and Weaver's salt-of-the-earth images down a couple of pegs. Harden forthrightly admits to having had a drinking problem. He also devotes three pages to his celebrated arrest a decade ago for soliciting a prostitute on 14th Street. For his part, Weaver reveals that he once slugged it out with another man in the middle of a downtown street when both were courting the same woman.
Could the storied careers of Harden and Weaver be duplicated? The authors intimate that they don't think so. If you're serious about entering radio as a profession, "we do recommend the communications departments of various universities," Jackson Weaver writes. But he quickly adds that there are "certain elements of performing that are not teachable."
Naturally, he's referring to a couple of guys you can hear Monday through Saturday morning at 630 on your AM dial. What makes them tick? "I don't know," writes Weaver. "It's a gift." As true as that may be, a 224-page book should come closer to analyzing the whys and hows.