The Temperature is in the 90s. The humidity is in the 90s. The car's air conditioning is merely a rumor atop beautiful downtown Whitehurst Freeway, a lifetime or two from Key Bridge, and the gas gauge says it certainly is not a long way to empty.
"Okay," says a voice on the occasionally audible AM radio, "the temperature in Washington is 92 degrees, just two degrees short of the all-time high for this day in the city."
"The record for this day is 94," saysanother voice. "Gee, it really would be nice if we could help set another record today."
"You know, you're right," says the first. "Now just think . . . if each of our listeners out there lit just one candle . . ."
Like a lot of voices on the radio, WMAL-AM's afternoon drive-time team of Trumbull and Core will somewhat regularly tell you the time. What helps make them the most listened-to afternoon radio personalities in the city, however, is the fact that they somewhat regularly give you a time, too.
It is Bill Trumbull, 45, a trim, balding, 20-year announcing veteran dressed in a striped golf shirt and light slacks, who ventures to guess what makes this cockamamie job worthwhile:
"the best time is really when a bit works," he says, speaking of humor, "not planning it, knowing it is good as you're doing it, and getting a finish to it, and sitting back when the record comes on and saying that was good -- you know it was good, you have a feeling inside. That's the best time in this whole show . . ."
"Chris Core, 31, a blond, single, one-time Voice of America reporter who wears buttons on his collar and loafers on his feet, is nodding himself right out of his office-chair slouch. "When it goes the right length," he adds, "it's spontaneous . . ."
". . . of course none of this ever happens," Trumbull interjects.
". . . it's spontaneous, " Core continues, laughing, "it's good, and you're going along and you think of a funny line to end it, and it ends, yeah, yeah, that's right . . ."
"That's what makes you love this job," says Trumbull.
Oops. The Billy Joel tune following a commercial starts off right smack in the middle of the song, and when the music stops . . .
CHRIS: Well, that was swell, (laughter.)
BILL: Ah yes, Russian roulette time here at The Big WMAL. . .
CHRIS: Yes, and now what we're going to do on Ken's show (Ken Beatrice's "Sports Call") in honor of this new system, we're only going to have answers.
BILL: That's right, no questions tonight. And we're also going to have the scores of one of the teams, not both of the teams.
CHRIS: And instead of "You're next"?
Bill: We're going to cut out the "You're."
Chris: Cut the "you're." It's thenew theme here on WMAL. The Impassable Dream
Boredom -- The Final Frontier. These are the voyages of Trumbull and Core, whose four-hour mission is to seek out new life for old jokes, to boldly pause and giggle during commercials where no man has paused and giggled before, and, in no particular order:
To investigate that thick-skinned breed ofAmericans who raise Naugas for their hides (with semi-regular interviews of noted Nauga farmer B. B. Moody, among other experts).
To disarm boring facts by making thempart of a regular feature called "Boring Facts."
To track the dreaded Snow Shark with the help of phoned-in updates from vigilant listeners. ("Hello, Chris? Yes. My husband saw one this morning.")
To memorialize Washington winters with custom-written tunes like "It's Impassable."
To place bets on which "Bob" will be doing the next hourly ABC Information Network newscast from New York (they call it "All-Bob News").
Trumbull and Core started life four years ago last month as "Two for the Road"; the veteran announcer and the bright young newsman were informed the Friday before that they would work together in this combination of news talk, weather and sports reports and middle-of-the-road music. On the Monday, Trumbull (who'd done the show mostly alone since 1968) was joined by Core.
Well (as Core would say), the letter poured in.
The name of the show bit the dust last year, when WMAL decided it would be best for both Trumbull and Core (and ABC, which owns WMAL and is picky about things like "perceived image") if folks knew them as "Trumball and Core." Witness Frank Harden and Jackson Weaver, WMAL's morning team, who have been the most popular radio personalities in the city for three of four centuries.
The rising Arbitron ratings Trumbull and Core have earned may very well be part of what radio industry types are calling a resurgence of "personality" radio. But the Trumbull and Core show is not really all "personality." It is for the most part, actually, news and information -- principally weather and traffic -- with regular live segments on sports by Beatrice and Congress by newsman Joseph McCaffrey, plus occasional serious features -- an interview with an expert on career changes, for example, or an hour devoted to callers' views on Iran.
And there is the semi-serious: a show done live from a "lemonade stand" set up along the route to the beach this Aug. 1 (they called it August Fool's Day); a live remote from the tower of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, which enabled Trumball and Core to investigate firsthand (and via on-the-air telephone inquiries to bureaucrats) the almost surreal traffice tie-ups they report there each afternoon.
There are those who say Trumbull and Core talk too much (they play about one-third the music of WMAL midday man Tom Gauger, for instance), and though it has the largest audience of any afternoon show in town, T & c does poorly with the Pepsi Generation -- their best score in a recent Arbition ratings survey was among 45- to 54-year-old women. The show's humor, says one longtime colleague, is sometimes corny or trite -- but the ingenuous Core seems to have brought out the best in the fatherly Trumbull, says the colleague, particularly in the past year or so. T & C Trivia
Trumbull and Core took a vacation this summer. Core went to Europe. Trumbull did too, except it was as Busch Gardens.
Core tried not to think about WMALonce. Trumbull thought about WMAL a lot, listening mostly to ball games (he is a Red Sox fan from Westfield, Mass.) and the show he was vacationing from.
Trumbull lives in Gaithersburg with his wife Nancy and their three kids, and likes to watch TV. (He claims he gets ideas for the show from it.) He recently joined a health club, but since it still hasn't opened, he says, he keeps in shape by paying the membership dues.
Core, an Iowan, lives in a condominium in Chevy Chase, drives a moped to work, lifts weights, swims, plays basketball and racketball. He maintains a desk in the newsroom for the same reason Trumbull watches television. He says everyone keeps saying Trumbull and Core are the heirs apparent to Harden and Weaver. (Mornings generally bring radio its biggest audiences, and thus morning-drive air shifts are the most prestigious.) But Core says T&C aren't interested in H&W's hours."I don't want to go to bed at 9 o'clock every night -- I'm a bachelor," he says in ersatz apoplexy. "I'd probably remain a bachelor if that was the case."
When it comes to talking, Core tends to press on -- searching aloud for the right words when they don't come to mind immediately, improvising, gesturing, taking chances. Trumbull, who says he works as well with Core because "I'm a much better reactor than actor," seems most at ease with the economy of the one-liner. (When he peeked in the room the other day, spying an interviewer and a tape recorder, he dit not say "Hi!" or "Excuse me." He raised his eyebrows slightly, and said: "Testing, one-two-three?") Unpracticed Makes Perfect
There's just over an hour to go before today's show starts, and Trumbull, finishing up a McDonald's sundae, is looking quite relaxed. ("Famous," Trumbull had said earlier as he lifted his first McDelicacy out of its snap-lock plastic nets, "does not mean rich.") Core, whose considerable beach-boyish brawn is offset by reading glasses and Midwestern manners, is looking at his watch. He still hasn't finished the cryptic, mimeographed "menu" that gives each day's show a semblance of order.
Trumbull, who chooses the music and directs the show (cueing the commercials and breaks), usually doesn't know what Core is up to when he pens in the word "Popcorn," for example, on the menu as the title of a show segment between the usual "Today in History" at 3:10 and "Sports" at 4:10. ("Popcorn" turns out to be a properly mouth-agape survey of movie-house popcorn prices.) But Trumbull doesn't want to know what Core has in mind.
This is the largest single part of the team's survival strategy: spontaneity. Trumbull and Core know most people turn on the radio for very immediate, specific reasons -- What time is it? What's it like out? Who won? Was that an air raid siren I heard? -- and they know that radio announcers wind up saying lots of the same things over and over to meet those needs. But for their own sanity -- and for those at-home listeners tuned in for longer periods -- they favor the unrehearsed.
"I like to hit things cold because then it puts an adventure into it," Trumbull says, laughing. Core whoops in delight.
"If I find something new," Trumbull says, "especially a promo or a PSA . . ."
". . . Here's his new trick," says Core.
". . . the mike will go on, and I'll cue the engineer if there's background music, or it's a production spot," Trumbull smiles. "And then I'll just hand him the copy, and sit back and laugh."
"I've never seen it before," says Core. "I don't even know it's coming . . ."
". . . Especially if it's a giveaway," says Trumbull, "it'll have names no one can pronounce. . . "
"Yeah," Core says, "Mrs. R. Schlegiwicz, or something, of Springfield, and you just know Mrs. Schlegiwicz is listening, and you're gonna boot hername on the air -- here's her once chance at glory, and you mispronounce her name."
T&C tend to be "irreverent," to use one station executive's word, when it comes to live commercials -- but in general, management says, the advertisers love it. Amtrak, which has heard Trumbull refer to its Amseats and its Amcafe (where one can buy Amsandwiches and enjoy the Amview), provided the favors and decorations for Trumbull's 20-year anniversary party this summer.
A furniture company's new "gourmet center" is described as "a big fella." The voice of chicken king Frank Perdue, who records his own commercials, is barely audible over the sound of singing chickens and barnyard clucks dubbed in by engineers. And when Trumbull began giggling recently at a performer's misspelled nickname during a Carter Barron Amphitheatre commercial, what was supposed to be a 60-second spot went on for several memorable minutes as both he and Core repeatedly tried, and failed, to stop laughing.
Nothing is sacred, more or less, most afternoons on WMAL. Including WMAL.
"Say, Bill," Core says as Trumbull finishes reading a promotional announcement for the station's various commuter traffic services, the last line of which is (as always): "You've got it all at WMAL."
"Yes?" replies Trumbull.
"I was wondering -- would you say that with all those things you've just told us about, that in general, you've sort of got it all at WMAL?"
"Hmmmm," says Trumbull. "I suppose. . . "
There is a brief pause.
"Nah," says Trumbull.
"No, I guess not," says Core.
Cut to jingle.