FRANK HARDEN AND JACK WEAVER, WMAL -- AM, 630: Six days a week from 6 until 10 a.m., Frank Harden and Jack Weaver dominate the morning radio airwaves.
Their program is warm and relaxed, their tone friendly and conversational. Ad libbed humor and gags -- a clucking chicken, ringing bells -- occasionally punctuate their radio slapstick with a suprising freshness. Weaver, 59, a roly-poly man with P. T. Barnum showmanship, usually sets up the gags. Harden, 57, a tall lanky man with a dry wit, acts the straight man.
Individually they've worked at WMAL more than three decades.
On a recent weekday morning, a trio of students from Westbrook Elementary School accompanied their principal, Jim Connor, to the station to present Harden and Weaver with a $331.61 contribution to Children's Hospital. The students, Sharon Hurt, Jim Wilborne and Jo Jo Rein, al 11, stood by as Connor explained how they had exceeded last year's contribution by $100.
"How did they collect the money? They didn't use a gun like last year," quipped Weaver using the sharp wit that has helped make the team a Washington institution.
After working together for nearly 20 years, Harden and Weaver are still the same guys next door.
"People know they can depend on Harden and Weaver," Weaver said. "We know what they like. What they dislike. We feel that in the Washington area stability is really an important thing. People like to hear what they hear every morning. We've tried to set up a rapport with them."
They've succeeded, too. Listeners call and ask them to name their babies or resolve marital problems. Servicemen and government workers living abroad request cassette tapes.
Personalized radio, they said, is on the rise.
Too often radio programmers act as the public conscience rather than the public servant, Harden said. They arbitrarily change program formats or decide to program everyone to sound alike, he said.
"I don't care if you have the personality of a Robert Redford if you're reading phrase cards you're not communicating with anyone. You might as well be a robot. In fact, our sister station in New York -- WABC -- turn it on and see if you hear one full sentence. It's short little clips."
By now Harden is up walking around, Weaver bouncing in his seat as the two warm to the subject.
"Radio is actually the most personal media there is. It's a one-on-one thing," Harden said. "But I think the dollar dictated the structuring of radio. They got a phonograph record and found they could make money playing it."
They also lament the death of ethnic diversity in radio. The loss of ethnic flavor. Humorous slice-of-life stories. Media prudes, they delcare, have killed American humor.
"Will Rogers couldn't be on the air today," Harden said.
"There's a hypersensitivity that's grown up over the years," Weaver added. "Any race or culture is deeply involved with their own humor. If you can't mention it, use it, or play on it, often times it is lost. I do a lot of dialects. There was a time I could come out with any dialect and never have any flack.Now you don't know (what you can do)."