It was your ordinary AM radio wedding. The bride and groom stood at the altar. The wedding guests sat in the pews.And the disc jockey stayed in the pastor's study, broadcasting the marriage, vow by vow.
"We're trying not to interfere with the sanctity of the ceremony," said Allan Prell, a Northern Virginia talk show host who emceed last Saturday's wedding, live and in stereo, from the Centreville Baptist Chruch. "This isn't a three-ring circus."
The Marriage of Jane and Bill, as radio station WEEL (13.10 AM) hyped it for weeks before the ceremony, was more like an episode in a soap opera. A True Radio Romance. Jane Miller, a 34-year-old salesperson for a pest control company, and Bill Heater, a 37-year-old computer technician, had found one another through Dateline, a radio matchmaking show hosted by Prell. So it was only fitting, they figured, that Prell should give them away to his audience of lonely hearts.
For their part, Jane And Bill got a microwave oven and an all-expenses paid honeymoon trip to New Orleans. The radio station, which broadcasts from Fairfax County to a mostly Northern Virginia audience, didn't come up short either.
"This gives the show more validity. It's not just us running our mouths," said Prell, the 42-year-old host and chief interrogator on the only radio dating service in the metropolitan area. Prell claims that Jane and Bill are the 10th couple to meet and marry via his 3-year-old show. But he won't take the credit, or blame, for postnuptial conditions.
"No one gets married to make me happy," jokes Prell, who is once divorced and soon to remarry. "Rarely do they do it to make themselves happy."
Prell is Terribly optimistic about the state of marriage in Northern Virginia and would be a poor choice to host the Newlywed Game. But then the people who call his show, three afternoons a week, are not exactly gushing with tales of marital bliss.
Separated, divorced or single, they are all at least a little lonely and looking. They call Prell to advertise themselves. To find a date or a mate. And prell delivers. But only after subjecting them to five minutes of public questioning that is alternately funny and fractious.
"You're not a closet kinky are you?"
"What sort of deep dark pools are hidden in your personality?"
"When you're really very depressed, is that when you drink a lot?"
Prell's sharp, on-the-air probe is designed to get laughs and find the faults, fissures or cracks in his callers' personalities. It is a service, he says, for the singles listening for that perfect someone. It is also the kind of quasi-confessional drama that sells advertising.
"He's not there to be sympathetic, pat them on the head and say everything is going to be all right," says Teddy Pringle, another WEEL deejay. "Everything is supposed to be entertainment."
Pringle is one half of an early morning, Joy Boys-type show. He also is an ad salesman and director of publicity. At WEEL, a 25-year-old station that has bounced from a soft-and-sweet format through country and oldies, everybody does a little bit of everything. Says Pringle, "We are the WKRP of Fairfax County."
Prell wears a few hats of his own. He is program director for the station, owned by the family of the late president Lyndon B. Johnson. Prell also hosts a show called Partyline, where people call in to sell or swap everything from worn rugs to leaking boats.
But his Dateline show is the headline. And with statistics indicating that one out of every four Northern Virginia adults is either single, divorced or separated, the audience is there.
"Obviously, the people that are calling are looking," says Prell who has worked at 23 different radio stations since his first job in Fremont, Neb., at age 18. "The ones who don't have the courage to look are the sad ones."
Bill Heater had been divorced for a year when he first called Dateline last November. In two months he was set up with "four or five" dates who didn't mind that he had a 5-year-old daughter. But none of the combinations clicked until Jane Miller called in January and asked for his number.
"I liked his voice," explained Miller who has an 8-year-old daughter from a previous marraige. "He described himself as bald and sexy. I had this fetish for bald men."
Bill proposed to Jane over tossed salad on their third date. Then came the proposal from Prell to broadcast the ceremony live. Jane and Bill needed little convincing.
"You know, Allan, I was apprehensive about this at first. After listening to you all these years I didn't trust you," said Jane last week while she and Bill were guest hosts on the Dateline show. "Then last night at the rehearsal, when they started the William Tell Overture. . . ."
Jane was a natural behind the mike. She cracked off one-liners like a veteran. Bill was a little stiff. But he won points for his voice. As one WEEL deejay said in admiration, "He talks lower than I can think."
It was not a typical Dateline show. The callers were full of congratulations for Jane and Bill, which left Prell without the sharp edge for which he is famous.
"We're all so sweet tonight I think we'll all dissolve in the rain," he moaned.
The wedding broadcast was equally saccharine. There were no preceremony interviews and no commercial breaks. Prell intorduced the show, then shut up for 24 minutes of standard wedding script.
"It was a beautiful, beautiful cermony," said a beaming Prell, for once at a happy beginning rather than a sour end.
Not all of the WHEEL staff were as overflowing with optimism.Said one of the deejays with the arched brow of the cynic, "Maybe we'll broadcast their divorce, too."