On a recent visit to New York, I was dog sitting for a friend of mine and listening to Sirius Radio, the satellite station housing shock jock Howard Stern, as well as America's richest home maker, Martha Stewart. At 5pm, instead of hearing a station broadcasting the usual mix of drive news and travel reports, two female voices, one chatty, the other languid, started discussing the merits of the penis and the problems with pastry. I was gripped and stayed listening to the show, Whatever with Alexis and Jennifer, for the next two hours.
The pair are best friends and Alexis is the only child of Martha Stewart. But her mother must be cringing at her wayward daughter's outpourings. I doubt Alexis spends her days dreaming of table settings and recipes.
I've worked all over the dial on BBC radio. Most of the criticisms hurled at me are over my capacity to plunge the depths of banality. I admit, I'm happier with an item on stilettos than one on speed cameras, but I have acquired the technique of diversity. Offer the listener a little meat with the gravy. Alexis and Jennifer's show, however, was an all speech, no news, stream of girlie gossip. And a show I longed to become involved with.
Spattered between their stream of consciousness were callers with agendas as random as the presenters. "Hello, its Shirley from Winsconsin, I'm having a problem with my boyfriend, he never seems to come home and I don't know where he gets to every night ... by the way, where can I get a fake snakeskin handbag?"
One thing that's instilled into BBC presenters is what's called "the housework". Give out the station ident, the call in number, the time and the phone in topics. Alexis and Jennifer, who are both 41, didn't tick any of these boxes. They were broadcasting in a vacuum and yet the calls still kept coming and I couldn't move from the radio.
I emailed their show with a load of compliments and a proposal of how I could add to the party. Surprisingly enough, I received an email back, and, after weeks of organising, a date to meet the girls at their studio near Times Square. It was Jom Kippur, so Jennifer could not attend. Instead she joined in through an ISDN link from her home in The Hamptons. Jennifer is a wealthy housewife with children. Everything that Alexis isn't. She's six foot of New York sophistication and cool disregard. She gave little away.
Apparently, Jennifer worked as her father's secretary. Alexis would pass her every so often in the office and they would chatter hysterically about love, life and shopping. Someone ingeniously suggested they have their own radio show and Martha, no doubt, arranged it. The show is owned by Martha's production company, but has veered off in a direction all of its own. Although there are no audience figures to determine their popularity, the word is they are getting huge, leaving the execs scratching their heads.
I asked Alexis how she dealt with feedback from producers and management. "We ignore it," she said. "They tried to get us to do the usual stuff, but when we didn't, they left us alone." In front of her was a pile of unread newspapers. They set their own running order, deciding what they will talk about as they walk into the studio. "But you arrive two hours before the show," I noted. She nodded. I assume the show gives them a reason to get out of bed in the morning.
Wall Street had dropped to an all time low on the day we met and I asked Alexis if they would be discussing the credit crisis. "Why should we?" she replied. "We're rich. Who would give a hell what we think?" I pointed out to her that in the UK we had no equivalent to her mother, Martha, or Oprah. It was tougher for women to remain popular and successful. "How about Nigella?" she shoots back. "Well, she is top totty and from a wealthy background," I retorted. Silence, point taken. Then, I thought, I'd take the plunge. "May I be your voice in London?" I asked; she stared. "I can't pay you," she said. "We almost work for peanuts."
Her peanuts would probably feed a London family for a year, but I had been thrown a bone. "That's fine," I agreed. "What would you like me to chat about? Bikini-waxing, embroidery ... lesbianism?"
"What do you make of Madonna's English accent?" she asked. I had two weeks to consider. Hear my response on Sirius Radio at the end of October. Hopefully, Shirley from Wisconsin's hubby will have returned by then.
JoAnne Good presents the weekday breakfast show on BBC London, 6-9amReuse content