White on White
Last September 15, listeners to the Alice morning team of Jamie White, Frosty Stillwell and Frank Kramer discovered, to their great displeasure, that the squad had been reduced by two-thirds: Stillwell and Kramer were absent and unaccounted for, and White was in the company of Danny Bonaduce, of Partridge Family fame -- and she didn't seem particularly happy about it. (Would you be?) She referred to the exchange over the airwaves as "a forced decision" that tore her away from partners she loved, called corporate radio "a whore job," and generally treated Bonaduce like something she'd scraped off her shoe ("Station to Station," September 23, 1999). "I don't even really know him," she said. "Maybe someday we'll be funny."
Apparently, addicts of Alice (aka KALC-FM/105.9) believe that day has come. The program, which moved to Los Angeles in early 1998 and is now satellited into Denver, was number one in the local 18- to 34-year-old demographic before the change, and while the latest Arbitrons won't be out for a while yet, ratings trends suggest that its successor, The Jamie and Danny Show, is likely to land in the same slot even though 70 percent of the innumerable calls and e-mails received by Alice program director Jim Lawson during the transition period were negative. But the machinations that led to the switch -- the subject of frenzied gossip among radio insiders and just plain folks for months now -- have remained a fairly well-kept secret.
Stillwell and Kramer, who are still under contract to radio conglomerate AMFM but aren't on the air here or anywhere else, haven't done much to alter this situation: Neither responded to Westword's requests to address the topic, meaning that their only public comments thus far are notes they posted on a Web site (www.jamiefrostyfrank.cjb.net/index.html) largely dedicated to protesting their firing. (On September 30, Kramer wrote, "I could be better, but that's a long story, and if I told you, I wouldn't get paid"; On October 2, Stillwell typed, "Yes, there is a lot to the story, but we can't say much.")
White, who's not exactly known as the quiet, demure type, isn't nearly so shy. She eagerly spills detail after detail about the September sackings, portraying herself as a pawn in a power play whose size is a good indication that she's playing in the big leagues now.
According to White, her first inkling that Bonaduce was in her future came approximately a year before their pairing, when Stillwell saw a rumor about it on Denver Radio on the Net (www.denverradio.net), broadcast chronicler Rob Hatch's indispensible Web site, and asked her about it. White then went to Ken Christensen, vice president and general manager of KYSR/Star 98, the show's L.A. base of operations, to get the scoop. "He told me, 'There's nothing to it. Don't worry about it. It's something that Jimmy de Castro [vice chairman of the board and CEO of AMFM] has thrown around, but we're not going to change the show, because we like it -- and it's doing huge,'" she says.
He had a point: In less than a year, The Jamie, Frosty and Frank Show had established itself as the second-most-popular English-language radio show in the enormous SoCal market -- an impressive achievement given that Star 98's drive-time ratings had been doing the sewer backstroke prior to the trio's arrival. So White says she accepted Christensen's reassurances and put the entire matter out of her mind until June 1999, when de Castro flew to town to meet with her. Over drinks at the Four Seasons, he gave White what she calls "a huge pitch" to partner with Bonaduce, who had just moved back to L.A. from New York, where he'd been deejaying for an AMFM station dubbed Big 105.
White's response? "I said no, absolutely no. I'm not going to do that to the boys. And he said, 'Are you really great friends with those guys?' And I said, 'Well, no, I don't hang out with them every day. But I like them, I respect them, and I've been with them for six years, so it's not going to happen.' And Jimmy looked me in the eye and told me I was making the biggest mistake of my life. He said, 'It seems like you have some business savvy. Unfortunately, you don't have it today.'"
Why was it good business to break up a radio triumvirate ruling the roost in Denver and rising quickly in Los Angeles? AMFM's de Castro was unavailable for comment, but Christensen claims that "the ratings in L.A. had made progress, but they were flattening out. So we started wondering if there was anybody we could pair Jamie with that could push the ratings even higher. And since Danny was under contract, his name came up -- and everyone thought it was a great idea."
After that, the word on the grapevine was that Stillwell, Kramer and White would be guillotined in order to make room for Bonaduce, who by that time had even appeared as a guest on the show. Instead, White, who says she kept Kramer informed of developments every step of the way, returned from her summer vacation to discover that Christensen wanted her and Bonaduce to join him for dinner to talk things over. By all accounts, the encounter didn't go well: As White tells it, "I was a bitch, and Danny was a jerk. We hated each other. After it was over, I called Ken's voice mail and told him, 'You can take Danny Bonaduce and shove him up your ass. I quit.'"
It didn't work out quite that way. Christensen was actually encouraged by the way the dinner went: "There was absolutely chemistry there, even if it was hydrochloric acid and zinc, and bits and pieces of conversation were spontaneous and absolutely hilarious." Before long, White was sent to Christensen's office, where, she says, "Ken told me, 'Here's the deal: We're getting rid of the show. Frosty and Frank will be paid off for the year and a half they have left on their contract, and they'll be placed somewhere else -- maybe in L.A., maybe not in L.A., but we'll take care of them. But if you don't agree to do the show with Danny, we won't pay off your contract, because you'll be insubordinate. Your contract doesn't specify who you'll do the show with, so you're going to be released without pay.'
"In a weird sort of way, it was like blackmail," White continues. "They could put me with whoever they wanted. They owned my soul. I went to my radio attorney, and he said, 'Sorry, but if they want to change the show, they can.' It's just like if I worked at McDonald's; if they want to change the fry guy, they can do that, and if I don't want to work with the fry guy, then it's 'See you later.' So I was trapped -- and then the next thing you know, Ken's telling me, 'We're letting the boys go today.' And I'm like, 'Oh, my God!'"
Just how shocked White was by this turn of events quickly became a matter of debate: Despite the seemingly genuine bitterness White unleashed during her first shows with Bonaduce, gossipmongers whispered that she was putting on an act. Such theories got a boost when Don Barrett of www.LAradio.com reported that "once she realized that management had made an irreversible decision to bring Danny aboard...she turned her attention to money. Danny is rumored to be under contract for $800,000 a year, and Jamie makes far less. Emphasis on the 'far.' The morning change was delayed while management and Jamie were locked in a bitter financial battle" that ended with White getting a substantial raise, albeit one that left her short of parity with Bonaduce. Christensen confirms that this issue was raised: "All negotiations were, in fact, afterwards. She went on with her old contract, but we made an agreement that we would revisit it and make it work." Christensen, who wouldn't talk about the specific figures mentioned by Barrett (nor would White), adds that Jamie and Danny went into a studio together to do a mock show ("It went pretty much the way the dinner had -- flashes of great stuff between the craziness," he says) well before Stillwell and Kramer went bye-bye.
For her part, White scoffs at the idea that she was anything other than totally loyal to her longtime partners, noting that if she'd been part of engineering the scheme, the change "would've been done a lot differently than it was, which was so abrupt -- boom!" (Indeed, the deal came down the day after a shindig celebrating the release of a best-of-Jamie, Frosty and Frank CD.) She insists that she spent each night for her first week of shows with Bonaduce sobbing on the phone with her husband, surgeon David Strom, who continues to live in Denver. But after a confrontation with Christensen, who she says "basically smacked me around -- verbally, anyway," she realized that she needed to "act like an adult, you know? It wasn't Danny's fault that he replaced my partners, but I was taking it out on him. So I got a new attitude and told myself, 'You need to make this happen.'"
Bonaduce didn't get himself overly worked up over either White's mood swings or the intense hatred spewed at him by callers that first week: "I have the one where the caller went, 'Why don't you die of cancer and bring back Frosty' on tape," he says. "I play it on a loop in my house." After all, Bonaduce, who's done radio in Detroit, Chicago and Phoenix (where he was arrested for punching out a transvestite prostitute he allegedly paid for sex), has been through this drill many times before. "It happens in every city. They hate you for a couple of days, and then they get over it and everything works out."
Thus far, Bonaduce seems to be right. He's gotten plenty of exposure of late thanks to television movies about both the Partridge Family and David Cassidy, his television brother; tack on a popular VH1 Behind the Music documentary about the Partridges, a tour of his home running frequently on the E channel and a guest spot on The Drew Carey Show, and you've got lots of appearances -- seventeen during one recent week, Bonaduce says -- thereby raising the profile of his radio endeavors by association. And while the constant stream of sex talk that turns up on The Jamie and Danny Show can get mighty grating, at least the two stars now have a sense of each other's timing and are no longer stepping on lines or stumbling over them. "It's hard to say what will happen over time," Christensen says, "but the show has made substantial progress." A further indication of corporate satisfaction with the product: The program has been plugged into an outlet in Bakersfield, California, and there are plans afoot to export it to Phoenix (Bonaduce's old, er, stomping grounds) as well.
White seems happier, too -- or at least as happy as a woman who just sees her husband on weekends can be: "To only live as a married woman two days a week completely sucks," she says. It took a while, but she feels that "Danny and I have really jelled." Yet some issues from the past remain, especially in relation to Stillwell.
"I'm in touch with Frank; his golf game is getting really good," she says. "And when I called him to tell him what happened, he was really cool about it. He was like, this happens, it's not your fault, and we talked and it was fine. But do you know that Frosty never called me back? Never. And in a horrible way, I'm pissed off inside that I ever stood up for him. I shouldn't be, because what happened was so bad. But that he never called me back after we'd been together for six years was so awful. That's just a prime example of how we were never friends."
Which is more confusing: politics or journalism? The item below suggests that it's too close to call.
In the January 26 Denver Post, a chart concerning HB 1245, a bill in the Colorado House of Representatives that would have banned guns in schools, got the votes of various committee members precisely backward: The officials who had voted for a motion to kill the measure were marked down as having been in favor of passing it. Representative Mark Paschall, a Republican from Arvada who calls himself "one of the strongest Second Amendment advocates at the Capitol," says, "We got all kinds of e-mails saying, 'What in the world are you doing?'"
To its credit, the Post printed a correction in its January 27 edition. But the blurb, though technically accurate, was so puzzlingly written that plenty of constituents thought it was wrong again -- and so, initially, did Paschall. In other words, don't believe what you read unless you can understand it. And maybe not even then.
On Denver TV newscasts, a frequent problem isn't figuring out the news -- it's finding it. Example: Several local stations reported on commercials due to appear during the January 30 Super Bowl broadcast by playing a number of them practically in their entirety. Since advertisers paid record rates to be part of the Bowl extravaganza, maybe news directors were hoping to get a piece of the action.
Meanwhile, the folks over at radio station AM-950/The Fan came up with an amusing way to help Broncos boosters deal with Super Bowl withdrawal: They broadcast last year's game, which the Broncs won, prior to this year's model. But the apparent homage to Orson Welles's version of War of the Worlds must not have been a ratings blockbuster; otherwise, there probably would have been another riot in Larimer Square. After all, the third time's a charm.
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