TGO Radio co-hosts Jeff Durant and Brian Wise sit in a cramped recording studio at an “undisclosed location” known only as The Meadows. Wise shuffles some papers and asks, “Do you want to hear audio of the human clown car calling 911 last October?” He is referring to Nadia Suleman’s frantic call to 911 in late October 2008, when she thought one of her children had gone missing. Durant hesitates and replies, “Yeah, yeah I do,” and in an even smaller neighboring room, producer Doug Reacharound clicks his mouse and the sound begins.
“Help me, help me, my son is missing, I’m going crazy,” Suleman gasps. “Where’s my son? Where’s my son?”
“Check your vag,” Durant answers, and the two dissolve into laughter. The audio stops. “I think there’s plenty more hiding up in there.” Not wanting to be outdone, Wise adds, “Check your horribly disfigured vag” before Durant raises the bar with, “The way she’s operating, you just pull them off like paper towels.” That does it. TGO Radio has broken down under the weight of its own jokes.
Perhaps everything you need to know about TGO Radio is neatly encapsulated in that sixty-five seconds. The show’s motto is “Nothing is Sacred,” and with each taping Durant and Wise seem to underscore the point. But Wise is quick to point out that the banter between he and Durant in no way amounts to common, shock jock stuff. “Jeff and I have known each other for our entire lives. This is how we talk when we hang out, or on the phone, or whatever. We have long, in depth conversations about the tone and direction of our lives, and the rest of the time we talk about how badly we’d like to bang Bristol Palin. That’s who we are.”
* * *
An odd mix of topical commentary and x-rated humor, TGO Radio first broadcast in May 2005, starring Wise, Durant, and producer Ron Mexico. Wise, then an opinion columnist of some recognition, was looking for another avenue of expression. “When it’s right, the written word is the most beautiful thing. It can move minds, change lives, create war. Words are the greatest things. But at that point I was beginning to get the feeling I’d said everything I wanted to say in that medium.”
So in February 2005, Wise approached Durant about starting a weekly Internet radio show. Wise explains, “Jeff was the only choice from the very beginning. If it was possible to bring our normal conversation to people, that’s what I wanted.” Instead of recording weekly for an indefinite period of time, Wise’s idea was to record in twelve episode seasons, not unlike a television show, and to take months off between seasons. “We would have been able to take time to sit on the recorded shows, get some distance from them, so we could look back with clearer heads and figure out what the show needed.”
Within a matter of days, producer Ron Mexico (Durant describes him as a “hanger on”) was brought into the mix and equipment tests began. The trio started recording test shows in March and by late April, all was cleared for an official “launch date.” TGO Radio would be recorded on Wednesdays, edited, and posted online every Friday beginning May 13.
For Brian Wise, it is almost impossible to listen to those early shows. As the first episode plays, he winces and shifts uncomfortably, moaning disapproval. Finally he turns it off. “Important to remember, though, that this is the episode where we played the Pat O’Brien sexual harassment voicemails, a bit that remains our ‘Stairway to Heaven.’”
Despite rough beginnings, TGO Radio settled into a somewhat normalized routine and improved steadily through five episodes. But between episodes five and six, personal matters in Durant’s life came to a head and he was suddenly gone from the show. The sixth episode was co-hosted by a woman Wise met the night of the recording, and was a disaster. “The Sexual Harassment Episode” was never made available to the public.
“On the way to the studio that night, I explained to Barbara what the show was, how it would work, and that she should just be herself,” Wise says. “And to her eternal credit, she did exactly what I asked, and gave as good as she got. It wasn’t bad radio because she wasn’t cooperative; she was right there with me. And to the degree she could be, she was funny. It was bad radio because she was the new third Stooge, you know? She was Curly Joe. It wouldn’t have really worked no matter what.”
After flirting with the idea of bringing the woman on as Durant’s permanent replacement, Wise killed the show entirely in mid-July 2005. Asked today to explain how and why the first season ended, he pleads “international intrigue” with a straight face.
Wise coped with the loss by piecing together “TGO Radio’s Greatest Hits,” a 17-track compilation of the show’s higher moments. (Today, 16 of those selections can be found on the TGO Radio website, minus the first “mystery track.”)
When TGO Radio ended, Ron Mexico fell off the deep end. Durant says, “Ron had enough problems. It wasn’t that the show ending was traumatic, it was that everything in his life was traumatic, and this was just the last straw.” Mexico dropped off the map.
* * *
By late July 2008, the lives of Jeff Durant and Brian Wise had each come to a crossroads. Durant and his wife had just separated, and Wise had not only stopped writing, but his depression was such that he was finding it harder and harder to get out of bed. In between episodes of Deadwood and Dexter, the two talked about their lives and what to do with them. Slowly, the idea of resurrecting TGO Radio began creeping into their discussions. “Some Internet radio show wasn’t going to be the answer,” Durant says, “but it would help ease tension.” In a blog posting dated August 2, 2008, Wise broke the news:
As this is being posted, Jeff, interim producer extraordinaire Doug Reacharound, and your humble correspondent are gathering at an undisclosed location in Northern Indiana to test new wave recording equipment for the first of two new TGO Radio test shows, to be recorded next week.
Doug Reacharound never left the crew. “I hung around with a group of people, and one of them knew Brian,” the producer remembers. “We all ran into each other at a restaurant somewhere. I’d never heard of their show, and when Brian asked me if I wanted to produce some audio tests, I had no idea what he was talking about. I knew nothing about production the way Brian wanted it done, but I have no doubt that production as he wants it will get me absolutely nowhere in the real radio business.” As for the name Doug Reacharound, “I think it’s an American Dad gag. I never asked.”
By September 2008, Wise decided the first new episode of TGO Radio in over three years should be broadcast live on Election Night. He was convinced it would work. “We knew Obama was going to win, and we were pretty sure the State results were going to fall certain ways, at certain times. I figured, if we went live at, say, nine o’clock, we’d be able to come in and mop up the mess.”
Preparation for the live show was more arduous than Wise ever suspected. “Our Election Night guide was thicker than my last book,” he moaned. “The sheer number of pages was amazing, because I didn’t know when to stop. Electoral votes by State, then by poll closing time, then every House and Senate race. Then we had interviews and breaks, a spotter on site. It was just too much.”
The Election Night show was a colossal failure. Durant is somewhat more reflective than Wise on the matter. “If we had come on, said that Sarah Palin was hot and made fun of Obama and McCain for two hours, we would’ve been fine. But we tried to be too serious about it.” Eventually the live show broke down into the old TGO Radio, all laughs and obscenity. From what little information Wise could cull from the show’s ratings, the further the broadcast went off the tracks, the more people were listening.
* * *
Anxious to lick their wounds, the TGO Radio crew began recording its second season on Wednesday, December 17, 2008. “Well, I think it’s just a fuckin’ miracle of modern therapy that we’re back on the air after Election Night,” Durant began. And with that, the slate was cleansed.
Over the course of twelve episodes, “Nothing is Sacred” was taken to a different level. Michelle Obama was referred to as President Obama’s “post-op, transgendered wife”, Senator Edward Kennedy’s Inauguration Day seizure was referred to as a “flopper” before he was dogged for several minutes, Wise’s sex life was referred to as “the winter of cooze”, the Soviet National Anthem was played underneath discussions of Obama administration policies. By the time it reached the last episode, “Retard Fight Club / Retard Pulp Fiction” set the standard. Without even breaking a smile, Wise explains: “Speaking only for my own work on the show, ‘Retard Fight Club’ was the funniest thing I’ve ever done.”
But as season two closed in mid-March, Wise was continually sick and did not feel a third season was in him. “Not to mention we each had contract concerns,” Wise adds. “We had recording and editing facilities at our disposal, and for some reason, Meadows management thought they were being abused.” He smiles wryly. “We came in rubbing everyone the wrong way. They weren’t understanding what we were doing.”
The longer they spent away from the show, the more Wise wanted to get back “on the air.” By late April, he had decided to bring the show back for a third season, provided the various disputes could be worked out. His first move was to sit down with Meadows management. Wise is reluctant to discuss the meeting, but says he “in no way compromised on the content of the show.” The official announcement for season three was made in May, with production beginning June 1 and an episode one broadcast date of July 14.
“I wouldn’t know what to do if TGO Radio were ever a success,” Wise says. “I mean, we’re aiming for listeners, but if the show were suddenly a success and a lot of people were listening, I’m not sure I’d know how to handle it.”