Live, From Station KFYI in ...Well, That’s Complicated
LOS ANGELES, March 27 — When people hear the radio host Joe Crummey on Phoenix’s popular KFYI murmur sarcastically, “We don’t have enough human rights activists in this town,” they know he means Phoenix.
Ditto for when he offers to assess the “east side west side traffic right now.”
As it turns out, Mr. Crummey, whose favorite talk show topics include immigration, patriotism and Arizona politics, is indeed reporting for duty in the valley. Just not in the Phoenix Valley.
Rather, it is here, in the San Fernando Valley, where he works via the Internet from his home on the top of a hill in the Studio City section of Los Angeles. Listeners in Phoenix are none the wiser.
Armed with four computers, a digital recorder, a constant stream of Fox News and a professional microphone, Mr. Crummey holds court for three hours each weekday during Phoenix’s drive-home time slot — from about 400 miles away in a neighboring state.
“I admit that it is obvious that listeners infer that I’m there,” Mr. Crummey, whose pitch signals talk-radio host at “hello,” said during a tour of his home broadcasting operation. “Most people don’t know I am not. But I’m just on the radio talking about their town, and I guess they can take it or leave it.”
Nationally syndicated hosts, à la Howard Stern, have long upended the local radio geography with their generic commuter broadcasts. But Mr. Crummey is among a growing number of local hosts who do their work miles from their broadcasting station, helped by advances in technology, said Michael Harrison, the publisher of Talkers magazine, a trade publication.
“Remote broadcasting is far easier in 2007 with digital phone lines than it was years go,” said Mr. Harrison, who estimates that about 5 percent of talk show hosts do this. “It allows the radio station to get the best possible talent without having to move them to the city they are in.”
Joseph Huizenga, Mr. Crummey’s producer at KFYI, said he and Mr. Crummey were “honest and forthcoming” about the host’s whereabouts when asked, but saw no reason for the station to highlight it.
“In my opinion, radio is largely theater of the mind,” Mr. Huizenga said. “We’re in an age where we can do what we do very successfully with the help of far more resources than we had in the past.”
Mr. Crummey’s broadcast life began the usual way, he said, in bad time slots in rat-infested studios, fueled by coffee and rock ’n’ roll fantasies.
Growing up outside Albany in the 1970s, Mr. Crummey built a tiny radio station in his basement, tuning all the household radios to his dial (the only devices it could project to).
In 1973, after a quick stint at a college radio station in upstate New York, Mr. Crummey drove his parents’ car to New Hampshire and weaseled his way into his first job as an early-morning D.J., sleeping across a bunch of desks in the station’s basement, he said.
In the ensuing years, he skipped from one market to the next, with the J. Geils Band and the Cars as the soundtrack to the sort of life a guy with a house in suburban Los Angeles talks about with more than a little animated nostalgia.
He did suburban Boston. He did New York City (at the old WAPP — “What a dump! But it was really cool!”). And he landed a gig in which he talked back to tapes of Wolfman Jack on a show on WNBC. (“I used to pretend Wolfman was going to the bathroom. I would flush the toilet and say, ‘Jack will be right back.’ ”)
In 1989, Mr. Crummey got a job at KFI in Los Angeles, and along the way, his politics began to shift to the right. He morphed from “liberal hippie” to “evil conservative,” he said.
The rise of conservative talk radio helped pave the way, he said. “I thought, ‘Can you really embrace this stuff?’ And it took me a while to understand that that’s how I feel. I do love America. I do not hate the cops.”
Voilà! A conservative talk show host — the sort who, in Mr. Crummey’s case, has more than once played a tape on air of his young son yelling into the microphone, “Close the borders!” — was born. A few years ago, Sean Hannity suggested to him that he try a Clear Channel station in Arizona, Mr. Crummey said. (Mr. Hannity is syndicated on KFYI.)
So in 2004, “I flew to Phoenix,” Mr. Crummey explained. “I had never been to Arizona before. It was one of the boxy-looking states in the Southwest.” The job interview went well, but “my wife had a big job at Disney; my kid had just gotten into school,” he said, and so he proposed his current arrangement, and it was accepted.
His show plays on the No. 1 AM station in Phoenix, according to Arbitron.
So when Mr. Crummey was deriding the teenagers who got arrested for drag racing in Gilbert, Ariz., should his listeners have known he was reading about it from a remove?
“You are bringing up ethical questions related to this particular syndrome,” said Mr. Harrison, the talk radio expert. “If you are saying, ‘Hey, it is really cold here in Boston,’ and not telling people you are really sunning yourself in Miami, is it disingenuous?”
That, like all matters in radio, is in the ear of the beholder.