Sometimes the very thing you lack is what makes you stand out. Mr. KABC lacks a real name, phone screeners, a producer and an agenda. There are no contrived topics, no prerecorded comedy and no planted callers: "just little old Mr. KABC and a
His words are fresh and instinctively well-chosen, and like a seasoned comedian, he punches key phrases quickly.
"Nefarious? Well, it depends. Do you consider world domination nefarious? You do? All right, then."
He's a guy who knows when to dance around issues, but he generally faces each caller with a kind of blunt benevolence. He's polite in the most impolite way.
"Ah, it's another Mr. KABC hussy tonight. Well, thank you, ma'am, and welcome, welcome to the show."
Poking fun? Often.
Mr. KABC darts across the lines of political correctness in a way that startles unsuspecting listeners.
"Sir, sir, sir, do you stutter in Portuguese too? Oh, you do; O.K., then."
His style of teasing captures your attention.
"Hey, whoever has the gun to your head making you talk about O.J. -- please, make them put that gun down!"
He's skilled at being confrontational in an acceptable way.
"My hidden agenda? My agenda isn't hidden; it's out in the open, or haven't you noticed that yet?"
His callers genuinely amuse him, but he takes every opportunity to initiate a verbal sparring match.
"Did you say chili from a pump? Mmmm, you can just taste that botulism. I guess Mormons love chili from the pump. Is that right?"
"Ask Mr. KABC," broadcast on KABC-AM 640 weeknights from 9 p.m. to midnight, is light and comedic with serious undertones. The host covers a broad range of headline news and popular culture.
"When I do the show, it's the very best part of my day," he said. "I love sitting behind the microphone and talking to people. It's the most natural thing I do. I can have a crappy day or be tired, but the minute the microphone turns on, none of it matters."
On the air, the mystery man, who never reveals his real name to his listeners, becomes a larger-than-life persona.
"Part of the reason I'm somewhat anonymous with my name is because I can be more honest that way," he admitted. "I don't have to worry about my personal security or my family. People really think they know me; and, for the most part, they really do. Sometimes someone will call me up and say, 'Remember when your mom did that?' They're remembering something I said six months ago. It's funny how much I reveal of myself. It's all true, and it's all honest, and people respond to that."
Once in a while his vivid imagination teams up with his relentless quest for the funny quip, giving birth to another Mr. KABC legend.
"There are a lot rumors circulating about who I am and what my background is all about," he pointed out. "Most of the myths have been started by me. Sometimes people choose to believe I am in prison or that I'm out of prison due to an overturned conviction. The top myth is that I'm much older than 28. People are usually surprised by my age and think I'm much older."
The truth is that Mr. KABC established for himself. It didn't come easy. While completing a political science degree at UC Santa Barbara, he worked his way up in radio. His first job at Santa Barbara radio station KTMS gave him the opportunity to learn the business.
"At a certain point early in my career I realized that I'd done every job in that radio station that they were going to let me do," he explained. "The only way I was going to become program director was if the program director died. And, well, he was in pretty good shape, so I quit."
The next thing he knew, he was a 23-year-old with his foot in the door at KABC. Once inside, he made the most of every opportunity in the big-time environment. Working his way through the ranks, he eventually pitched an idea for a show to Program Director David Hall. That was about three years ago, and, as a result, "Ask Mr. KABC" was launched from the dubious 2 a.m.-to-4 a.m. time slot.
Mr. KABC grins at the decision now.
"I guess David's philosophy was that if the show blew up on the launching pad -- under the cover of darkness -- no one would know," he said.
But the show survived liftoff.
"I chose the name Mr. KABC because it's easy to remember," the answer man said. "I knew it would stand out. And if the show failed miserably, I figured I'd get another shot using my real name."
But he didn't need another shot.
"My voice and what I do is distinctive enough that you just know it's me," he explained. "I think a lot of people who are on the air are nasty, unhappy people and it comes through on the air. If you listen to me for any amount of time, you know my true colors and my true beliefs. You can't fake that kind of stuff, because sooner or later you get trapped. There are a lot of people out there who are disingenuous -- a lot of phonies. But you can't run from who you really are when you do talk radio long enough."
And when you do it long enough, it looks easier than it really is.
"Sometimes people think I have the easiest job in the world," he said. "You sit down and talk three hours a day. How hard can that be? But what they don't take into consideration is that I'm prepping all day."
The mystery talk jock reads six newspapers every day; he checks online services, reads the newspapers, reviews the tons of stuff sent to him daily by fans, and scans a huge range of magazines from Time to Playboy to Self. That's all before showtime. He works at home, which he shares with his at KEZY-FM. His job may seem easy, but it requires that he ration his energy for the intensity of the three- hour nightly air shift.
The struggle to maintain the upperhand and cope with the never-ending assault of the unknown caller is one of Mr. KABC's favorite aspects of his on-air performance. Without a call screener, Mr. KABC never knows what to expect. He cannot choose from a menu of callers and their interests displayed on a computer screen. Never knowing what to expect requires a special approach. For many, the fun of getting through to Mr. KABC is the chance to knock him off balance during the three hour verbal jousting match.
"If there's someone I really disagree with, or someone who really bothers me, instead of yelling at them or calling them idiots or blowing them up, I like to just give them as much rope as possible and let them hang themselves," said the verbal executioner. "Radio is at its best when someone has been given too much rope."
He's skilled at providing callers with rope, but the most unique thing about "Ask Mr. KABC," is not what he does but what he doesn't do.
"I'm not an activist; I'm not trying to change the world," he said. "I'm just trying to do an entertaining show for three hours a night so that it will compel you to come back."
Recently Mr. KABC fielded a call from Stephanie Miller, whose recent departure from the 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. shift opened the door for his full-time schedule on the station. She sounded wistful even as she was embarking on her long-sought television comedy show.
"I miss you," she said.
And between shifts, so do thousands of his "minions" across 14 states. But that's the magic of the mystery man: "little old Mr. KABC and his 50,000-watt microphone."