Mark Thompson and Brian Phelps ruled radio in Birmingham, Ala., when they came to Los Angeles in 1987, and debuted a morning show at rock station KLOS-FM (95.5). Within three years, they’d shot to the top of the Southland ratings, as well.
When they arrived, no other rock station had a morning team doing comedy rather than music; the only thing similar was Rick Dees at Top 40 station KIIS-FM (102.7), which led the ratings at that time. Phelps, a tall, blonde comedy-club performer with a knack for character voices, and Thompson, a dark-haired radio veteran and natural straight man, unleashed an admittedly juvenile brand of goofy pranks, leering gags and listener participation that, at its peak, pulled in a huge 9% of the L.A. morning audience.
On their show, they had a woman call her husband and pretend to be stuck in traffic and going into labor, persuaded deep-voiced singer Barry White to suck some helium and talk like a Munchkin, and got themselves banned from Elvis Presley’s Graceland mansion after surreptitiously broadcasting from there.
One of their favorite bits involved a Bob's Big Boy statue dressed as Elvis, which they took to Las Vegas to replicate Evel Knievel stunts at Caesars Palace. Thompson declared the event “successful in the sense that it cleared the fountain and Tom Jones sang.” Phelps said of themselves and the 6,000 fans who attended: “We all sort of celebrated stupidity.”
But their antics sometimes drew complaints, or worse. In 2000, the station’s then-parent, Walt Disney Co., paid $2 million to settle a racial-discrimination lawsuit from a former employee. She sued over a Mark & Brian promotion in which the pair gave away as gag gifts gardening tools they dubbed “Black Hoes.” They even got San Francisco Mayor Frank Jordan into trouble in 1995; he later apologized for having posed nude with the duo for a photograph.
In 1991, an even more outrageous out-of-towner hit local morning radio — Howard Stern. The syndicated, New York-based shock jock even held a mock funeral for Mark & Brian when he surpassed them in L.A. ratings in 1992. A year later, they moved back ahead of him. Ratings success fluctuated over the years, but as they neared their 25th anniversary at KLOS, Mark & Brian remained in the Top 5 among morning shows in Los Angeles.
In a 1989 interview, Thompson said, “We laugh at ourselves more than we laugh at anybody,” Phelps said. “Because we deserve to be laughed at. We are average, everyday kind of guys.”
“We're not fancy dressers,” Thompson said. "We try to be just exactly what we are.”
–- Claudia Puig and Steve Hochman for the Los Angeles Times