Art by Dave ShulmanCHRIS CHECKMAN IS THE FUNNIEST guy on the radio. For 12 years he's mercilessly ragged on his KXLU-FM co-hosts and skewered a small but devoted audience while spinning old and rare blues on the station's Thursday-morning Blues Hotel.
Checkman's pal Morris Beef — co-host of Blues Hotel and the butt of many of Checkman's jokes — is a sort of typical KXLU DJ who might babble nasally about a bunch of nondescript bands and their colored-vinyl 7-inches. “He was this stubby, frat-looking dude,” says Checkman, with Beef sitting next to him. “I found something particularly odd about his appearance and just started ripping into him. He just fit right in. Also, he was good at giving me rides to the station. Morris has a driver's license.”
Together, Checkman and Beef are hilarious, playing off each other with a Ren & Stimpyworthy puerile genius. “Some nights we'll have mostly music and we'll hardly talk,” says Checkman, “but other nights some stupid thought will come into our minds and 40 minutes later we're still talking about it.”
One of Checkman's more memorable digressions was in 1989, when he and his thenco-host, R.G. Hitchcock, pulled a prank where they convincingly turned KXLU into KROQ. “Hitchcock went on as Jed the Fishcock,” says Checkman, “and I was the Poordude, and all I talked about was volleyball, margaritas and taking a crap, because that was all the Poorman ever talked about — his ass, his drinking and his stupid Hawaiian shirts. So we were legal-ID-ing as KROQ, which was totally not right, and I was going on about how we were putting on a beach volleyball tournament in the parking lot of the Gardena Poker and Pan Casino and everyone should come on down because we brought 25 pounds of real KROQ sand, just that typical radio promotional B.S.”
That stunt cost Checkman and Hitchcock a two-week suspension, but only from their afternoon show. (They told listeners the station was sending them on a two-week ski vacation to Akron, Ohio.) Checkman has also been known to break a few FCC regulations during the station's fund-raisers, riotously berating the KXLU listening audience, which typically produces a flurry of pledges.
“Pretty much it's just bells, whistles and flaming monkeys,” says Checkman. “I'm not saying everyone should come on and scream, but there are some people at the station during fund-raisers who don't stick their necks out. 'Oh, it's about money. We don't want to taint ourselves. We want to be thought of as noncompetitive, hacky-sack and alternative cool people.' That's bullshit.”
Checkman's on-air personality has scored him his fair share of groupies, several of whom turned into girlfriends.
“Sometimes a woman will call up,” he says, “and they might say, 'Oh, I want to hear some Robert Johnson,' and I might counter with 'Oh, you sound tall.' You know, something stupid. And most of the time I get hung up on, but occasionally I wind up at their apartments, good or bad. Hell, one of them pulled a gun on me — twice.”
After his romantic relationships with listeners fizzle out, Checkman turns them into regular characters on the show. He has begged them to come back to him and made disparaging remarks about their mental state. His relentlessly up-front-and-personal style has also made him a few enemies.
“I've had calls from people threatening to kick my ass and yelling 'Fuck you!' for saying this or that,” says Checkman. “So I just scream that much louder, like 'Come on and kick my ass, motherfucker!' and then I just watch the door with my heart beating out of my chest.”
CHECKMAN AND BEEF'S MUSICAL preferences, which range from John Lee Hooker to Pavement to Camper Van Beethoven to Etta James to Mississippi Fred McDowell to more Beatles and Rolling Stones than you'll hear anywhere else on college radio, have caused other DJs at the station to give them grief for playing bands you can hear on K-Earth.
“A lot of people would get on us because we occasionally throw on a Beatles song in the afternoon,” says Checkman. “They would go absolutely nuts, 'cause they were hooked into the whole idea of 'college radio.' This is before the word alternative was licensed out to May Company.”
Criticism from other DJs notwithstanding, Blues Hotel is vastly more entertaining than the normal KXLU fare. Radio may be a stale, FCC-strangled, corporate-owned, mind-numbing wasteland, but Checkman is its intrepid revolutionary, bringing an estimable taste in music and a biting sarcasm to a faithful audience.
Blues Hotel can be heard on KXLU 88.9 FM Thursdays, midnight to 3 a.m.