Come morning, they will be friends again, and lovers—a quite ordinary married couple. But by night, between the hours of 6 and 10, they are Enemies of the Airwaves—Dueling Deejays for whom all of Los Angeles is just so much turf to be fought over until the last platter is spun. For Bruce Vidal and his wife, Laurie Allen, radio is war.
Vidal, 37, is the velvet voice on the nation’s No. 1 rock station, KIIS-FM. “I sound like Barry White in heat,” he says. “I whisper good, baby.” Allen, 30, keeps up a spunky rap between hits on lower-ranked KMGG-FM (“Magic 106”). Though nearly 500,000 fewer listeners hear her in an average week, Allen’s niche in the coveted Southern California market is no small triumph for female deejays, who are usually buried in the midnight-to-dawn graveyard. “Through the years I’ve had the frustrations of trying to get on the air,” says Allen, “and Bruce has had the guilt of getting there first, so we’ve both had to pay.”
The price of ambition cost Allen a brief first marriage at 18, which ended in 1974, so when Vidal proposed 10 years ago, she was reticent. “I worried about what would happen,” she says, “if I got a job offer in a different town.” In 1976 they married in Las Vegas. Since then their pilgrimage to the top has led them through a cluttered maze of call letters, usually with Vidal in the lead and Allen making the compromises.
Their joint resumé looks like this: In 1976 Bruce gets on the air at KOIL, Omaha. Although Laurie has similar on-air experience, she is offered a position writing copy. In 1981 Laurie is replaced by a male deejay at midday on KMOX, St. Louis, but finds an on-air spot across the street at KSD. A few months later Bruce gets an offer from K101 in San Francisco. (“It led to the first real rift between us,” says Allen. “He wanted to be closer to his dying father, but I had my first decent job. He said follow me or stay behind. I loved him. I followed.”) Unable to get on-air work in San Francisco, Allen swabs bathrooms in a condominium complex. In 1982 she is offered a dream job at KIIS-FM in L.A. and takes it. Bruce follows, lands a weekend shift at the same station and six months later is offered Laurie’s job and accepts it without consulting her. Their next move is into therapy.
“I knew she would be hurt,” says Vidal, “but we were in debt, she was going to be replaced anyway and my survival instincts came out.” Allen spent two months in therapy, while it took Bruce six months to get in touch with himself—all 300 pounds.
“I’ve never not felt fat,” he says. “Being on the radio is the only thing that gives me confidence. That’s why it means so much to me. I’m somebody now, so women find me attractive. It’s the voice they respond to. I used to wonder how my wife, this beautiful woman, could possibly love anybody as grotesque as me. My therapist showed me I deserved a good life.”
It’s a life that got off to a sluggish start. The L.A.-born son of a postman, Vidal spent five years in high school, then graduated to parking cars. It took a TV ad for the Career Academy School of Broadcasting to kindle his ambitions. After the six-month course in 1970, he took a job in tiny Washington, Iowa for nearly three years, then moved to station KDLM in Detroit Lakes, Minn. where he met Allen.
A Morris, Minn. farmer’s daughter, Allen, at age 14, began writing and recording commercials and peddled each for a quarter to local stations. She studied acting for one semester at the University of Minnesota, then switched to broadcasting at the Brown Institute in Minneapolis. Before her graduation, Allen accepted a job as a weathergirl at a Fargo, N.Dak. television station.
“My first night I was terrified,” she remembers. “I was supposed to say, ‘Well, it’s hailing the size of mothballs tonight.’ ” Instead she turned to the camera and, with a wide smile, blurted, “Well, it’s hailing the size of mouse balls tonight!” Never able to overcome stage fright, Allen quit within a year.
Vidal’s biggest blunder took place at K101 in San Francisco. In a foolhardy promotion scheme, the station promised $25,000 to any listener catching a deejay failing to play three songs consecutively. “It was very intense because we did commercials at 10, 20, 30 and 50 minutes,” says Vidal. “We all felt like a gun was to our heads.” Bruce blew it. The station lost the money. He eventually followed Laurie to L.A.
For all their peppery personalities on air, Vidal and Allen, whose pet names for one another are “Gumba” and “Bunchy Girl,” lead a life-style that seems bland by design. They share a Beaver Cleaver-like house with muted furnishings in the smoggy San Fernando Valley. An average evening finds them winding down with a bottle of wine, watching late movies and tuning into air checks (playbacks of their evening’s patter). “Our families don’t understand our working only four hours a day,” says Vidal, “but it takes the toll of a 10-hour day. We sleep until 11 a.m. and then just want to drink coffee and read the papers to each other. They think we should be vacuuming. I do not live for a clean bathroom.”
Vidal is as interested in budgeting as he is in housekeeping. Each week he gives his paycheck to Allen in exchange for a $200 allowance. Their combined salaries just top $100,000. Children are not among this week’s Top 10 wishes.
As their radio rivalry rocks on, Vidal teases that it is the family ratings-winner who gets to drive the couple’s red Corvette. Allen, the underdog, remains patient and putt-putts to work in a dented Dodge—ever mindful of the fate that befell Goliath.