Dick Whittington was talking on the phone to a secretary at the Haitian Embassy in Washington, explaining his cockeyed plan to keep revolution and war from breaking out in the Caribbean.
"I want to trade your General Cedras for Fidel Castro," he tells the secretary, who has no idea what he's talking about--or that the conversation is being heard over KNJO radio on "The Dick Whittington Show."
" What do you want?" she asks, mildly bewildered.
Whittington muffles a chuckle. "Let me ask you--and you're being so nice, dear--do you know how I can reach President Aristide?"
After she unexpectedly reads him a phone number, Whittington hangs up in glee and dials, but the phone's busy. Whittington is disappointed, as if the world had been denied an opportunity for peace.
(Sweet) Dick Whittington, 60, has been playing naughty pranks for more than three decades while working for nearly every major AM station in Los Angeles, including KGIL in the San Fernando Valley, where he was hired and fired four times. Known for bizarre humor--a mail-order minister, he once married the Queen Mary to a mere harbor-cruise boat--Whittington is on his best behavior at KNJO, which is heard mainly in the east county.
"I use Cathy's face as a guide," Whittington says, referring to his on-air sidekick, Cathleen Drury. "Her eyes tell me how far I can go."
If Whittington goes overboard these days, it's to celebrate a Thousand Oaks kids baseball team that won a national title. But he still can push the borders of good taste: Recently he made the crack that he "had hemorrhoids with more personality than Warren Christopher."
Whittington improvises most of his lines, using station employees as joke fodder. No one is immune. When Whittington spotted station boss Steven Angel entering the studio, he told the audience: "Our general manager just walked in and, oh geez, does his cologne reek." He motioned to Angel: "Go sit over there, away from me."
Angel, who has known Whittington for 25 years and worked with him at KGIL, hired him last March to juice the station's morning show. But Whittington, who was unfamiliar with the community and the 6-to-9 a.m. slot, stumbled out of the starting gate.
"The first two months were terrible," he says. "I don't think we had 10 listeners."
Avuncular and slender, Whittington presides over his show in an offbeat studio, more like a college dorm room with a messy oak dining table, sliding glass door open to a balcony and a zany cast of co-conspirators coming and going. Eric the Dorkmeister. Brian the Weenie. Tabloid Bob. And Drury.
A Thousand Oaks single mother with no radio background, Drury auditioned for the job last July, beating 10 hopefuls. During the show, she sits across the table from Whittington, reading news cribbed from local papers, playing straight woman and providing the laugh track for his jokes.
"We float around (from topic to topic)," she says. "Then calls come in and change everything. You've got to be able to think on your feet."
In his spare time, Whittington, a bachelor, works on a novel at his Wood Ranch condo. There, he prepares for his show by watching TV news and writing comic bits on yellow legal pads. Angel has given him a creative free rein, and Whittington promises not to cross the line.
"I know what I'm doing," he says. "You've got to trust me. I'm not going to hurt you."