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South Florida Radio Pages
and South Florida Radio History

South Florida Radio History:

1995: Randi Rhodes,
Before She Was Famous

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Entire site copyright 1996-2007 by David Citron

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This file first posted on Univox December 9, 2004.

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The Background Story

Years before Air America Radio made her world famous, Randi Rhodes was a radio celebrity on WJNO in south Florida. (And WIOD before that!) In 1995, Lana Sumpter wrote and posted this enjoyable article. It was one of the first external links added to the South Florida Radio Pages web site, which was started in December, 1995.

Then, for a few years, the article was missing from the web... and then in 2004, I tracked Lana down and got her permission to add her story to South Florida Radio History. Thanks, Lana!

Randi Rhodes, Goddess of Gab

Wicked humor of WJNO's newest radio personality woos Treasure Coast

by Lana Sumpter, Tribune Staff Writer
Published 2/5/95 in the Port St. Lucie (Fla.) Tribune and Fort Pierce (Fla.) Tribune.

If you have ever driven south on Interstate 95 from West Palm Beach to Sunrise on a weekday afternoon, you may have noticed a curly-haired blonde driving a white Japanese car, screaming at her radio. Or, better yet, you may have heard her on the air, discussing feminine hygiene products or Melrose Place.

She is Randi Rhodes -- The Woman With The Gift Of Gab -- and her harangues at sometimes lunk-headed radio hosts as she motors down I-95 cause other drivers to think she's a little cracked. Not that she really cares.

If you don't know who Randi Rhodes is, you're missing out on a craze that is taking the Treasure Coast by storm. "No more boys' club," read the advertisements heralding the Radio Goddess' September 1994 arrival and her debut as the station's first full-time female radio personality.
Note: WJNO is now on 1290. See Alan Diskin's article, Why Do These Stations Keep Changing Frequencies?
Monday through Friday from noon to 3 PM on WJNO (1230/1330 AM), she keeps her 60,000 listeners roaring at her wickedly funny jibes.

Rhodes is popular because her audience considers her both honest and funny, lively and unassuming. At first, listeners considered her merely bright, as opposed to brilliant, an idea based on Rhodes' own modest suggestions that she wasn't "that smart" but that her "instincts were dead on." But since the beginning of the O.J. Simpson trial, her audience has discovered Rhodes' quick legal mind. Hundreds of phone calls and faxes have flooded WJNO, applauding the host's coverage of the trial.

The attention to her mind doesn't surprise her. "It takes a smarter person to take reality and make it funny than it does to just contrive controversy."

A saucy rabble-rouser, she brings out the best and worst of her audience. She often reminds her audience -- and Fairbanks Communications -- that, like what she says or not, her contract will keep her at the station for three years.

Nancy Sunshine, an incessant listener and performer in the Friday Night Dinner Theater in Lake Worth, was surprised by WJNO's hiring of Rhodes.

"In a sentence, I became addicted because of her sense of humor," Sunshine said. "The first time I listened, I could not believe her quick wit. My head stopped up and I said, 'What was that?' I said to myself, 'Can WJNO afford the writers for this kind of humor?' Then I thought, of course not. They are lucky to have her."

Sunshine, a snowbird, said she was pleasantly surprised by WJNO's replacement of the syndicated ultra-conservative G. Gordon Liddy with Rhodes. (Rhodes alternately refers to him as "Mr. Giddy" or "The Felon.") Liddy's show focused on politics. Rhodes floats with ease from her thoughts on her relationship with her fiance, Jim (they're best friends), to her thoughts on women's health-care reform (women are often misdiagnosed because of a male health-care bias) as well her belief in human rights for homosexuals (her lesbian sister, Ellen, is, she quips, a "vagitarian").

"I used to listen to G. Gordon Liddy, who used to be in Randi's time slot," Sunshine said. "Randi is just a little different from Liddy. She is so very young to be so very hip."

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., and reared in Queens, the 37-year-old describes herself as a "crazy kid who got bounced around between parents." Her mother lived in Queens, and her father lived in California. Growing up was rough, Rhodes said. In her early years, she recalls that she didn't realize the worth of her intelligence and sense of humor.

"I was short and had bad skin and ugly hair. I didn't know how to dress or wear makeup. I still don't. Being smart just made me feel more like a geek."

As a child, she wanted to be a writer and religiously wrote entries in her journal -- at least until her mother read it. Her journal caused so much strife at home that she stopped writing. When her dream of writing stalled, so did her sense of direction. The change signaled the beginning a troubled period.

"When I stopped writing, I got lost," Rhodes said. "I ended up thrown out of the house at age 15."

She says she is grateful that she knew enough to finish high school.

"God knows what would have happened if I hadn't stayed in school."

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To pay the rent, Rhodes worked as a secretary for three years and was miserable. In her quest to get where she is today, she also has been a truck driver and a disc jockey. However, the most life-changing period, she said, was the two years she spent in the Air Force. There, she learned to love and respect herself, to value herself for her brains. She learned that looks and the ability to apply makeup didn't really mean as much as she had previously thought. In 1973, she was named outstanding Air Force female.

Continued below...

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Randi Rhodes, Goddess of Gab (Continued)

Despite all that she learned in the Air Force, a man with whom she shared a rocky relationship ended her Air Force career. He was, according to Rhodes,"somewhat insane," and insisted that they leave the Air Force without notice. He threw their belongings in the back of their truck, and they headed for Ohio. The Air Force was so embarrassed that they let the matter drop and did not seek to prosecute the couple for going AWOL.

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Rhodes never attended college -- officially. On her own and unable to afford tuition, she attended classes surreptitiously for several years, though not enrolled. Some of the classes were law courses and that background has helped her in her commentary on the Simpson proceedings.

A team player and believer in the ensemble radio format, Rhodes solicits opinions from the three people who help her with the show. Josh Paris, Randy Latta and Steve Becker also have microphones and join her in on-air banter. Even after six months, their laughter is genuine.

"She's still funny," said Latta, who operates the broadcasting equipment and is known for his giggling and football predictions.

Becker, who organizes the shows' topics, moved to Rhodes' show from FM radio. He said the change was radical but for the best. His rapport with Rhodes is obvious: Often he sneaks in on-air comments that have all the bite and humor of The Goddess herself.

"It's a lot of fun," he said. "Randi and I have good chemistry. We think alike. Isn't that scary?"

Rhodes credits her dad, a technocrat, for her brains. She is quick to point out "he has no personality. None."
You'll be able to pre-order Randi Rhodes' forthcoming book, The Big Encyclopedia of Republican Hypocrites from here as soon as it's available.

"When dad would smile, my sister Ellen and I would run through the house laughing like it was a holiday."

Rhodes says she gets most of her personality from her mom, whose Brooklyn accent she frequently roasts on air. ("If Loretta gets another facelift, she'll have a beard.") Her mother was misdiagnosed when she had ovarian cancer. It had reached a critical stage when she was finally correctly diagnosed. By then, it was too late to operate, and the doctors tried chemotherapy. The sheer will and stubbornness of Rhodes' mother pulled her through, however, allowing her to live to see the birth of her granddaughter, Jessica. Jessica is Ellen's daughter from a traditional marriage that did not work out. Loretta is now seven years into remission.

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If she didn't have to work for a living, Rhodes says she would spend her time gardening and shopping. She and Jim recently moved into a home in Sunrise, and she tends a small garden there in between doing laundry and helping to care for Jessica. Her goal in life, she says, is an extension of what she does now: to become nationally syndicated and attract more big-name guests who aren't hawking something.

Some of her previous guests have included Larry King and, several times, David Letterman. Arthel Neville, host of the infotainment show "Extra," calls every Friday. Her listeners appreciate her guests, promotions or no.

"She's the only one who gets David Letterman," Sunshine says. "No one else can get him. You can tell he likes her, that they're friends."


Where to hear Randi Rhodes (August 2007 Update)...

In the Palm Beaches, Randi Rhodes is heard from 3 'til 7 PM on WJNO 1290, right after Rush Limbaugh.

She's also heard from 3 'til 6 PM on Air America affiliate WINZ 940 in Miami. WJNO and WINZ are owned by Clear Channel. WKIZ 1500 in Key West is no longer an AAR affiliate.

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Page hatched on: Decemer 9, 2004
Article first published on: February 5, 1995

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