Illustration by David Busby
After 20 years, I think I might finally be a real Richmonder. I am about to publicly lament the loss of a Richmond institution and argue vociferously that change is not always for the best.
The thing is, I miss Bill and Shelly.
At the end of 2013, Lite 98's very popular duo of The Wake Up Show, Bill Bevins and Shelly Perkins, called it quits after 13 years on the air together. The pair embodied the spirit Richmond is eager to project to the world: warm and friendly, never controversial, pleasant and funnier than you'd expect.
Their reason for leaving remains a bit of mystery. Sure, we can speculate that they were pushed out, demanded too much money, were embroiled in some kind of sex-for-drugs/bribery/Mafia scandal or that they have quietly accepted another offer in the market, and have to be off the air for a while due to contractual obligations. While I feel certain we can rule out that third one, I get downright giddy at the last prospect. Did I mention that I miss them?
I loved listening to them in the car. They were a welcome respite from NPR, with its tales of fracking and Syrian uprisings, a family-friendly alternative to boob jokes and prank calls on other stations. Their easy rapport and Shelly's constant needling of Bill just cracked me up. This wasn't edgy humor or biting satire, which I do appreciate, but the kind of laugh you get sitting around a coffee shop with a couple of friends. Shelly reminds me of that really funny girlfriend who makes you choke in mid-sip, and Bill seems like the guy everybody waits for at a party before they really start having fun. I never felt like I was tuning in as much as I was showing up to just hang out with them in the morning, and if that meant sitting through Peter Cetera's "The Glory of Love," well, so be it.
I suppose I am your typical fan, the suburban mom of a certain age. Someone even took the time to collect about 50 unfunny clichés on Tumblr telling us who would not miss Bill and Shelly ("Anyone who is not white, not religious, not a person who acts pleasant in a fake manner …").
It's pretty easy to take pot shots. Pleasantness is grossly underrated and considered a sin by hipsters and cynics. As someone whose job it is quite often to "bring the funny," I know it is damn hard to entertain people and make them laugh without being overly crude or downright mean. And they did it for five hours a day. Live. Without a script.
In their place now, we have Chris and Kris. I am sure they are very nice people who love their families and are kind to animals, but this is radio, people. We do not judge you by the content of your character, but by the sound of your voice. And sorry, but Chris and Kris' unaccented Radio Anywhere voices sound machine-made for radio, while Bill and Shelly's rather imperfect ones sounded organic to Richmond.
Sure, Bill has that deep, rich tone, but his self-mocked twang (which has helped earn him designations in the Richmond magazine Best & Worst Readers' Survey as "Best Radio Personality" and "Most Annoying Local Radio Personality" awards) would be given the Silkwood shower of vocalization if he were a young DJ: scrubbed and stripped of anything unwanted. Ditto Shelly, a Mechanicsville girl whose "o's" come out like "aow's." But they were real, and they knew and loved every inch of this town.
I've tuned in only sporadically since Chris and Kris hit the air. On one of their first days, I heard them asking listeners what sights they should see in Richmond, and a little bit of me died. Another day I heard a lot of "Hump Daaaaay!" Sorry, Chris and Kris, but it's going to take a lot more than that to get me through "The Glory of Love."