Photography courtesy of Kenwyn C Alexander,kenwynalexander.com
Many young adults are giving up dreams of becoming celebrities or public notables in the traditional sense. Radio, television and journalism are all receding, but there are still those with the talent, focus and attitude to make a path. The Lochamy brothers, Will and Reed, with a family background in radio, have found their niche as SEC football culture satirists. They host a weekly two-hour live radio show in their hometown of Birmingham called Oh Brother Radio, have spent the past three years filming a show called the Iron Bowl Hour on Alabama Public Television and are currently part of ESPN’s SEC Network as comic relief on the Paul Finebaum show. In my interview, I wanted to know how they conceived their personae, how they feel about various SEC topics and what it’s like being on-air (and in business) with a sibling.
TM: How does one, or two, decide to become a sports personality?
REED: Our dad was Paul Finebaum’s partner in a time when sports talk radio didn’t exist like it does now. It was a Birmingham station, but an AM station with serious reach. There were just a few talk shows—I remember one other big one maybe in Chicago—but at the dawn of sports talk radio, watching our dad definitely suggested a path ahead.
WILL: And most importantly, we knew we could do it better.
TM: You were in the studio a lot?
REED: Will was at one time the country’s youngest disc jockey, “Will the Thrill,” on I95. He was 8. So, while Paul and Bob were on the AM side of the station, Will and Jeff…
WILL: Jacuzzi Jeff.
REED: Right, Jacuzzi Jeff Kelly did an FM show.
TM: Jacuzzi Jeff? That sounds kind of raunchy.
REED: Oh yeah, Mom was not happy about it.
WILL: Yes, it was all about strip clubs. I’m not kidding; he would leave the show to do a remote from the strip club.
WILL: Let me explain, though. I would go watch Dad do his show and sneak out into the hall where there were these Howard Stern-esque guests hanging out…so eventually they said, “Oh, it’ll be fun to put this kid on.” And it turned into an actual show that I got paid for as an 8-year-old. The first commercial I remember getting paid for was Ghost Dad—starring Bill Cosby, America’s sweetheart—and then Caramello candy.
TM: And what did you do to compensate, Reed?
REED: Nothing, nothing at all. I was in school learning to read, which Will missed out on. As an aside, much later in life, I was working as a prevention educator and had a reputation for being a bit of a humorist, even though the subjects I was dealing with were not laughing matters. But in the schools, I was known for a funny, engaging presentation. Someone saw my mom and said, I saw your son. She said, “Who was it?” The person said, “Well, he’s really funny.” “Oh, Will.” And they said no, no, and she was stunned, confused. I was a late bloomer when it came to doing anything entertaining.
WILL: And a lot of folks still await the blooming.
REED: Anyway, I did not see myself doing anything like this until Will and I had our eureka moment in 2009 and started the podcast.
TM: What about the in-between? What other things have you been into?
REED: I went to college and ended up working with a domestic violence shelter. Will toured the country, collecting groupies with underarm hair.
WILL: That’s not accurate, but he is referring to my stint as a drummer with the Indigo Girls. They didn’t have groupies, but they had some well-educated, well-mannered followers with whom I still keep in touch.
REED: Anyway, that’s what I did for 11 years after graduation—I actually still had that job when we started the podcast. And Will, I think, was bartending.
REED: Now I’m a middle-school English teacher.
TM: So, back to the idea for Oh Brother.
WILL: I was listening to a station and heard an advice show. It was funny, but not on purpose. Teenagers were calling in with mundane problems. I told Reed, I think we could do this, make it a satire thing. I was a bartender, Reed was helping people with actual problems. The notion that we were on different spectrums of the “advice-giving” business seemed to have potential —I would give the “street advice,” and Reed would give professional advice.
REED: So we did an “air check,” or a demo, with actual callers. But a smart advisor said, “No, don’t pigeonhole your-self.” He suggested some more general 10-minute podcasts, and we did that. We would record it once a week, and it would air every day—and we had a blog where we posted the show. From that we got the actual live show on Birmingham Mountain Radio, 107.3 FM.
TM: Was there any serious intent behind that podcast?
REED: Actually, there was. We were trying to hone our craft and get a real radio show.
WILL: To set the scene, not only was it 2007–2008 when the economy was crashing and radio people were losing jobs, but folks were laughing us off because we had no experience for what we were trying to do, much less broadcast degrees.
TM: But you have these radio-perfect voices.
WILL: These are fake voices; much higher pitched in normal conversation.
TM: You’re brothers—isn’t there some form of sibling rivalry, competitive tendency, general belligerence that might make this tough?
REED: Will and I luckily complement each other well because our strengths are different.
WILL: Like my strengths are actual strengths.
REED: Except for his calf muscles, which are notoriously weak. But Will is much more of an entrepreneur than I am—more outgoing. I tend to do more writing, while Will handles scheduling and business stuff. So we are not really competing, because our responsibilities stay in different arenas.
WILL: When it comes to actual com-petitive games, at small things especially, he is much better and takes it more serious. That just makes me back off—I accept that he is probably going to win. I do try to keep it interesting. I hired a tennis coach just to give him a scare, just to mess with him. Plus, when you have the looks, you don’t have to worry about that kind of stuff.
REED: So you’re saying I win and have the looks? As kids, we squabbled, but we were four years apart. I think that helped us.
TM: You guys are sort of athletic. What are your hobbies/sports?
REED: I coach and play tennis and cross-country.
TM: And football?
REED: I did, in fact, play football. If you check records at Simmons Middle School, I still hold the record for single-season interceptions, because I was the starting quarterback for a season. I kind of got out of organized sports after middle school. It was a philosophical sort of thing.
REED: I was tired of grown men yelling at me as a 13-year-old.
WILL: I guess I played about everything except football. Even played ice hockey. But as a teenager, I was in the sport of skydiving. It was really a sport back then—it involved formations.
REED: I call it competitive air dancing.
WILL: That’s really how I spent my teen years.
TM: Do you catch any flak for not having played football?
WILL: Oh sure, but that’s crazy. Look at all the people who cover sports who never played—Finebaum and Dari Nowkha are a couple of our best colleagues that come to mind, but there are lots.
REED: We are not experts; we talk more about the public perception and fandom of football.
TM: SEC football culture satirist is a very special niche. How do you refine yourself from a general live show to something so specific?
WILL: Well, it’s so specific I don’t think anyone else is trying it—and the Iron Bowl Hour, which we’ve done for three seasons with Alabama Public Television, was our turning point for it. That’s really what the show was in a 30-minute format. That’s what we pitched to ESPN, but they didn’t need a 30-minute show for the SEC Network yet. Instead, they asked to start with briefer segments. Really, everything you’ve seen on the SEC Network is just us ad-libbing on the fly, on command.
TM: Whose idea was the Iron Bowl Hour?
REED: The Center for PT at U of A approached us based on the radio show in 2010. They were looking to put together a show about Auburn vs. Alabama. The original concept was to pit an Auburn vs. an Alabama host having a fun, lighthearted but confrontational analysis. They noticed that we were big football fans and that we had interviewed Eli Gold, Paul Finebaum, other sports media folks and players. When we met with them, it morphed into a Daily Show for the rivalry. It was collaborative.
TM: Well, that show was Auburn/Alabama, but did you get exposure to larger SEC issues and the BCS?
WILL: We already had broadened our focus. Our goal had become the SEC Network as soon as we found out about it. We found ways to expand starting in 2012. The 2013 season was designed to set up for the SEC Network pitch.
REED: As far as we’re concerned, you couldn’t have picked a better time to do that show, as both football programs peaked, when there was so much national focus on them.
TM: Do you think national disgust with SEC dominance has peaked, as well?
WILL: Gosh, yes. For instance, we just mentioned Ohio State this week, and the hate flared.
REED: And I haven’t even revealed my new nickname for them yet…
WILL: But yeah, people on the outside do not like the SEC right now, but they love to hate it. It’s like Finebaum’s show—people outside the conference watch it to get riled up.
TM: What is your process like for these short segments?
WILL: Reed writes a lot as soon as the games are done; we go over those midday Sunday, and then we get together at a studio and film them that afternoon. It’s not scripted, just general ideas.
REED: It is ad-libbed, but we know the outline and jokes we want to hit.
WILL: Staying within the time, wrapping at a certain second with that style is very difficult.
TM: How important has the radio experience been?
REED: This live show and being brothers who have learned each other for 30-plus years makes it feel very natural.
WILL: ESPN will get a batch of videos from us with notes, lots of options. And they have used most of them.
TM: Does Finebaum show any preferences or exert influence on those?
WILL: No, it’s really Mickey Mouse’s decision.
REED: Disney that is.
WILL: We have actually really liked the producers’ choices so far.
TM: As your celebrity rises, you’ve surely had some interesting feedback. What kind of Twitter response have you gotten?
REED: Many not suitable for print.
WILL: I’d say 80 percent are really kind. It’s the hate Tweets that we usually Retweet and make some sort of retort to. For our personae, that can be fun. For some reason, Phyllis, one of Finebaum’s famous callers, has been coming to our aid when someone denigrates us on Twitter. Check that out if you get a chance.
TM: What’s your favorite?
REED: “The Lochamys are two effeminate know-nothings.”
WILL: Well, then he corrected himself in another tweet—“Well, one effeminate know-nothing and one slightly less effeminate know-nothing.” But it’s funny. Twitter has become a place for faceless cowards. I’ve seen accounts started just to harass people—fake accounts basically.
TM: Shifting focus a bit, the SEC ostensibly has the most passionate, sometimes hostile fan bases. But also the largest tailgates in college football. How do the fans stomach so much time together?
WILL: They do it better than you would think. Maybe I’m not the best fan. I prefer to kind of keep to myself. We’ve filmed several tailgate specials. It’s actually impressive to see them be civil when necessary. I think the average fan is really there for the fun more so than the game.
REED: Then there are fans who really care about the game outcomes, but care more about representing their fan base with dignity.
WILL: Wait, are you talking about the Big Ten?
REED: No…I’m not. Talk radio might make you think that there is a Harvey Updike around every corner, but there’s not.
TM: What’s your favorite tailgating beverage?
WILL: Bourbon and Good People IPA. It’s either-or. I drink one thing that day.
REED: Good People Beer in general.
TM: You’ve talked about a lot of coaches —said some things about their size or their lack of composure—are you afraid of running into these guys?
REED: No, because I assume they have no idea who we are.
WILL: The other day, Reed made some condescending comments about former Auburn coach Gene Chizik. And it aired, and Chizik works there as an analyst. Anytime something airs, rest assured, everyone in the studios hears it/sees it. Days later, I got off of a plane in Charlotte, and the first person I encountered was Chizik. He smiled, and I just nodded nervously.
TM: In the larger scheme, is it healthy for the SEC, now having its own network even, to remain such a focus of college football?
REED: This is like the argument about whether Tiger Woods was good for golf—and yes, he was. So to have the SEC perform like it has for the past 7–8 years, how could that be bad? Either you live in this part of the country, and it’s awesome every game, or it raises the bar for other parts of the country, and we all watch and wonder whether they can produce a team that competes.
TM: Do you intend to stay focused on the conference?
REED: It makes sense to. It’s what we’re actually interested in. And Birmingham is kind of the epicenter of the SEC.