Did you know that North Carolina has an official David Letterman Day? If you're a faithful fan of Allan Handelman, you probably do. In 1985, Handelman, who's been a fixture in North Carolina talk radio for nigh on 25 years, drew up a proclamation, signed by Jim Hunt himself, proclaiming January 2 as a day devoted to the man who brought us Stupid Pet Tricks.
"A lot of people in the media made fun of North Carolina, and Dave was always very kind," says Handelman, the Charlotte-based DJ and radio talk-show host who can be heard Sundays at 10 p.m. on WRDU-FM. Originally from Long Island, Handleman ended up in North Carolina after college, and he appreciated Letterman's ability to poke fun at North Carolina's quirks without making fun of the people themselves.
"He would have a lot of guests from the state, whether they were hollering contest winners or what-have-you, and he was never derogatory. So I went to Governor Hunt, whose kids, it turned out, listened to my show, and he said, 'Allan, you write it up and I'll sign it. So that's what I did.'"
Don't believe it? Go to the state archives in Raleigh and check it out for yourself. There, on official state stationery with an official state seal, is a proclamation, that declares, among other things, that "David Letterman has continuously promoted love and understanding throughout North Carolina for man's best friend, the dog"; and "Paul Shaffer and Larry Bud Mellman came to North Carolina's aid by helping to raise money after the tragic tornados struck in early 1984." (Perhaps if more North Carolinians had been aware that Jim Hunt once praised Larry Bud Mellman in a proclamation, Hunt wouldn't have lost the Senate race that year to Jesse Helms.)
At this point, dear readers, you're likely to be having one of two reactions. Either you're saying to yourself, "Who the hell is Allan Handelman," or, if you're like hundreds of thousands of people around the nation who have trouble sleeping on Sunday nights, you're saying, "Yeah, that guy on who always has the crazy guests on his radio show." And if you belong to a select group of old-school North Carolinians, you're probably nodding your head fondly, remembering the years Handelman spent in Havelock, Greenville and little Washington before settling at WFRX in Charlotte and landing a syndication deal that allows him to be heard around the nation (including on WRDU-FM in Raleigh).
Having moved to North Carolina after graduating from West Virginia's Concord College in the mid-'70s, Handelman, who had his own pirate station in his bedroom during high school, found a job at a friend's radio station in Havelock, N.C. When a talk-show slot came open, he took it for the extra cash and found his niche.
"They said, 'Here, take it over, do anything you want as long as it's public affairs,'" Handelman explains. "Well, in my mind, public affairs was UFOs, sex, drugs. That's the stuff that affected my audience--the rock culture, the audience I was there to serve."
Handelman spent the next several years interviewing folks like Frank Zappa, Carroll O'Connor, David Lee Roth and Ted Danson. He camped out at Chatham County's notoriously haunted Devil's Tramping Grounds, and conducted impromptu (and surprisingly accurate) psychic readings on people when the psychic he'd scheduled turned out to be a dud. He even had a drunken conversation with former AC/DC front man Bon Scott, in the last interview before Scott's death--an accidental feat that permanently endeared him to the band.
That night, Handelman had been intending to interview Pat Travers rather than the headlining group, but Travers was so high he couldn't finish the interview. So Handelman stuck around for AC/DC, who were on their Highway to Hell tour, finagled a way backstage and ended up in a room with the band. They told him to go into yet another room where he found Scott, a man who never met a sexual innuendo he didn't like, attempting to charm a young woman.
"He had a joint in one hand and a bottle of Jack in the other, and suddenly he turns to me and says, 'Hey, mate! Howya doin, mate?' So we partook, and I took out my tape recorder and we talked for probably an hour, just whatever came to mind."
As it turned out, the band had thought they were sending Handelman on a suicide mission. Scott, far from being the band's spokesman, didn't like giving interviews, and probably wouldn't have wanted a DJ around while attempting to find company for the evening. So when Handelman emerged from talking with Scott, the others gladly consented to an interview. Several months later, when Scott died a suitably rock 'n' roll death--choking on his own vomit in the back seat of a car--Handelman was granted the first interview with new front man Brian Johnson. He remains close friends with the band to this day.
But, strangely enough, of all the guests he has on his show, from the psychics to the UFO hunters to the health freaks to the rock stars, bands are generally the least popular. "Think about it," he says. "Only people who really like that band are going to really care. Everyone else will be bored."
By the same token, however, Handleman doesn't spend too much time trying to guess what his listeners want to hear. "I book the guests that interest me. I don't spend a whole lot of time trying to figure out what's hot and what's not. It just usually works out that what I'm into the audience is into. Like recently we got on a big debate about MP3s and Metallica vs. Napster. And that was kind of a last minute thing.
"I like to reveal the true story," he says. "The things that are being hid."
So, Handelman will keep looking for the story, sharing it with his listeners every Sunday night. He'd love to expand the show to five nights a week--something he tried once in an experiment, curtailing it when other radio stations in Charlotte began hosting nightly talk shows, too. Currently a part of the same network that hosts John Boy and Billy ("They're truly the human side of broadcasting," he says proudly), Handelman would like to stay where he is, but wouldn't object if another network picked up his show the other four nights. Still, he'll never give up Sundays.
"People are in an unusual mood on Sunday," he says. "They have school, they have work the next day, they have obligations. Usually they've partied all weekend and listened to music really loud. On Sunday night, you could do with a little less music. That was the one night I could always see stopping the music and just talking."