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Camptown's Racy

[whitespace] Billy Palmieri & Adam Sandel
Darryl Ferrucci

Road's the Rage: Creators Billy Palmieri (left) and Adam Sandel hope the sun is rising, not setting, on 'Destiny Road.'

As KUSP's campy radio soap opera comes to a close, its creators ponder the destiny of 'Destiny Road'

By John Yewell

IF THE GOAL was to get noticed, they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. It took Adam Sandel and partner Billy Palmieri three years to develop and broadcast their radio comedy, Destiny Road, but only minutes to elicit a reaction. By the time the 12-episode pilot came to an end on KUSP last week, the racy, no-holds-barred radio soap opera had proved to be the most controversial program in station history.

Destiny Road takes place in the town of Destiny, a place where all the characters are hiding from their own pasts--and instead of fluoride, the water supply seems to have been laced with pheromones. Body parts (most of them still living) get a real workout. Sandel describes the show as "a cross between Dynasty and The Simpsons." Throw in a few antics worthy of the Firesign Theatre, and that's a wrap.

The series, which started Oct. 26, following the station's last pledge drive, ran every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for four weeks, and initial reaction to it was largely negative. Station manager Ray Price--whose distinctive British accent was immediately recognizable to station devotees in the role of the town doctor, Frank Feeley--says calls came in at the rate of about two per minute for the four-minute show. During a recent quarterly call-in, most of the calls were complaints.

"There's been a huge negative reaction," Price admits. "One guy calls in every time it comes on." Palmieri describes station employees as "shell-shocked," but credits Price and others with sticking with it.

But the news is not all bad. The longer the show went on, the more positive the feedback became. Price, who clearly enjoys the show and hopes to see it continue, says most callers objected less to the show itself than its time slot: 7:35am, during Morning Edition, and again at 5:30pm, during All Things Considered.

"A lot of people who complain say they like it, just don't run it during the news," Price says. News junkies, apparently, have no sense of humor.

Sandel says that sometime in December the producers and station brass hope to sit down and confer about the show's future. Options include doing a Bonanza show--running all the episodes together followed by a live call-in to gauge reaction.

Whether or not KUSP sticks with it, the real future of Destiny will depend on sponsorship. Until now, Sandel and Palmieri have depended on the kindness of strangers, including volunteer actors. Long-term viability will hinge on some kind of broadcast deal, or possibly an Internet radio gig. The two are actively looking for investors--perhaps like Solomon Powers, Destiny Road's answer to Montgomery Burns--and marketing expertise.

In the meantime, Sandel and Palmieri hope the show has built enough audience interest to give the project some momentum. They have also learned a thing or two about where that audience is.

"We wanted something funny and light to provide comic relief from the news," Palmieri says, referring in particular to the hopelessly turgid (not his words) NPR feature "Ocean Report." Both now admit that the earnest NPR audience was perhaps not the best place to start.

"We never intended to antagonize news fans," Palmieri says, "but we've definitely touched a nerve."

Still, the show's high production values and keen social satire have carved out a firm fan base. After the show's first episode, Destiny Road gold-digger "Juice LaRue" got an email from a fan calling himself the Green Man, who encouraged her to dump town scion Cash Powers and run away with him instead.

"Come with me, and I'll show you what a real man can do for you!" he wrote.

Ever since, Oberon Media, the ad hoc production vehicle for Destiny Road, has been receiving regular email messages directed to show characters from fans hoping to establish relationships.

Town handy man and dumb hunk Joey Stragiatelli (show notes say Joey can rip his T-shirt with his torso "on cue") received an email that went: "I like your voice, and you sound like a hunk. My girlfriend and I would like you to work on our cars sometime. What kind of service do you give?" The producers say they have responded to each email--in character.

Palmieri and Sandel are both refugees from the L.A. entertainment scene who relish the freedom to produce their farce away from the glare of Hollywood, where satirical bite is often sacrificed on the altar of market share.

"That [satire] is the part we're especially fond of," Palmieri says.

In the soap format, they hope eventually to hook a long-term audience. As the series was coming to an end, Sandel believes, the increased volume of email indicated the show was beginning to catch on.

But there are obstacles. Incredibly, some listeners, says Palmieri, didn't get the jokes. "They don't realize it's intended to be humorous." Maybe Santa Cruzans need a trip down Destiny Road more than they realize.

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From the November 25-December 2, 1998 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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