Publicity material for Politically Incoherent, a new disc from Oklahoma’s Mike Hardeman, calls it “a contemporary cousin” of The First Family, that trailblazing 1962 album by comedian Vaughn Meader and a host of voice actors that spoofed then-President John F. Kennedy and those close to him.
Certainly, there are plenty of similarities. Both were recorded with ensemble casts. Both feature political humor. Both owe a lot of their success to the radio. And, while Politically Incoherent hasn’t matched First Family in sales – few records have – it’s done all right for itself, jumping into the top three of Amazon’s comedy albums and peaking at No. 3 on the Billboard magazine comedy chart.
There is, however, one big difference between Politically Incoherent and its 50-year-old predecessor, one that Hardeman believes has to do more with the changing times than with the nature of the material.
“Nowadays,” he says, “you can’t just have [political] humor, because if someone doesn’t like the perceived political point of view that’s being expressed, they’ll shut down and not even listen to you.”
Considering that it was created in Oklahoma City, the capital of what many people perceive as the reddest state in the Union, some will find it surprising that Politically Incoherent leans decidedly left, as comedy bits such as “Tea Party Harmony” (a parody of eHarmony dating website ads) and “Citizens United Airlines” make abundantly clear.
“Certainly, on the next album, if we do one, we’ll make our comedy a little more even-handed,” he adds. “But it had to do with time. We had to take a lot of the bits that I’d already produced for the show, and I didn’t have time sit down and think, ‘Well, what is this going to be? Who’s it going to be marketed to?’ I basically kept going with the kinds of things I’d been doing. I just thought, ‘Oh, this’ll be a collection of things we’ve done for the radio show, and people who listen to the show will be able to buy it.’ I didn’t realize the potential for going beyond that scope. And even if I had, I’m not sure I could’ve gotten the material together in time for the release date.”
The “show” he refers to is The Stephanie Miller Show, a nationally syndicated progressive political talk and comedy program originating in Los Angeles. Hardeman’s relationship with it began in 2007, when he began sending the producers short comedy pieces he’d created in his home studio.
That was hardly the beginning of Hardeman’s radio career, however. In fact, if you’re an Oklahoman of Baby Boomer age, there’s a pretty good chance that you heard his radio voice sometime during the ‘70s and early ‘80s.
“I graduated from Charles Page High School in Sand Springs in ’73 and went straight to Oklahoma State University, majoring in radio-TV-film,” he says. “That fall, I went to work at KXOJ in Sapulpa, a 500-watt day-timer right next to Frankoma Pottery. I’d come in on Saturday afternoons and do 2 p.m. until sign-off. Then I started working at the OSU college radio station, KVRO. So it’s been 40 years since I started in radio.”
After a couple of years at OSU, Hardeman left to take a radio job at KXXO in Tulsa and ended up working, he says, “everywhere.” He was in Little Rock, Ark., when he took the name “Michael Evans,” which he continued using during his time on Tulsa’s airwaves. Michael Evans was best known for his time at the adult-contemporary station KRAV, but he also did stints at KELI, KAKC and KMYZ, where he served as program director in the early 1980s.
“Then, in ’84, I made the decision to go back to college and get a real job,” he says, chuckling. A few years later, armed with an engineering technology degree from Oklahoma State University, he began his current business career.
But, to slightly amend the old expression, you can take the boy out of radio, but you can’t take radio out of the boy. Hardeman would periodically return to the microphone, notably for a period from 2001 to 2006, when he hosted the ABC Radio program America’s Best Country Countdown, heard Sundays on more than 150 stations. It was his last regular radio job to date.
Just about a year later, he happened upon The Stephanie Miller Show. By that time, he was doing a lot of home recording and, he notes, “Being the frustrated morning-show guy I am, I’d send in little bits pertaining to whatever the events of the day were. Over the years, it just kind of grew.”
The cover of the Politically Incoherent CD states that it’s “From the mind of ‘Rocky Mountain’ Mike,” a moniker Hardeman picked up when he was living and working in Colorado. At the beginning of 2013, he relocated from there to Oklahoma City and took a new job. At about the same time, he was contacted by Marshall Blonstein, a veteran entertainment-industry executive whose credits include working with the likes of Carole King, The Who, Cheech & Chong and radio personality Rick Dees. A fan of The Stephanie Miller Show, Blonstein had tried to contact Hardeman for some time about doing a CD for one of his current labels, Audio Fidelity. For whatever reason, however, the messages had not been forwarded from the show to Hardeman.
“Finally, they sent me his emails, and I agreed that doing an album would be a good idea,” recalls Hardeman. “I’d thought about it for a long time myself, but I didn’t know how to swing the copyright issues and the problems of distribution and all that. Well, that was his bailiwick.”
Once the record deal was done, Hardeman produced the disc over a four-month stretch, assembling his cast from a variety of sources.
“Ken Picklesimer, Tom Shafer, Debbie Kelley and P.S. Mueller – who’s also a well-known cartoonist – came from Ken’s online podcast show, which had kind of formed off to the side of The Stephanie Miller Show,” he explains. “Mary Dixon and Audra Tracy were fans of the show; we connected with them because we found out they could sing. I met them in the Stephanie Miller Show chat room, which is where I met Richard Henzel. He’s a voice actor in Chicago and a great talent; he’s the morning disc jockey whose voice wakes Bill Murray up in Groundhog Day. Then we got Jim Ward, who’s on The Stephanie Miller Show, on board, which was a major coup.”
Two others recruited for the disc go all the way back to Hardeman’s days at OSU, where he worked at KVRO with Brent Walker, now running Soundscape Studios in Little Rock, and Jeff Hoyt of Hoyt’s Greater Radio in Seattle, who recruited an additional five actors for the ensemble.
The result, he says, “is something I’m real proud of, something I spent a lot of time working on, something that represents a lot of the kinds of things I was doing back in my radio years.”
And even though he’s fully aware that today’s political culture often makes people tense, angry and unwilling to listen to opposing points of view, he’s also hoping that some who’d dismiss Politically Incoherent out of hand because of its left-leaning nature might give the disc a listen anyway.
“I’d like for them to put aside the politics,” he says, “and just look at it for the comedic value.”