Archive for February, 2005

The Day Britney Became Mona Lisa

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Radio & Records print edition: Spears makes a surprise visit to KIIS/Los Angeles.

It was just your average day in beautiful downtown Burbank. At least it started out that way for Clarence Barnes, who has been doing weekends for quite sometime at KIIS/Los Angeles – when he’s not doing mornings at KOSS/Palmdale, CA or his other gig as executive producer of The Rick Dees Top 40.

On the Thursday before New Year’s, otherwise known as New Year’s Eve Eve, Barnes was minding his own business while filling in for KIIS afternoon driver Valentine when he received a call on the request line – a call that not only profoundly changed his life and the lives of everyone in Southern California, but, more important, a call that was instrumental in helping us fill this entire page with words.

No Way In Hell

At around 6 p.m. on Dec. 30, 2004, Barnes’ phone op burst into the studio to breathlessly give him the news: Someone claiming to be Britney Spears was on the request line. Now, Barnes is not fresh out of the Connecticut School of Broadcasting; he’s been around a while, and he knew that it was a distinct possibility that the person on the phone could be someone doing a bad Britney impersonation trying to get on the radio. His initial suspicion centered on several bored teenagers out in Pacoima, CA betting on whether they could fool the dude on the radio.

“I took the call, and I’m thinking, ‘I’ve spoken to Britney before, and this sounds like her,'” Barnes says. “So I start asking her things like who her manager is. She said she didn’t have one, but she gave me the name of her previous manager. I kept going back – I was trying to get Johnny Wright out of her.”

Illustrating what an incredibly small world this industry is, Barnes spent some time early in his career in the lovely tourist area of Cape Cod, MA, where he worked with Wright at WKPE (Cape 104) – oddly enough, a station owned by David Lee Roth’s uncle. But I digress. Wright later went on to manage a few artists you may have heard of, including New Kids On The Block, *NSYNC – and Britney Spears.

Wright’s name finally came up in Barnes’ conversation with the caller, but he still wasn’t full convinced, because Wright has been pretty visible on TV. And when the person on the other end of the phone said she wanted to come down to the station and play a track from her new, unfinished CD, Barnes was still skeptical.

Cue Spears & Chihuahua

“In the back of my mind I’m thinking, ‘No signed artist would ever do that, because [Zomba Label Group President/CEO] Barry Weiss would cut them in half with a cleaver,” Barnes says. “If you don’t have the record out yet, you’re going to find some radio guy who will ship it out half done, and the whole project will be trashed.”

Barnes finally agreed to give the woman/possible psycho directions to the station, expecting that a) no one would ever show up or b) some half-baked Britney lookalike/soundalike would appear shortly thereafter at KIIS’s Burbank studios. “About half an hour later my phone op says, ‘She just called back. She’s going to give the CD to her bodyguard and have him drop it off,'” Barnes says. At this point he was more certain than ever that it was a hoax.

“I predicted some random guy was going to walk into the station and drop this CD off,” he says. “If we were stupid enough to think it was Britney Spears, we’d play it, and someone in Pacoima would get a big laugh. It’s a clever thing to do, because if you do sound like Britney, the papers will all pick it up if we’re stupid enough to put it on.”

Fast forward to an hour later. It’s about 7:50 p.m., and Barnes is headed into his last stopset and getting ready to turn things over to Boy Toy Jesse at 8 p.m. The two of them are chatting in the studio when Barnes turns his head to see a huge guy holding a tiny Chihuahua with painted toenails … standing next to none other than Britney Spears, who is clutching a CD in her hand. OH.MY.GOD!

CD Players, Brains Hit Overload

Spears apparently had some trouble getting up to the studio and had been standing downstairs until a security guard asked her if she needed help. “I don’t even think the security guard knew who she was,” Barnes says. “But she said, ‘Hi, I’m Britney Spears, and I’m supposed to be up there.'”

And then things got weird. “Jesse’s brain went on pause,” Barnes says. At the same time, Manny – a member of the KIIS street team who also works on Ryan Seacrest’s morning show – began chatting up Spears and attempted to give her his business card and pitch his band. Things had been so calm just a minute earlier, and now everything was threatening to spin out of control.

Barnes’ brain kicked into warp speed as he tried to figure out what to do as the last spot in the break played. It was time to, er, spit or get off the pot. Turns out the studio CD players had gone unused for so long – thanks to the in-house computer system – that they weren’t accepting Britney’s CD. The clock continued to tick down toward zero as Barnes tried to coax them back to life.

What to do? Oh, hell – let’s just crack the mike and see what happens: “Ladies and gentlemen, you’re never going to believe who’s here. Come over and say hi,” Barnes said, turning to look at Spears.

“I was trying to signal the guys to help me with the CD or pull a microphone over,” he says. “She couldn’t get close to the mike, so I was sh*tting bricks. Manny was still talking to her, so I told him to shut up, and I told Jesse to move the mike over, but it was like someone had given them some weird potion and their brains were gone.”

Delicious Britney Goodness

Barnes knew he had to act quickly not only because he was vamping live on a 50,000-watt radio station, but also because he was afraid that Spears would change her mind at the last second. “I had to do it ASAP, because if she started thinking it through, any normal person would think they were crazy to do it, and I wanted to get the record on,” he says.

“I went live because I wanted to ask her to play it on the air. I don’t like people who hijack the interview and use it against people they’re interviewing – it’s not my thing – but I wanted to get the record on the air and just have a little fun.”

Just then the hot line rang as KIIS MD Julie Pilat called in, the CD player finally fired up, and the delectable sounds of Britney’s track “Mona Lisa” began pulsating out of the studio monitors and over the airwaves.

“We taped some stuff for later in the show,” Barnes says. “Britney was only there for, like, eight minutes, and then she left. She couldn’t have been nicer.”

He adds that she also looked pretty damn good, despite the fact that she wore no make-up and was in your average hang-around-the-house-and-then-spontaneously-decide-to-debut-your-new-song-on-KIIS clothes.

Needless to say, the request lines went crazy as half of the greater L.A. area – including building security – called in to ask if that was really Britney Spears.

In the end, Barnes has yet another close encounter with Ms. Spears under his belt, KIIS got an exclusive shot at Britney’s new record, and no animals were harmed in the process. All in all, it made a great late Christmas, er, generic, nonspecific, nonreligious holiday present for all involved.

As usual, Associate Radio Editor/Evil Minion Keith Berman claims he had a good deal to do with the creation of this column.