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BOOKS & THE CULTURE Prank Ministry Guerrilla Combat on the Right-Wing Airwaves BY MICHAEL ERARD RADIO JIHAD. Vinyl Communications. CD: $12.00. I1993, a young man who calls himself “Brother Russell” began a cozy ministry, calling Christian Austin radio stations, posing as a listener with a sincere comment or question, and when the hosts believed his good intentions, messing around with them until he hung up or they flicked him off the air in confusion or disgust. These prank phone calls were circulated on cassette until this year, when the complete trove of hit-and-run hatpins and monkeywrenches set upon massmedia versions of Christian reality was released on CD by Vinyl Communications. Not only do Russell’s impersonations display a well-kneeled Christian mind, he maintains his composure throughout the gagsa hard thing to do while stringing the hosts along for so long. On the air as the earnest young “Dave,” Russell begins to debate the finer points of different Bible translations, and what’s both spooky and delightful is that he sounds convincing. “Melba Jackson,” who has worry and faith and gullibility all knitted up together in her quavery voice, makes quite a few of the calls. Melba tells broadcaster Bob George that “I’ve been through all the phases of the Christian walk, I believe…the honeymoon phase, and the dying to the flesh phase, and getting more serious, deeper into the Word, and the legalistic phase….” Melba confuses Karl with Groucho in a stock “Marx” gag, resurrected when the talk-show guest says with concerned disbelief, “Marx? Well maybe he’s funny, but if you read him on the Jews, he’s downright vicious.” Brother Russell’s hit-and-run sarcasm is not pirate radio as much as low-level guerrilla warfare against the charlatans, the haters, the profiteers and the bigots, where the standard prank phone call is transformed into a hold-up of storefronts in the marketplace of ideas. When radio preacher Mike East snarls that “[homosexuals] are a stench in the nostrils of God,” rational discussion is not on the agendaand the gag phone-call undermines the radio bigot’s presumption about divine hatred. Melba Jackson and Dave McManus are like Trojan horses. Dave calls Mike East to talk cock-and-bull conspiracy booksthis time, “paratrooper orangutans! are training to take over the Vatican! where they will be controlled by a crystal! which is the Antichrist!” Dave even manages to make the pitch for his church, the “Faith Tabernacle Outreach Mission Crusade Deliverance Temple Healing Ministry Center in Jesus’ Name, Limited.” “We also sell bonds,” he adds. And Melba: after radio healer Steve Solomon has agreed to pray for her grandson, Melba starts him off on the “Toronto blessing,” a gift of laughter from the Holy Spirit. “Ho, ho. Hee, hee. Ha, ha,” she laughs; Solomon follows right along, and then she moves to an off-kilter chortle, and then delivers the coup-de-grace, a “har-harhar” so demonic it even chills the blood of former Bible believers. The gracious hosts mutter, blurt, fumble, pray, and sometimes they are speechless. Lapsing into momentary paganism, they blame prank . phone calls on the full moon. When Dave erupts into tongues and gets switched off the air, the host admits it “sent chills up my spine.” Sometimes they look more gullible than foolish, as when East asks Dave to call back so that he can find out what Dave knows about the “neoDarwinian occult theocratic principle” which will! control! the orangutans! One sequence wryly illustrates “Christian” vindictiveness. Dave complains of a bad back, so he prays with radio “healer” Steve Solomon, promising to love Jesus. Just as the “Brother Russell” SEPTEMBER 13, 1996 28 THE TEXAS OBSERVER