By George Smith (AFN Europe)April 15, 2011
WIESBADEN, Germany - Tuning into AFN-Wiesbaden's 98.7 FM morning show "The Shack" for the first time you might think you're eavesdropping on "head-o-skin" dome twins nodding in agreement by the water cooler.
But listen longer.
DJ co-hosts Air Force Staff Sgts. Tony Plyler and Tyler Alexander are as similar as Disney's Bambi and champion fighter Georges St. Pierre.
Alexander likes to slam opponents to the mat not on radio but in mixed martial arts competitions. He has a 4-0 record in Army Combatives matches.
Co-host Plyler is a Buddhist vegetarian who would avoid stepping on bacteria if he could.
Alexander fuels his fighting engine with large piles of meat and loudly and proudly brags about his St. Louis Cardinals baseball team.
Plyler regards trees as kindred spirits and loves the Chicago Cubs.
Plyler, 33, got interested in becoming a military DJ while following his now-retired Air Force father broadcaster from country to country. He occasionally tries and fails to get 27-year-old Alexander to trade in his slabs of ribs for bowls of bean curds.
But their differences don't shine through on the air. The duo instead makes the daily morning show about listeners' opinions and not their own.
Every weekday is the same - the DJs pick a polarized topic, each takes a side, and then they get out of the way as listeners sound off.
"It makes for great conversation, or arguments," said Trish Schirmuly who considers the segment her favorite part of the show.
"I always find myself talking back to the radio like Tyler and Tony are in the office with me. My co-workers are considering having me committed for observation."
Dennis Baskett, another listener, said his favorite daily topic was on which monster was scarier, Wolfman or Frankenstein.
"Tony had Frankenstein and was getting hammered on votes," said Baskett. "So (Tony) said 'OK ... give Frankenstein a gun.' Too funny."
The DJ duo said the daily topic of pitting one band against another and asking listeners which group they like better is very popular.
"My favorite was the Beatles versus the Rolling Stones," said Plyler. "It was our first battle of the bands and the response was overwhelming."
The Beatles won 35 to 30.
The most popular topic to date was on whether the fictional character Rocky should be inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame.
The show got 100 votes via the studio's hotline number and Facebook, with most people saying they were not in favor of Sylvester Stallone's character being in the hall. In addition to call-ins, Facebook has made the show a real-time community event.
"Facebook is huge," said Plyler, "We use it for everything - audience interaction, games, weather, traffic and exchange rates. Did I mention everything yet'"
The show's games and giveaways make people instant cubicle stars.
Schirmuly won the Defense Commissary Agency-Europe game "The Price is Almost Right" by most accurately guessing the price of three commissary items.
"I had a mountain of baked goods delivered to my office by Tyler Alexander," said Schirmuly. "I was very popular that morning - till the doughnuts were gone, anyway."
Two-person morning shows are uncommon in military broadcasting. Conventional wisdom has shown stations get more work done if one person hosts the DJ show and the other journalist produces radio and TV stories or an afternoon DJ show.
"I feel the two-person show has made the work load real smooth," said Plyler. "We record a lot of interviews during our show and edit them for later use on our radio news and afternoon DJ show."
AFN-Wiesbaden station manager, Sgt. 1st Class Dan Carr, explained how the two-person "Shack" came to be.
"I just came here from the States where two-person morning DJ shows are the norm, and I wanted to mimic those shows to give our listeners something they were used to hearing back home," said Carr. "We started using the name 'Shack' for the show because it was like that club house as a kid where we all used to meet with our friends."
While Alexander agrees The Shack's two-person show works in Wiesbaden, he doesn't think it's necessarily right for other locations.
"What makes the show work is that we work well together, and every day there is something we laugh at," said Alexander. "We had a great time one day talking about peanut butter. We even called up NFL pro quarterback Matt Schaub and asked him if he liked it."
The duo's irreverent sense of fun coupled with the ability to curb their egos and make the audience the focus of the show makes The Shack stand apart.
"Our relationship with everyone who calls or stops by is what makes the show," said Plyler. "Some people have called or stopped by for years. We're always getting new listeners and each one of those people puts his or her individual touch into the direction the show goes. It's a very positive thing."
What's certain are the station's constantly busy phone lines and scores of Facebook posts - evidence that people enjoy being co-hosts as much as Plyler and Alexander enjoy inviting listeners into The Shack to share a story or opinion.