It seems fans of perky radio hosts Lori and Julia will follow the “Drivetime Divas” anywhere—even to New York City. What’s behind the phenomenon?
(page 1 of 2)ON A FRIDAY MORNING IN MAY, two tour buses pull up next to a Chinatown storefront and disgorge more than 50 Minnesota women into New York City’s bargain-shopping mecca. Two bottle blondes, with coifs floating like bobbers among the dark-haired masses, lead the group past piles of fake Rolexes, DVDs, and pashmina shawls. Aggressive vendors, honking horns, chaos, and litter won’t keep Lori Barghini and Julia Cobbs (and the phalanx of listeners who’ve accompanied the Twin Cities radio personalities here) from getting their hands on some knockoff designer purses. “It’s like we’re at the state fair,” one of the women says of the teeming crowds.
In case you’re not a fan of the “Drivetime Divas”: Lori and Julia host the coveted 3 to 6 p.m. weekday time slot on FM107, the only Twin Cities station devoted to women-centric talk radio, one of the few in the country. The show is a daily dish on beauty, entertainment, sex, and fashion, filtered through a sensibility that’s part Marie Claire, part Prairie Home Companion. With squawky, sometimes rambling deliveries, the duo offers advice on everything from how wearing Spanx undergarments can smooth a “muffin top,” or how to keep your hair extensions looking good during lovemaking: “Lookie, lookie—no touchie,” Lori says she warns her husband.
The trip to Chinatown is part of the show’s “Diva Destination” vacation, a chance for 70-some women to spend four days shopping, eating, and hanging out with the radio personalities. The tour, which coincides with the show’s fifth anniversary, is a way to market Lori and Julia—branded by FM107 as “LoJ”—but it’s also an intensive focus group.
I have been curious about Lori and Julia since they appeared in this magazine’s pages nearly five years ago, dressed in nothing but yellow caution tape. (Our art director loves to tell the story of how Lori, misunderstanding some of his instructions, enthusiastically whipped off her top and flashed the flustered photographer.) I’d listened to the show just once, when the pair interviewed my oft-married former boss and referred to her as a “sexual furnace.”
My interest in tagging along on the trip, however, is less about Lori and Julia and more about their fans. Despite a relatively small audience, their listeners are some of the most devoted in the Twin Cities. The obvious question is why? How is it that these women feel such a close connection to people they barely know? What sort of person would take the Diva trip (at a cost of $1,200 to $2,000 per person) instead of going with another tour, or going on her own? Were they drawn to LoJ because they resembled themselves—or precisely because they were so different?
AT 5:45 A.M. THE PREVIOUS DAY, Lori arrives at the Minneapolis airport dressed like a teenager, in sneakers and skinny jeans. Her hair, a cloud of teased ringlets, looks like it belongs in a shampoo commercial. The other women in the gate area—and there are mostly women in the gate area—have clothing and haircuts designed to blend in rather than stand out, looks that say Midwestern mom more than L.A. casting call.
Then Lori starts doing what she does best: making conversation. And when she opens her mouth, her voice rings with a nasal sing-song that Frances McDormand could have studied for her role in Fargo. Lori treats the room as if it’s a sorority-rush meet-and-greet, making conversation with each group of women about what they’ll do once they hit the city.