“When the ‘nappy-headed hos’ thing came out,” said Chemda Khalili, “[radio] people started fumbling for words, and there were huge on-air delays.” Ms. Khalili is the “girl” half of Keith and The Girl, an offensive, crass and hugely popular podcast produced in the Queens duplex she shares with her boyfriend, 33-year-old Keith Malley. Ms. Khalili was referring to the fallout from Don Imus’ infamous description of the Rutgers University women’s basketball team. “We decided to have a special in our online store: If you buy something and type ‘nappy-headed hos’ in the notes, you get a free key chain.”
Ms. Khalili, an Israeli-born Jew, and Mr. Malley, the son of a former Catholic priest who grew up in rural Pennsylvania, have been dating for five years. Discussing their show over lunch in Times Square on a recent afternoon, the freckle-faced Ms. Khalili wore a turtleneck sweater and her dark, curly hair down. The pale-skinned Mr. Malley was dressed in a gray thermal shirt and blue jeans.
The podcast is free; the couple makes a living largely through corporate sponsorship and a profitable merchandise store, which sells everything from hooded sweatshirts to flasks, all branded. The program—which attracts 15,000 listeners daily from around the world—itself is a mixture of celebrity gossip, call-ins from pop-culture creatures like Bobcat Goldthwait, chats with the odd 14-year-old pregnant girl, and a whole lot of bitching about their former day jobs. Before the success of the show allowed him to quit, Mr. Malley was a waiter and, like Ms. Khalili, a party clown. (Ms. Khalili still occasionally suits up.)
Another favorite topic is corporate hypocrisy, and the Imus scandal hits close to home. They say that CBS Radio’s firing of the man in the cowboy hat—not to mention Jeff Vandergrift and Dan Lay (a.k.a. JV and Elvis, the “shrimp-flied lice” guys)—seems like a witch-hunt. “Of all the things they say on a daily basis, I feel like there was a nit-picking thing happening,” said Ms. Khalili. “Like somebody was listening and saying, ‘Just find anything that we can get them on.’”
But the dismissals weren’t a surprise to anyone who had listened to Howard Stern complain about the perils of terrestrial radio for years, before he abandoned CBS himself in favor of Sirius Satellite Radio.
Mr. Stern assured his listeners that in the F.C.C.-free Wild West of subscription broadcasting, anything would go. But that was before Mr. Imus blew his career, and before Sirius got into serious (ha!) merger talks with XM. Earlier this month, XM suspended shock jocks Opie and Anthony after they aired a homeless man’s profane comments about Condoleezza Rice and Queen Elizabeth. “You’ve got a couple of satellite companies trying to get approved for a merger, and so they’re trying to behave like little choirboys,” Robert Niles, editor of U.S.C. Annenberg’s Online Journalism Review, told The Observer.
Mr. Malley and Ms. Khalili argue that this only bolsters their point that podcasting—in which anyone with a modem, a microphone, and some mojo can broadcast their thoughts for all to hear—is radio’s final free-speech frontier.
“We have no boss. No one can do anything to us,” said Ms. Khalili, who sometimes tapes the hour-or-so-long show in her sweats. “We’re allowed to talk about what we want. We’re allowed to say ‘nigger.’”
“Thank God!” seconded Mr. Malley.
Ms. Khalili has the smoother radio voice and greater organizational acumen, but Mr. Malley is the show’s lightning rod, a potty-mouthed populist who keeps the chat rooms crammed. When the shaven-head curmudgeon talks about how much he hates the latest season of The Sopranos or his former employers, there’s usually a can of Budweiser in his hand and a mischievous smile on his face.
“Italians are ass-fucks in the waiter industry,” he concluded at the end of a recent rant about a restaurant he once worked in. An equal-opportunity offender, he justifies his tirades by aiming them at the over-privileged and the over-sensitive. “What’s the thing to do with a black Jew?” he said later in the same show, reading a joke sent in by a listener. “Put them in the back of the oven.”
Keith and The Girl listeners characterize Mr. Malley and Ms. Khalili not as racists, but as gentle souls.