As house disc jockey, Berger Heinzoff embodied the spirit of The Honor Tap.
His act wasn’t karaoke with costumes, but it was close. Flanked by dancers called the “Bunettes,” he would lip-sync to carefully selected songs, often with choreographed skits.
But instead of using real instruments, he and the Bunettes used silly props—a plunger for a trumpet, an empty beer keg for a drum, a broom for a guitar, that kind of thing—and audience participation was paramount.
He had an elfin way of dancing; despite his heft, his movements were light, almost dainty. The way he pranced about his stage, he recalled the actor Jack Black, if Jack Black were heavier and bald.
Berger grew up in Brussels, Belgium, listening to American rock and roll. As a youth his favorite band was the Beach Boys, and they created a mystique of America in his mind: Surf, sand, sun—and sexy girls.
His first full-time job was at a radio station in Brussels, where he found a girlfriend named Maria. After a summer of bliss, Maria left Berger for his boss, a chain-smoking Frenchman named Yves with a thumb ring. After a few months of seeing them hand in hand, Berger finally said, “To hell with this,” and bought a one-way ticket to the USA to find a real Surfer Girl.
The music of The Beach Boys, he loved to say, was the reason he came to America. (That, and to get away from Maria.)
But Berger couldn’t afford a plane ticket all the way to Los Angeles, so he ended up in Baltimore, drifted down to Virginia Beach, and eventually ended up working for an oldies station on the Carolina coast. Along the way he discovered bands like Bill Deal and the Rhondels and the Chairman of the Board, and fell in love with that music, too. By then in his mid-fifties, he had an almost childlike appreciation for old-school radio: Smashes, one-hit wonders, obscure regional favorites. He loved them all.
When he wasn’t in costume, Berger favored brightly colored Aloha shirts, rarely wearing the same one twice. They might feature palm trees, bottles of beer, ukuleles, Hula dancers, 1957 Chevrolets, anything really, and always in bright colors, various shades of yellow, red, green, blue. He was a sight to see up there on his platform, sweat flying off his bald head, bouncing around and contorting his face as he danced and lip-synched to his music. He didn’t mind making a complete fool out of himself, so he had no trouble getting people from the crowd to jump on stage and dance with him.
Not just anybody could pull off an act like that. But Berger made it work, because of the passion he put into it.
The Berger dossier
APPEARANCE: Bald and stocky, with impish gray eyes
PRIMARY STYLE OF DRESS: When not in constume, he favored dizzying array of brightly colored Aloha shirts
MOST STRIKING PHYSICAL FEATURE: Sweat glistening off his bald head
VOICE: He had an odd accent, as if Sgt. Schultz from the old TV show Hogan’s Heroes grew up in, say, Georgia
BEST TRAIT: The very embodiment of happiness, and the courage to laugh in the face of adversity
WORST TRAIT: Overly sentimental? Hard to say
IDIOSYNCRASIES: His catchphrase is, “I am BELL-gool HINES-off! Spas-MO-dically jamming to the hottest tunes of ALL-TIIIIME!”
FAVORITE MOVIE: A tie between Endless Summer and Life Is Beautiful
MOVIE CHARACTER: Roberto Benigni as Guido, Life Is Beautiful
MONSTER: “I do not have favorite monsters. I do not care for monsters.”
BOOK: The Heart of Rock and Soul by Dave Marsh
MUSICAL ARTIST: The Beach Boys
SPORT: Beer pong
SNACK: Virginia peanuts
MEAL: Carolina barbecue and Brunswick stew
DESSERT: Pumpkin pie with graham cracker crust and lots of whipped cream
IDEAL WOMAN: Surfer girl
IDEAL DAY: A pumpkin latte, some body-surfing in the ocean, and then spasmodically jamming to the hottest tunes of all time at the Honor Tap