Miami Herald, The (FL) August 11, 1985
Author: BILL COSFORD Herald Movie Critic

Frequent readers of this space know that I have special place in my
heart for radio talk shows, particularly the oddly belligerent and equally
stimulating local variety. Some people say I listen only because my car doesn’t
have FM (which is true), but they’re wrong. The talk of South Florida is almost
always weird and occasionally even interesting. I liked it when they had the
“radio wars,” and hosts were dishing one another across the frequencies. I liked
it when Neil Rogers made headlines by announcing that he had a big jar of seeds
on his console, and dared the authorities to determine if among the birdseed
were seeds from illegal plants. I even liked it when Barbara Studley called G.
Gordon Liddy “a great American.” I mean, where else but here?

So trust me when I tell you that radio is going to be lots of fun this
fall. There is likely to be a new outbreak of on-air skirmishing, and there will
certainly be a great jumbling of talk-show hosts. With that jumble will come
much taking of sides among the audience, which is fiercely loyal and was the
biggest single factor, via incessant call-in goads, the last time the hosts went
at it.

What is happening is that, pending final approval by the Federal
Communications Commission, perennially low-rated talk station WGBS will absorb
perennially high-rated talk station WNWS in a buyout. Each station already has a
full complement of hosts, almost all of whom are under contract, but since the
WNWS sale did not include a codicil increasing the number of hours in the
broadcast day, some heads are going to roll. Later, when the market starts
shaking out and the newly fortified WGBS finds out how it’s doing against WINZ
and WIOD, there will doubtless be more shifts. Already, in a move that
suggests that WGBS management has overdosed on sensitivity training, WNWS hosts
were bused over to their soon-to-be new digs for a look. What they found must
have made some of them — the ones who figure to keep their jobs — as happy as
hosts can be. WGBS has one of the best broadcasting facilities in town, with
lots of space and spiffy new equipment and carpets.

WNWS has carpet, too, but only one studio in a cramped little building
so undistinguished that it was robbed one night by thugs who didn’t know it was
a radio station. Tales of hardship and enforced funk at WNWS are legion, and
mostly true. There was the flu-like disease born by the ventilation system, and
the transmitter problems that produced daily dead air. It is true that for
months there was a box next to the host’s chair containing cremated remains from
the funeral home next door; they were awaiting the attention of overnight host
Jerry Wichener, who is a pilot and had been asked to scatter the ashes over the
sea. It is true that Studley didn’t just praise Liddy, she hugged him, too.

But talk-by-the-seat-of-the-pants, WNWS style, will change forever with
the move to WGBS. The hosts who survive are going to feel good, the way Rogers
did when he moved from WNWS to the comparative splendor and fern-bar ambience at

Ah, but the hosts who survive — there’s the rub. The local ratings war
will escalate even if the hosts stay polite. But with the old WGBS frequency
going Spanish-language, there will be one less station for the ratings losers,
and some hosts are simply going to disappear. Here are some handicapping tips:

THE EX-GBS FACTOR: Before last season’s baseball fluke, by which the
Chicago Cubs became pennant contenders, fans and sportswriters enjoyed computing
something called “the ex-Cub factor,” which held that Chicago was such a
terrible team that even its trades could pollute an otherwise promising club.
The local radio version posits that any holdovers from the old WGBS will perform
a similar function. If WGBS keeps more than one of its original hosts, look for
trouble; more than two, expect a format change to progressive reggae by January.

HELLO, NEIL?: South Florida’s highest-rated English- language
personality is now situated to take over all of radio. No matter whom the new
GBS throws up against him — WNWS’ Tom Leykis or its own Alan Burke — Rogers
stands to improve his ratings, already higher than his two competitors combined.
If GBS stays with Burke, figure the entire Leykis audience to go to

Rogers in a desperate scramble for action. If GBS bumps Burke and goes
with Leykis, the older crowd now listening to Burke is likely to go to Rogers as
well, at least until Leykis’ voice gets deeper.

ARTICULATE AL IN THE MORNING: That’s how WNWS used to refer to Al
Rantel, then new at the job of morning post-drive talk: “Articulate Al Rantel.”
More recently, it has been Al the Neo-Liberal, though the station hasn’t brought
itself to boast about that yet. Rantel’s political conversion — he’s still a
domestic liberal but has acquired a foreign-policy hawk streak — seems to have
paralleled his growth as a raconteur, and he’s already good enough to beat Sandy
Payton on WIOD. Look for Rantel to become the single biggest draw on WGBS, if
only for his penchant.

MIDDAY MAVENS: Shirley Peters vs. Bev Smith, and who’s to choose? Peters
is hard-core on kneejerk liberal issues, always good for a stage-sigh of
exasperation when a male caller calls her “dear,” but she’ll go daffy on you in
a second, especially when she’s been studying her star charts and discovers that
Mercury is in retrograde. The prospect of sudden daffiness — what will she say
next? — is what makes Peters’ show interesting. Smith, on the other hand, is
straight as can be: She’ll take calls on anything, and give as good she gets.
She is also an articulate black voice — the only daily black host in “white”
radio here. Peters might get the numbers, but Smith is good for the station;
perhaps they could share the afternoon.

NWS afternoon-drive man, has so many sponsors, including at least a half-dozen
different “best restaurant in town” spots, that GBS has to have him whether
anyone listens or not. Kane’s a puzzle, however. Though he continues to enjoy a
bad-boy, hang-up-on-you rep, he is actually quite mild. Still, if WIOD ever goes
to earlier sports talk during Dolphin- Hurricane season, Captain Crab could be
in the soup.

THE RIGHT-WING GHETTO: GBS, NWS and INZ have all programmed conservative
hosts in post-drive, early evening, so someone has to go. That will probably be
NWS’ Bob Groves, whose numbers have been low. That leaves GBS’ David Gold, up
against a new scheme over at INZ: John Broward as a lead-in to Neil Rogers. Of
the three, only Broward is of the great-American-Liddy school, likely to draw
the screamers. Meanwhile, the Rogers tie-in — there’s already little love lost
between him and Broward — seems intriguing. Gold should keep his GBS slot, but
he may wind up having to book descendants of Attila the Hun to compete.

Eventually, the disappearance of WNWS should help WINZ across the board,
if for no other reason than there will be one less outlet for news, which is
what WINZ programs during the day. Of course, it’s bound to help WGBS, too —
almost anything would. And the prospect of fierce host-bashing looms. English-
speakers are losing a station, but this may be one case in which less is more. I
can hardly wait.

Edition: FINAL Section: AMUSEMENTS Page: 1K
Record Number: 8503050210 Copyright (c) 1985 The Miami Herald

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