How do you get on the radio in Orlando if you're not 1) a frothing-at-the-mouth conservative; 2) playing radio-friendly, market-tested music; 3) associated with Rollins College and WPRK; or 4) Jim Philips?
Answer: Pay for the airtime yourself.
That's the path Steve Smith has chosen for his fledgling show RadioActive, which you can hear 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays on WORL-AM (660). At least you can hear it until Smith gets tired of paying the $200 a week out-of-pocket to keep it on the air. Then you won't hear it anymore. Unless he finds some sponsors, in which case you might still hear it.
In any case, it's worth a listen for the simple reason that Smith and on-air partner June Vasilis bill themselves as "the only open-minded, political talk show on Saturdays." And while that's a little like being the best cellist in Bithlo, the show does sound refreshingly unlike most other offerings on the Orlando-area dial.
Smith, 38, is a progressive everyman who believes that radio can be both thought-provoking and entertaining. "If we had a Miss RadioActive, she could look good in a bikini but she would have to know who Dick Cheney is," he says.
He's aiming for a mix of NPR and Howard Stern, but for the time being he's content to fill up an hour and get a few phone calls to the studio. If listeners stumble across his show, they'll find him discoursing on the war on drugs (against it), the Bush administration (against it), the war in Iraq (against it), a living wage in Orange County (for it), or the local music scene (all for it). The idea is a sort of local clearinghouse for progressive ideals that don't really get airtime anywhere else. And bikinis.
Smith has managed to book some interesting guests. On Aug. 16, for example, he interviewed a woman who walked across America, from Washington state to Washington, D.C., collecting grievances against George W. Bush along the way. When she reached the White House, she tried to deliver her messages, but was stopped and almost arrested by the Secret Service.
Larry Walters, an Orlando-based, nationally known First Amendment attorney, was also on the show. Walters' specializes in defending adult businesses against obscenity charges. It turns out he's working two very interesting cases at the moment. The first deals with a federal obscenity case against a West Virginia couple, and the second, in New York, challenges the validity of the Communications Decency Act.
In the first case, Michael and Sharon Corbett of Bluefield, W.Va., are charged with sending obscenity (fetish videos of girls peeing, mostly) through the mail. It seems like pretty tame stuff, these days. But Attorney General John Ashcroft doesn't think so. In June 2002, the Justice Department trained 25 federal attorneys to do nothing but obscenity prosecutions. We are just now seeing the fruit of that training, and it's pretty scary, says Walters. "When George Bush got elected, he pandered to the religious right saying that he would start enforcing morality. Then Sept. 11 happened. Now that they got that allegedly under control it's time to turn their sights on morality."
The Corbett case is interesting because it throws the idea of community standards out the window. No one, except a federal prosecutor, complained about the material the couple was selling out of their home. Even if you aren't into peeing videos, the thought of John Ashcroft's henchmen deciding what is and isn't acceptable is chilling. The Corbetts face federal obscenity charges and could lose their house and all their assets, in addition to prison time, if convicted.
"If you run an adult site, and you put nude pictures of your wife up, all the sudden you could lose your house," says Walters.
The second case, titled Nitke v. Ashcroft, was filed in New York City. It seeks to have the obscenity provision of the Communications Decency Act overturned because the idea of community standards no longer applies in the age of the Internet. (Walters filed a brief in support of the plaintiff. The case has yet to be decided.)
"There is no way a single community can isolate itself and say we have different standards anymore," says Walters. "Sexual mores have changed, but the government would like the law to be the way it was 20 or 30 years ago."
How's that for a little light Saturday afternoon radio?
The problem makers
Last year, WFTV-Channel 9 hired two free-lance TV producers -- John Hancock and Jennifer Hersey -- to produce a story about middle-aged men cruising for underage girls in Internet chat rooms. Hancock worked behind the scenes, while Hersey, 26, sat in front of a web camera, a Harry Potter poster visible on the wall behind her, and acted half her age.
They trolled for a while, and then they caught a really big fish: Ira Karmelin, a top prosecutor for Palm Beach County. Hersey claimed Karmelin exposed himself, masturbated and tried to arrange a meeting between them, all with the understanding that she was only 13. She recorded all her communications with Karmelin and took the tapes to police, who subsequently arrested Karmelin as he was arriving for work at the Palm Beach courthouse.
It seemed clear that Karmelin was preying on young girls. And Channel 9 wasn't done with him yet. The station put one of its own reporters, Kathi Belich, on another report of Karmelin trying to lure two Seminole County girls into having cybersex with him.
It was perfect television: A scary, bombastic story of the Internet stealing away the innocence of young girls. Perfect, right down to the fact that the reports aired during sweeps week.
But it all fell apart last week when Orange County prosecutors couldn't convince Hancock and Hersey to testify against Karmelin (who stated on the tapes that he thought the girl he was chatting with looked 18 or 19 years old.) The two free-lance journalists, who had made a niche career out of web entrapment, refused to cooperate unless they were paid to do so. Orange County doesn't pay for testimony. No victim, no sex crime. The county dropped the charges against Karmelin, who returned to work Aug. 18 in Palm Beach County as a private DUI attorney.
And what of the other two Seminole girls supposedly lured into Internet sex by Karmelin? No case there either, says Seminole County Sheriff's Department spokesman Steve Olson. "The girls gave the impression they were much older," says Olson, "that they were college age. We could not establish that a crime was committed."
Of course, none of this is mentioned on the Channel 9 website, which to this day touts the crackerjack investigative work of Hancock, Hersey and Belich. This is the station, after all, that produces "news you can count on."
Hancock and Hersey are now incommunicado; even their families can't find them, according to The Palm Beach Post. Channel 9 news director Bob Jordan was out of town and could not be reached for comment. Kathi Belich did not return phone calls.