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Four teenagers are gathered around a table in the north Miami-Dade studio of WAXY-AM (720). Each perches before a fuzzy black microphone as the music of Big Pun fades from overhead speakers. An illuminated "ON AIR" sign announces that a broadcast is under way.
"Welcome to Teen Live Wire," host Adrian Baschuk says as the microphones crackle to life, "a radio show for teens by teens hosted and produced by teens. Tonight's topic is teen stripping. The money is good, you can meet people, and the working hours are ideal, so what's so bad about stripping? Hear directly from teens who have worked in the clubs as they tell of their experiences."
Eighteen-year-old Baschuk introduces his panel, which includes cohost Travis Roig and two young women who plan to argue the pros and cons of the profession. Two exotic dancers, one of both genders, wait on telephone lines. When prompted by Baschuk, the female stripper details her entry into the adult entertainment field. "My boyfriend encouraged me to do it," she begins. "He says I have a nice body, that he likes it, so I started dancing. It's just like a job. I've liked to dance all my life. When I go onstage at the club, it's just like being onstage performing for school."
At this comment, Roig's eyes widen. "Kinda," deadpans the eighteen-year-old, who ads humor and a sense of street smarts to the mix.
In the control room, executive producer Joe Keener, the staff geezer at age 33, breaks into laughter. Gliding around on a wheeled office chair, he types questions Baschuk and Roig can read on a monitor in the studio. He takes up a phone to tell the girl to stop mumbling. The male stripper, who surprises the hosts by defining himself not only as a stripper but as a "pagan bisexual stripper," also reveals an unfortunate proclivity to swear. At each profane word Keener lunges across an instrument panel to pound the "dump" button, which will prevent the slur from reaching the ears of listeners. If there are any.
Despite laudatory articles in the Miami Herald and the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, and puff pieces on several television stations, listenership remains low. There is no sure way to gauge the audience on a "brokered" station like WAXY, where producers purchase airtime for their programs and then try to sell ads. But even on a night with a subject as juicy as teen stripping, Keener receives just two calls.
How then does Teen Live Wire stay on the air? The answer to that question is no doubt the most curious aspect of the three-year-old project. In short, the show is the personal obsession of a 51-year-old German immigrant named Maria Staub, the show's sole sponsor. She claims to have spent $400,000 of her own money just to keep it going.
Four hundred thousand dollars.
"My brother-in-law thinks I'm crazy for spending all this money," Staub allows. "In certain things, you know, like starting something or doing a business or taking chances, he doesn't know what it takes."
Staub is taking chances, all right. After years as a successful restaurateur (she is best known as the proprietor, along with her husband Werner, of North Miami's La Paloma restaurant), she now works full-time on the show. She approves the discussion topics, screens the questions that will be asked, selects the rotating troupe of hosts, and monitors their performances. She also pays thousands of dollars for airtime, which WAXY officials sell for a flat rate.
Staub has trouble explaining her decision to turn away from a successful restaurant business and pursue radio, a field in which she had no prior experience. The best answer she can provide is printed in her bio, which is available in the radio show's media kit: "Maria's love for her children helped to foster the desire to somehow work on a community level with teens."
But Staub's mission is even more perplexing when you consider her history as a mother: Because of her hectic schedule at La Paloma, she chose not to raise her two daughters, now teenagers; they were reared by Staub's sister-in-law. In fact, her quixotic decision to pursue radio has threatened to ruin her marriage and has strained relations with the rest of her family.
If any of this seems the least bit ironic to an observer, the irony is lost on Staub. She is single-minded about her show. "I think it takes perseverance and a lot of sacrifices to get where you want to go," she says, her voice soft but steely. "I've made a lot of sacrifices already. I haven't been on a vacation in years. I've had arguments with my husband because I'm still paying thousands of dollars every month [for the show]. So it has cut into my private life very much and into my family life. We had our arguments over how much longer I want do to this. And how we really can't afford this any more, it's not right. And I told him that I know it's not right, but it is going to come. It's going to happen."