Don't Touch That Dial!

Maria Staub is determined to make Teen Live Wire a hit radio show -- even if it destroys her family

Teen Live Wire, to use the appropriate vernacular, doesn't suck. Baschuk and Roig are engaging interviewers. Despite their youth, they speak without leaning on the "ums" and "ahs" one might expect to hear. Questions are extensively researched. Guests are assembled from an impressive network of social service agencies, schools, and friends. When everything clicks, when the guests are good and the conversation flows, Teen Live Wire is a fresh and original program that surpasses some of the nominally professional talk shows on local radio or television.

But everything doesn't click very often. Or at least not often enough. "Sometimes, man, things just go south," admits Baschuk. "We did a show on high school athletics and so this guy comes on, a football player. We couldn't get him to talk at all, about anything. I'd ask him to describe what it's like to be recruited by major colleges. His answer? 'It's, like, good.'"

Baschuk and a cast of other hosts have been struggling to overcome bad guests and dull topics since November 1995, when Teen Live Wire first hit the air. Broadcast from 8:00 to 9:00 every weeknight, the show is an ambitious, if obscure, attempt to bridge the chasm between parents and their adolescent offspring. The program's printed "mission statement," devised, naturally, by Staub, lists eight "strategic objectives" -- in essence, a blueprint for managing the trials of adolescence. Among Staub's lofty goals: "to reach the teenagers of America, both the well adjusted and the at-risk," and "to help our young people collect and clarify their ideas into a coherent voice and translate them into successful management skills that can be understood by both young and old."

Staub began researching teen issues on the Internet. As best she could, she determined what topics were the most important: abortion, partying, depression, sexuality, and so on. She formed a staff of professional producers and volunteer assistants, most of whom she knew from her restaurant. Together they assembled a core panel of teens, then prepared to hit the air.

"One week before we went on, we all gathered in someone's living room with some microphones and a few tape recorders jigged up to simulate calls from listeners," recalls Bob Lacey, a television set designer and one of the few pioneers still involved with the show. "We had no idea what we were doing."

The confusion continued after the show began. The original running time was 120 minutes per night, two nights a week, then five nights a week. To fill all those hours, Staub booked national names such as Magic Johnson and Ruth Westheimer. Yet she continually fussed with the format of the show and ran through a succession of producers.

Claudia Laurence came on as a producer last year. She and her co-producer, Sandy Wayland, researched the topics and booked the shows. They scripted the dialogue and located the experts. Laurence says she worked fourteen hours per day, and even hosted the show. She pauses, then lets out a breath: "And no matter what we did, [Staub] was unhappy."

In an effort to improve the show, Laurence and Wayland created elaborate press kits and began outreach into high schools. Their efforts led to at least token support from two board members of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, Michael Krop and Demetrio Perez, Jr., who both appeared on the program.

Yet Laurence quit the show after only four months; Wayland left a few months later. Staub says that neither person could give her the results she wanted, so she had to let them go.

"If it was serious, it was too serious. If it was light, it was too light," recalls Laurence. "She doesn't seem to know the direction she wants it to go. If she does, she hasn't been able to convey it to two-plus years of people who have gone in to work there."

Wayland filed a lawsuit seeking $4000 in back pay; she has since been paid all but $1700. "I really hold no ill will [toward Staub]," Wayland says. "I just don't feel that her show should be all of a sudden lauded and publicized."

"What Maria has, perhaps all she has, is potential," Laurence concludes. "It could be a really, really, great, informative show. It could be a real community, an opportunity for teens in the area to find out what is going on and where they can go for help. To connect, unfortunately, you need to have a listener. And there is nobody listening. What teen is screwing around on their AM dial at 8:00 at night? That's when Melrose Place is on."

Before both women departed, Staub formed a board of directors, largely in response to Wayland's repeated pleas. On the board she placed her accountant and several friends she knew from the restaurant. All fine and well. But the board never seemed to meet. "I have not been invited to any board meetings," says member Ingrid Constanzo. "I am not aware that there have been any meetings. I think Maria has been running her own show for quite a while and is perhaps not used to following certain advice or rules. I don't know. Personally, I feel the more advice you can get the better. No one can do a vision on their own any more."

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