Density Turns on the Radio

WLRN grovels; school board makes vote count

The David Foster Wallace-footnote-length sponsorship signatures of Pollo Tropical and the Community Foundation of Broward. Referring to traffic snarl spotter Maritza Martin as "M Squared." Joseph Cooper.

Any given broadcast hour of WLRN-FM (91.3) has The Bitch reaching for the Vicodin bottle, but the station's recent fundraising drive had the sensitive-eared canine hounding the pharmacy daily as the on-air talent, normally squelched during the day by the NPR feed, became ubiquitous -- talking over This American Life, no less -- and shrill.

The fundraising drive, which concluded last week with pledges from more than 4200 souls totaling $530,000 give or take, reached less than zero during an afternoon grovel for donations between two announcers, who compared the donation of a couple sawbucks to the price of a favorite shade of Lancôme. The makeup metaphor was quickly seized upon: "I just hate it when I spend $20 for a tube of lipstick and then leave it in my car, and it melts all over!"

The Freedom Tower was not, not, the object of 
a fraud scheme
Jonathan Postal
The Freedom Tower was not, not, the object of a fraud scheme

Faithful public-radio listeners nonetheless persevered, answering the call to support the station by opening their wallets. Mark LaPorta, a Miami Beach physician, presented WLRN with a donation and a challenge, offering to match up to $1000 put up by callers who identified themselves as fellow haters of the station's superficial, banana nut-flavored Miami Herald morning news spots. LaPorta says he finds the WLRN-Herald joint reports useless, grating, and little more than marketing portals for the paper.

"I turn to WLRN for solace in the morning," explains LaPorta, 47. "For Bob Edwards's voice and a broader perspective. Not to hear the Miami Herald morning scandal sheet."

LaPorta's offer was declined by station fundraisers, he says, who explained to him they couldn't very well slam the Aqua Lady on the air. LaPorta says he donated $150 anyway, as he has done for most of the past two decades. "I consider WLRN a friend," he says. "You can tell a friend what they're doing wrong, right? I've been bitching about the Herald for twenty years. I was casting a vote to say: Here's my money where my mouth is."

Neither the station's Jeneissy Azcuy nor John Schuster, a spokesman for Miami-Dade County Schools (which owns WLRN), could explain to The Bitch why LaPorta's money was no good. Rachel Blechman, however, chairwoman of the board of the Friends of WLRN, the station's private, nonprofit fundraising arm, took the dog by the leash. "The pledge drive is not used to advocate a position of any kind," Blechman says. "The station does offer many outlets for people wishing to express opinions."

The Miami-Dade County school board did something amazing this past Monday. It acted like a (mostly) unified front in voting to offer former New York City Chancellor Rudy Crew the superintendent's job. He's an outsider, which goes against 50 years of a tradition of appointing insiders. Crew is also a black man who was chosen over the Cuban American from Nashville, Pedro Garcia. Other than Marta Perez, still in the throes of her quixotic mission to become county mayor, none of the school board members played ethnic politics. "All things being equal, I would have voted for the Hispanic," remarked Agustin Barrera after the vote. "But they weren't. You've got one guy going from 70,000 students to 370,000 students and the other from 1.1 million students to 370,000. It was no contest."

What a change from the bloody, divisive brawls over Merrett Stierheim's appointment in 2001! Rumors flew in the days before the vote about what the board would do -- that there would be a last-minute attempt by some to keep Stierheim, that State Rep. Ralph Arza would stage a coup, that ol' Sol Stinson had something up his sleeve, that the board members would refuse the candidates and promote an internal lackey.

But they didn't. The first indication that the right thing was about to be done came when city Mayor Manny Diaz and his manager Joe Arriola (the former in suit, the latter in crisp white guayabera, both with knowing smiles) walked in the room. Must have been a sweet moment of victory for former district biz whiz Arriola, judging by his joyful expression and the brief look of annoyance on Stierheim's face.

Of course, being the school board, it couldn't just vote. First there was the pageantry and pontification to be done. Television channel WSVN-7's Brian Andrews leaned back, eyes glazed as he waited for the board to get to the actual voting part. "What brings you here, Brian?" asked one reporter, surprised that the TV hotshot was cooling his heels with the rest of the unfortunates. "I haven't covered the school board in five years," he answered tiredly. "But I've got a week left [before moving to another station] and they decide now's the time for me to come here."

Finally it was over. The board members seemed relieved that they had kept the tomfoolery quotient to a manageable level. Diaz and Arriola especially looked pleased. Arriola said he and his boss, who have been looking to take over and run the public schools within city limits, will back off now that Crew is likely the next superintendent. "We don't want to undermine this new guy," he said. No doubt getting the boy from New York City also fits neatly into the Diaz administration's desire to position Miami as an up-and-coming N.Y.C. of the Americas.

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