As hosts of a hugely popular radio talk show, Ron Diaz and Ron Bennington spend most mornings trying to be funny. Which to them tends to mean poking fun at the world in general, with particular emphasis on gays, blacks, and female genitalia.
But the Rons, whose Ron and Ron Show airs live weekdays from 6:00 to 10:00 a.m. on seven stations in the southeast, including ZETA 4 (WZTA-FM 94.9), took a break from their shenanigans this past Friday to perform what they clearly considered a public service: They made Basil Wainwright the star of their syndicated show. A British inventor and self-proclaimed medical innovator, Wainwright spoke at length on the air about his purported cure for cancer and AIDS, which involves treating patients with ozone, a bluish gas composed of three bonded oxygen atoms. As supportive calls poured in to the Tampa studio where the program originates, Wainwright reeled off a series of phone numbers for listeners interested in his life-saving therapy. For once Ron and Ron did not make light. They were grave, even respectful.
But there is a twist to Wainwright's story: Having been thrown in prison three years ago by American authorities, he was participating in the show from his Broward County prison cell. The way he explained it to the credulous Rons, evil pharmaceutical companies had engineered the plot to keep his miracle cures off the market. The Rons were indignant. They ordered an assistant to contact the Food and Drug Administration to demand an explanation for Wainwright's incarceration.
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The Rons could have spared themselves the effort had they read New Times, where Wainwright's long history of fraud was chronicled in an April 1, 1992, profile entitled "King Con." Now 60 years old, Wainwright had fled England in 1986 after serving time in prison for fraud, theft, and forgery. Three years ago he was charged in Florida for practicing medicine without a license and for fraud, after authorities discovered that he was treating terminally ill patients with ozone and selling them ozone machines. (The FDA forbids use of the gas without permission because it can be lethal if not administered properly.) Last year a followup story in New Times ("King Con Returns," March 31, 1993) suggested that Wainwright had continued to run his business while awaiting trial, going so far as to sell an ozone machine that led to the death of one patient.
None of this information was included in the Rons' broadcast. Though the hosts did question Wainwright about just why he was in prison, his word-salad response was indecipherable.
Denise McCanless, the show's producer, says she heard about Wainwright from an assistant, and later from a producer on the Maury Povich show, which ran a segment two weeks ago featuring Wainwright. "From time to time we do talk about things like this," McCanless explains. "It's not always goofy stuff. As far as putting Basil on the air, that decision was made by Ron and Ron themselves. They felt this was a real story, something important that their listeners should hear." McCanless estimates the show's total audience at three million.
After Wainwright's Ron and Ron spot, hundreds of callers dialed the numbers he provided. The Life Extension Foundation, a Hollywood-based group that advocates the use of ozone and sells "nutrients," was besieged by curious callers, according to spokesman Steven Hennenfent. Calls also came in to Kathy Brown, a Bradenton woman who is organizing a May 21 rally in Fort Lauderdale to urge that Wainwright be freed. At press time it was unclear whether Ron and Ron would be in attendance.