When Matthew Billy was looking for stories to cover in his new podcast about censorship, Bleeped, Fane Lozman's long battle with Riviera Beach was an easy pick.
The saga is by now well known among South Floridians and free speech activists: A local gadfly and provocateur, Lozman successfully sued the small Palm Beach County city to stop it from seizing and redeveloping the marina where he lived. The battle reached the U.S. Supreme Court not once, but twice — first in 2013, over the city's destruction of his floating home, and then again last year, over his arrest for refusing to stop speaking during a city council meeting.
"I like stories that have real clear protagonists, real clear antagonists, and real nice climaxes," Billy says. "And this is like — if you were writing a script for a movie, you couldn't come up with a better story than the Fane Lozman story. One minute he's there with his dog and his bag of groceries watching federal marshals tow away his house, and the next moment he's in the Supreme Court, and he's kicking their ass and winning. You don't get a better story than that."
A 16-year radio industry veteran who previously worked at Sirius XM and New York's 90.7 WFUV and hosted Between the Liner Notes, Billy says he's been interested in censorship since the fifth grade. That was when he and his friends got in trouble for mounting a campaign to integrate their school's single-gender lunchroom tables. Today, with the redacted Mueller report and accusations of censorship on college campuses, it feels like an especially relevant topic — and fertile ground for a new show.
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Bleeped, which is set to release its first five episodes on June 18, focuses on the people caught up in censorship attempts, telling their stories in a narrative format.
"I didn't want to make it academic; I didn't want to make it dissecting Supreme Court decisions or doing line-by-line First Amendment analysis," Billy says. "I wanted it to be about ordinary people who were censored in some way — often by a corporation, but sometimes by a local government — and show what happened to them, the impact on their lives, and how they fought back. And a lot of times, they ended up winning."
He plans on releasing 24 episodes a year. The first few shows will highlight cases across the country and delve into topics such as "ag-gag" laws, which ban undercover filming or photography at agricultural facilities. Then there's the Lozman case, for which Lozman was interviewed at length.
"I didn't think it could be real. I mean, this is like the plot line for kind of a corny movie, right?" Billy says. "That's kind of why I like doing stories in Florida, because they tend to be a little extreme like this."