Making Airwaves

At the wackiest stop on your AM dial, a loudmouth host plays the politics of personal destruction -- and gets his station in big trouble

It's 7:06 a.m. on Wednesday, February 6, and Palm Beach County's last outpost of locally produced talk radio, WPBR-AM (1340) is on the air. The station's disclaimer has run -- "The views and opinions expressed on this program are those of the host, guests, and callers and do not necessarily represent those of WPBR, its staff, management, or advertisers" -- and morning drive-time host Dick Farrel is a few minutes into his show.

A big man with a walrus mustache, Farrel sits at a microphone in the station's glass-walled broadcast booth, his body stuffed knockwurst-like into a sweatshirt and bicycle shorts, a headset bracketing his pompadour. The "Live Viewing Studio" occupies the front room of a first-floor suite in a featureless office plaza at 1217 S. Military Trl. in West Palm Beach, surrounded by used-car lots, fast-food joints, and assorted small businesses. Out in the parking lot, Farrel's white Toyota Avalon sits baking in the sun, an "I stand with President George W. Bush" sticker on its rear bumper, a scrunched-up McDonald's takeout bag on the back seat.

Farrel gives out the time, the weather, and the station call numbers, then launches a blast at one of his favorite targets -- Palm Beach County government. Two of its agencies are in the crosshairs today: the sheriff's office and the Division of Animal Care and Control.

"Cat's Paws Hacked Off!" Farrel cries, newsboy style, referring to a story that first appeared in the Stuart News/Port St. Lucie News on February 2. "Sheriff and Animal Chaos Don't Want to Have Anything to Do with It! Details straight ahead..." Teaser in place, Farrel expands on the weather report, then screams another headline.

"Palm Beach Post Takes Bribes!" he brays. "It's a story you'll hear only on WPBR and on the Dick Farrel Website: Palm Beach Post Reporter Admits Journalism For Sale!" Details to follow, he promises.

But few details ever come. Most of Farrel's two hours are spent bashing the sheriff ("the anal orifice"), the Post (the "Puke Rag"), Palm Beach County ("more like Nazi Germany every day"), and Star Trek ("the culmination of One World Government").

Such potshots are typical not only of Farrel but of WPBR's entire motley crew of talk jocks. The 1000-watt station may not be "The Voice of the Palm Beaches" that it claims to be, but it's definitely some voices -- some mighty peculiar ones.

None of these self-appointed pundits shoots from the lip with quite the abandon of Dick Farrel. In fact, his ad hominem personal attacks have already gotten him in trouble.

Today, while crusading for feline justice, Farrel gives no sources or facts to back up his indictment. "Some fiend" has mutilated the cat, Farrel says, and "according to the [unnamed] Animal Care and Control director... they have no intention of doing anything to help." With no supporting evidence, he says the sheriff too has washed his hands of the matter.

On the Post's alleged bribery solicitation, Farrel says that when "a WPBR associate" asked "[Post] reporter Don [sic] Weil" about the meager mention of the station in an article on local radio in the Post's business section, Weil responded "You didn't send me the thousand-dollar check!"

"No other media outlet in this community dares to expose the perfidy and criminal behavior of a Palm Beach Puke Rag reporter," Farrel boasts, "except me." The day's callers don't share Farrel's outrage at the Post, however, and they've got their own takes on the cat.

Union John, a WPBR regular, agrees the mutilation is a travesty. But if the county isn't doing anything about it, he asks, "What's new in America?" Andy in Palm Beach calls to say the cat story may have been cooked up by the media "to sell papers." Sean from West Palm begs to differ. "Andy," he says, "you are a sack of it, you moron." Sean speculates that the cat's mutilator was "one of these imports from the Third World using his machete" and offers "a thousand for each of that person's hands to be hanging in City Hall."

But the callers' comments are beside the point. Farrel's charges are a combination of half-truths and outright lies.

Even as Farrel spoke, the cat in question was in the care of Paws-2-Help, a privately run, West Palm Beach animal shelter. (The cat had reconstructive surgery soon thereafter.) Paws-2-Help worker Sigrid Kumpe told New Times, "There was no need to have Animal Care and Control here." Kumpe said the sheriff's office had "helped right away." The story later got considerable play in the Sun-Sentinel and the Palm Beach Post.

As for Farrel's attack on the Post, the reporter Farrel targeted calls the commentator's assessment a deliberate distortion. "I joked with him," Dan Weil told New Times. "Later, I told him that the story was hurried. There were space considerations too. He seriously believes I asked for money? There was a roomful of people there."

Post editor Ed Sears called Farrel's charges "patently false" but not worth the trouble of legal action. "It's not as if we were dealing with someone with some credibility," he said.

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