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

The internal backbiting among WPBR hosts grew so bad that station management issued a general circular last October threatening to ban any host "who uses his or her show to discredit another talk show host." Still, station Federal Communications Commission files include a note this January from evening host Johnny Sexton complaining about badmouthing of his and other programs by Farrel and afternoon host Joe Falco.

Despite all the bickering, Antonoff loves his audio baby. The station is "a chance for local talent," he says, notes of optimism and wonder in his voice. "Rush Limbaugh wouldn't be where he is today if some small California station hadn't given him a chance."

When it comes to Farrel, Larry Ferrara has gone from lap dog to watchdog to attack dog
Joshua Prezant
When it comes to Farrel, Larry Ferrara has gone from lap dog to watchdog to attack dog
Barry Silver likes his client's chances against Farrel
Joshua Prezant
Barry Silver likes his client's chances against Farrel

Dick Farrel is no Rush Limbaugh. Cultivating a "mad as hell and not going to take it anymore" persona -- ultraconservative, superpatriotic, and bitterly populist -- he bounced around the airwaves in the Northeast, Georgia, and South Florida for almost 30 years. Farrel has held down broadcasting jobs at a series of more prominent local stations. He broke into the market in 1988 with West Palm Beach-based WJNO-AM (1290), served a brief stint with WIOD-AM (610) in Miami, left the area, and returned to Palm Beach County in 1993 at WBZT-AM (1230).

In January 1999, 15 months after WBZT was swallowed up by mammoth radio network Clear Channel Communications, Farrel was fired. He quickly hooked up with WPBR, however, where Dan Gregory's presence made him a natural political fit. (Palm Beach Post columnist George McEvoy swiftly dubbed the duo "Dumb and Dumber.")

Through sheer persistence, Farrel built a small local following and some petty notoriety. He's been embraced by the Palm Beach County Republican Party and sits on the party's executive committee. Party Chair Mary McCarty makes the occasional appearance on his show, though Farrel's on-air handle for her is "Miss Piggy." Vice Chair Sid Dinerstein features prominently on Farrel's Website, and Dinerstein's own, once-weekly WPBR hour is archived there.

Farrel may be a registered Republican, but his beliefs are muddled. He subscribes to "C-Fact," an antienvironmentalist news service produced by a Christian wing of the Wise Use movement, funded by the oil industry and the nuclear-energy lobby. He made the rounds at the state Libertarian Party's convention in West Palm Beach not long ago; his Website features links to those of the National Rifle Association, the county Chamber of Commerce, the Church of Scientology, and New Age conspiracy theorist Zoh Hieronimus.

Because Farrel's broadcast journalism is untrustworthy, often wildly inaccurate, his account of his career and personal history must also be taken with a grain of salt. He is consistently evasive and/or misleading about the most basic information. New Times has three times approached Farrel for an interview and been rebuffed. On one occasion, he threatened to file harassment charges. On another, he replied, "I don't talk to lowlifes." On the last, he threatened violence.

According to his Website, Farrel "joined the human race" on August 1, 1956, and, according to the WPBR Website, he was "born and bred Richard Kelley Farrel." According to court documents, however, he was born Farrel Levitt. He once told this reporter that he "paid $568 to a New Jersey lawyer" to have his name changed, but he has never done so.

Farrel is enough of a local presence that it's well-known among fans and foes alike that his radio name is phony. It's also widely assumed -- based on his given name -- that he's Jewish, though he dances around the subject. "The fact is, my mother's Jewish," he once told this reporter. "But I have no religion."

Farrel says he holds a 1979 bachelor of arts in communications and political science from the City University of New York and that he served on the New York City police force in the early 1980s. According to an undated Lake Worth Herald article taped to the WPBR office wall, he quit the force after 18 months because he was not promoted, which he attributed to the fact that he was "not a veteran and was white."

Things are not always lovey-dovey between WPBR's morning star and station management, either. An October 2000 note from station owner Antonoff orders that, until a new contract is agreed to, "there shall be no additional air time given to Dick Farrel on WPBR, either directly by contract or by any indirect method which he may concoct to circumvent these instructions." Antonoff told New Times he did not recall the circumstances that prompted the note.

The biggest problem these days for both Farrel and Antonoff is a retired schoolteacher from Tequesta named Larry Ferrara. A former ally of Farrel's, Ferrara was for many years an occasional guest on and frequent caller to Farrel's show. In July 2000, however, Ferrara filed suit against Farrel and WPBR for slander and defamation of character.

A 75-year-old native of Freeport, Long Island, Ferrara is a slight, balding man, unassuming and polite -- unless provoked, when his eyes light up and his voice turns steely. "I just want what's right," he told New Times, speaking softly at first, then snapping: "You've got to get this guy! He's been getting away with murder for years! That station should lose its license!"

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