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

Ferrara was a full-time teacher in the Palm Beach County school system from 1967 to 1986. He was also an outspoken critic of the schools, regularly calling local radio talk shows -- particularly Farrel's and Gregory's -- to complain about the "lowering of standards" and the internal politics of the school system, its "cliquishness" and "favoritism." The school board's records show that Ferrara was fired for incompetence in 1986. "They set me up for a fall," he maintains.

Ferrara continued his radio call-in career, sounding off on the whole range of public affairs. For the next decade, he bonded with his fellow airwave archconservatives and became a fixture on the local talk-radio scene. He repeatedly discussed his firing by the school board with Farrel, who had him on as a guest as many as half a dozen times. "I believed his problems had some merit," Farrel has testified.

In 1996, for reasons not political, the two men feuded. "I got concerned about his use of language," Ferrara says. He was also shaken by Farrel's "crude" on-air remarks about the Polly Klaas case, in which the convicted killer of a California 12-year-old accused the victim's father of having molested her.

Ferrara turned from a fan to a watchdog, though he told New Times he is unable to pick up WPBR's signal where he lives, near the Martin County line. Unspecified "friends" listened and reported back to him, he says, sending him tapes of Farrel's show.

In late 1998, Farrel's response to the Jeanette Piro murder case further stoked Ferrara's fire. "They found her body in a freezer on Singer Island, and Farrel started playing a parody of "Pretty Woman' called "Frozen Woman,'" Ferrara says. "The jerk really lost me then."

Soon after, Ferrara mounted a campaign to get Farrel's advertisers to boycott the program. "I didn't do anything illegal," Ferrara says. "I just asked them if they ever listened to the show." It worked. One restaurant canceled a $2500 contract that was about to take effect, court records show; another, a longtime advertiser, failed to renew.

Around the same time, a barrage of faxes and letters lampooning Farrel and WPBR began arriving on the desks of WPBR, its sponsors, and other radio stations. The fliers depicted the station as a "500-watt "Toonerville Trolley'" whose advertisers were being "cheated out of their money."

The station tried to trace the messages to Ferrara but failed. Farrel filed a criminal complaint, alleging harassment and interference with a contract, but that also went nowhere. "It wasn't me," Ferrara insists. "I don't even own a fax machine."

In the first months of 1999, Farrel launched the series of broadcast statements that Ferrara calls slander. In taped excerpts from the show that January 19, entered into the court record of Ferrara's lawsuit, Farrel says: "The fired teacher from Tequesta, they really fired him because they were afraid to have him around little boys because of his sexual orientation." On January 27: "This particular homosexual in Tequesta, we really know he no longer is a teacher because they were afraid to let him loose with teenage boys." On February 3: "that scumbag, lowlife fired teacher who lives up in Tequesta.... The real reason they fired him was because he was a homosexual and they were afraid to have him around little boys."

The official school board record of Ferrara's firing paints him as a lousy teacher but makes no reference to homosexuality or pederasty. Farrel has admitted under oath that he never examined the file until after Ferrara sued him, a year after the alleged slander.

In a fine irony, former archconservative Ferrara's lawyer is archliberal Barry Silver, the Boca Raton attorney who last year argued the National Organization for Women's Florida chapter's court challenge to the state's "Choose Life" license plate. A tall, slender man with delicate features, soft eyes, and a Brillo mop of dark hair, Silver says the case is "not a vendetta."

"I don't have any problem with his spewing his venom," Silver says easily. "But stretching the truth about issues is one thing. It's another to do it about people."

There's no love lost on Farrel's side. In his broadcasts, he's called Silver a "draft-dodging phony" and Silver's father, a politically outspoken rabbi, "two-faced" and "arrogant." Farrel has accused both Silvers of racism for supporting NATO's attacks on Serbia and opposing the war in Vietnam. His logic: They favored the use of U.S. troops to save white Kosovars but not to save nonwhite Vietnamese.

Farrel has testified under oath that Silver is part of a conspiracy against him. Complaining that Silver was politically motivated, Farrel asked the Florida Bar Association to remove him from the case. The bar refused.

Silver, himself a rabbi and a former legislator, claims that Farrel offered to support Silver's (ultimately failed) campaign for the 2000 Democratic nomination for state representative if Silver dropped Ferrara's slander suit. Farrel says that's a misrepresentation. "I merely pointed out that the suit made it politically impossible" for Farrel to support him, he says. (That was the only occasion on which Farrel answered a New Times query. Almost immediately afterward, he remembered to whom he was speaking and threatened to "punch your fucking nose down your ass.")

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