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

Farrel's pretrial deposition, Silver says, "bordered on the bizarre": The broadcaster was so obfuscatory and recalcitrant that the deposition required three separate sessions to complete. Farrel's attorney, West Palm Beach-based John Marinelli, would bark out objections, terrier-like, every other minute, stonewalling the proceedings. When New Times arrived at one deposition (they are not, as a matter of course, closed to the public), he and his client called a recess and angrily stalked out.

The voice on the tapes of the allegedly slanderous broadcasts is unmistakably Farrel's, and he never denies it. But he never admits it, either. He believes the tapes are "not authentic," but he pleads memory failure. "I do not know that that is my voice or that those are my comments," he testifies repeatedly.

A letter is introduced in evidence; Farrel "doesn't recall writing it." He wrote another letter, he says, on the same topic, to the same address, but he doesn't recall the content. He had a copy, he says, but a computer failure destroyed it. "I was fraudulently misrepresented," he says.

How will Farrel do if he testifies in court? "He'll make a horrible witness," predicts Silver.

Farrel's fellow hosts haven't exactly rallied to his defense. Most have said they don't know enough about the case to comment. Afternoon host Falco says it's a First Amendment issue, that "someone who doesn't like what Dick has to say is trying to get him off the air." But Falco also admits he has "no firsthand knowledge" of the case. Wil Van Natta, a fervent leftwinger with a Tuesday-morning show, says Farrel is just "an ill-informed guy with a nasty disposition."

Marinelli has declined to comment on the case, as have station owner Antonoff and his attorneys. Silver thinks the station's defense will rely on the fact that Farrel, not WPBR, produces his show. That and their hourly disclaimer.

"They think that's a magic shield," Silver says. "It isn't." He cites Florida statute 770.04, which holds radio station owners liable for damages for defamatory statements uttered as a part of a broadcast if they "failed to exercise due care" to prevent such statements.

"Even after being informed [of Farrel's behavior], the station refused to investigate," Silver says. "They never cared."

Silver hasn't specified how much his client is seeking in damages. "The thrust is to correct the record and restore Larry's reputation," he said. "Initially, he wanted very little, a few thousand [dollars]." But his client's position has hardened, Silver says. The station broadcast a retraction, but Silver derides it. "They said they were sorry Larry was offended, but they didn't say it was untrue.... The Talmud says a man's reputation is his life. How much is that worth?" He says the chance of a settlement is "nil."

Whatever dollar amount Ferrara goes after, it will be WPBR, not Farrel, with the deep pockets. Silver, who is working on contingency, may end up being paid out of the station's coffers. How much they contain is an open question, however. According to FCC files, the station has had trouble paying its legal bills in the Ferrara suit. If it turns out there's nothing there, Silver says, he'd be just as happy to take the station as payment.

"It's a bit of a zoo, a crazy little station, isn't it?" Silver says, dreamily. "If we win, I want to take it over and use it to protect the environment. We'll have a beacon of light."

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