Savage Station

The Sun-Sentinel's news station, WFTL-AM (850), was an oasis of local talk. Now it's just another haven for hate.

As if Hurricane Katrina victims didn't have enough going against them, now they're the latest targets of hate radio. Just listen to Fort Lauderdale's WFTL-AM (850), the 50,000-watt home of the Sun-Sentinel and Florida Marlins. It's also the home of some of the most radical right-wing voices in America.

One regular syndicated host, Atlanta-based Neil Boortz, contended after the disaster struck that a "huge percentage" of the evacuees from New Orleans were "parasites, like ticks on a dog." Then he warned, "They are coming to a community near you."

When a caller remarked that most of the evacuees were fat, Boortz readily agreed. "They didn't drown because you couldn't push them underwater if you had to," he chortled.

Then there's Kelley Mitchell, who spent a week broadcasting at the Houston Astrodome among flood victims. Mitchell, a big-boned blond who spent years on South Florida television news stations, didn't seem too concerned about the harrowing stories from the people in the stadium. Instead, she was virtually obsessed with the reports of looting and railed for days against the alleged behavior of poor New Orleans blacks during the disaster. She took to calling the state "Lose-iana" and announced she was boycotting any monetary donations to the victims.

"If I heard, 'I'm looking for my mom, my dad, and my "baby-daddy" again,' I would cringe...," she said, referring to the victims who had lost relatives. "Everybody knows it's important to speak English but these knuckleheads."

Who cares if the knuckleheads in questions lost relatives in a flood; the news here is that they don't talk right and may have had children out of wedlock. Another Mitchell gem: "When I see bad behavior... that's when it became about race. Whoever got over deep-seated prejudices is now wondering if it was right to do so."

Yeah, Kelley, maybe that whole civil rights thing was a bad idea. Why did we think blacks could ever behave in the first place? In her wisdom, though, Mitchell decided that black people have a purpose in America, though she couldn't help but wonder why they have to "spend every dime on an Escalade."

"We need to let black America know, we do want you, but we want you on the terms of the United States of America," she explained in a voice that sometimes sounds eerily similar to that of similarly built actress Kathy Bates. "And we want you to be full and complete human beings."

That's just a taste of the hate WFTL has been serving in Katrina's aftermath. Maybe once the corpses have been gathered, the hosts will stop tiptoeing around and say what they really mean.

To find out who is supporting this toxic drivel, all you have to do is open the Sentinel, which has had an exclusive cross-promotion and news-sharing agreement with the station since October 2003. The newspaper's reporters share their stories on the radio during the early-morning news show. The rest of the day, you hear a bunch of those sad and pathetic Sentinel"How Can I Help You" ads. The Tribune-owned paper, in turn, runs ads for 850, touting WFTL as "Your Sun-Sentinel News Station."

When I asked Tribune spokesman Kevin Courtney why my Sun-Sentinelnews station had become a refuge of the right wing, he declined to comment ("We choose not to participate," he told me twice before bidding me adieu). To be fair, it has to be said that WFTL was an entirely different radio station when the deal with the newspaper was inked two years ago. Based in Fort Lauderdale, "Live 85" had just been born, and with a signal that went from Fort Pierce to Key Biscayne, it was a burgeoning force in local radio. Again, that's local radio, meaning that 850 had on it a slew of people who live here, talking about South Florida issues.

But last month, the bold local format was snuffed out. The station canceled its last three homegrown shows, one starring local yokels Russ Morley and Mickey Miller, another featuring dueling lawyers Norm Kent and Al Milian, and the other with the budding sociologist herself, Kelley Mitchell.

What's left is an all right-wing, all nationally syndicated lineup. From 9 a.m. to noon, there's Dr. Laura. Yes that ol' gay-bashing chestnut. The next three hours you have Boortz, a pro-Iraq War libertarian who wants to throw the disenfranchised to the wolves. Then there's a special hour of reruns of Michael Savage, who is now WFTL's signature voice. You may remember the bilious Savage from his short stint on MSNBC in 2003. He was fired after he yelled at a caller that he was a "sodomite" who "should die of AIDS." Nice. But the San Francisco-based Savage isn't really a conservative -- he's more a huckster fascist.

After that hour, Fox's Bill O'Reilly takes over until 7 (and he seems like one of those nutball liberals next to Savage). Then it's three more hours of prime-time Savage, and to top off the day, there's Republican propagandist Laura Ingraham and a dose of Fox News.

I spoke with WFTL Station Manager Steve Lapa about the end of the grand experiment in local radio, and while he defended his station, the man basically admitted the dream was over. "You invest in local programming, and local programming isn't getting the ratings we would like," he said. "What do you do? The audience told us it didn't work. The audience told us they want a national conversation."

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