The Longest Half-Hour in Television (But Ron Book Likes It)

I want my half hour back. Or was it an eternity? Because it seemed like an eternity.

I'm talking about the time spent watching the talk show CountyLine on the Broward School Board-funded cable station BECON. I opined on BECON last week and my opinion hasn't changed. BECON must die. The fact that this government P.R. station is funded by taxpayers to the tune of a million dollars a year is made even more outrageous by the fact that we're laying off hundreds of teachers right now. 

The host of Countyline is Frank Loconto, who is one of those guys who you wonder how in the world he could ever get his own show until you realize the government is paying for it. Loconto, who is pictured on the left, is a voice-over guy and former singer who isn't a journalist (obviously) but a political lackey. One of his many jobs is campaign jingle writer and he's worked for such prominent local politicians as former Congressman Larry Smith (yes, the one who was indicted) and Deerfield Beach Commissioner Sylvia Poitier. Loconto also had a dubious deal with former Broward Sheriff Nick Navarro that paid him a thousand dollars a month to write anti-drug and public safety jingles for children. Ron Cochran, when he won the office, promptly fired Loconto and the Miami Herald wrote an article highlighting Loconto's incredibly inane lyrics (one sample: "Swimming is lots of fun. Swimming is lots of fun. Sing it again!"). Loconto made $75,000 off BSO before it was over, though. Among his billings to taxpayers during his time with BSO was a $65 lunch at the French Quarter and ten days at the Fort Lauderdale Film Festival (he told reporter Larry Keller at the time that he didn't remember why he billed BSO for the film festival). So he's a veteran when it comes to leeching off the public dime. His most prominent political jingle, by the way, was one for Bob Graham titled, "Be A Graham Cracker Backer." 

I know this all sounds like a joke, but it isn't. A lot of the stuff about Loconto goes like that. What is decidedly unfunny is his show. His goes through the motions with his guests until the time is gone. Irreparably, interminably gone. It's sad, because you would hope that a jingle writer would at least be entertaining in his sycophancy. Loconto is not.

Monday night, Loconto had George LeMieux on the show. LeMieux, who was Charlie Crist's right hand man during his run for governor, is, on the public level, surely one of the dullest human beings on the planet Earth. I'm sure you get him in a campaign room and that's a little different, but put him on CountyLine with Loconto and listenting to him brings tears of boredom to your eyes. Remember sitting through a horrible and treacherously long sermon when you were eight years old? Listening to LeMieux and Loconto makes you wish for that. Actually if you want to revisit those restless church moments, go to Loconto's bizarre "Singing Rosary" website. (And you thought it couldn't get any weirder). Or go watch the Lawrence Welk Show. That'll simulate that good ol' Loconto feeling. 

Loconto led off by politely plugging everything LeMieux has ever done, including the online reports that he does with the Gunster Yoakley law firm where he now works.

"You have a radio show too -- George, you're everywhere, ha ha ha," Loconto said.

Yes, George LeMieux is everywhere. Aren't you sick of seeing and hearing about him all the time? Dude is so overexposed. Soon thereafter, Loconto stopped him to ask one of his more probing questions of the evening.

"But now let's talk for a moment, we have two great parties in this state, of course, Democrats have a good hold here still in Broward County, George, but Independents are a great part of our electorate now," Loconto preluded. "How does the Republican Party approach independents when it comes time, election time?"

This isn't a horrible question, just a very bad and imprecise one. And LeMieux, if he wasn't LeMieux, might have been able to give an interesting answer. He was LeMieux, though.

"There's really no mystery how you win elections, it's with good candidates," LeMieux said. "Broward County is the most Democratic county in the state of Florida, overwhelmingly Democrat. You still elect Al Lamberti sheriff as a Republican. And why did that happen? Because he was a better candidate, the people trusted him and knew he would do a good job. We can win elections in Broward ... but you do it with good candidates."

That's a big flappy tortilla of dull wrapped around a shameless plug for Al Lamberti. Take a big bite and I guarantee you'll gag.

We also learned that LeMieux likes the idea of the sheriff and other government officers being elected ("The people seem to like it ... and I generally operate under the principle of if it's not broke you probably don't need to fix it") and that, gasp!, he's going to help Charlie Crist in his U.S. Senate bid.

"Of course [Crist] referred to you as a maestro, you know, after the gubernatorial successes," Loconto led in before literally handing the floor to LeMieux, who is pictured at right.

"Yeah that's a high bar," said LeMieux.

"Ha ha ha ha ha," said Loconto, finding humor in something where there was absolutely, positively none. Loconto, understand, is humanly incapable of anything remotely funny. He is missing that gene entirely.  

I told you it was boring. It's even boring writing this. Probably boring reading it, too, so I don't blame you if you click elsewhere. Anyway, Loconto then went through about eight different races, naming candidates, but neither LeMieux nor Loconto imparted anything of any value or interest whatsoever. Take this exchange between Loconto and LeMieux on the governor's race between leading contenders Alex Sink and Bill McCollum, please:   

LEMIEUX: It'll be a very hotly contested race and it'll be sort of the big race to watch this year.

LOCONTO: I would think so. Because if she were successful, for instance, Alex would be the first female governor in this state, which would be unique in a fashion. And Bill McCollum has certainly made his mark here in Florida as a U.S. congressman for many years and now serving as the attorney general. As you indicated, it's going to be a hot race.

LEMIEUX: It'll be a very hotly contested match.   

LOCONTO: Now the Florida Cabinet all four seats are up for grabs right now ...

On the attorney general's race:

LOCONTO: That might be a pretty, not contentious too much, but an interesting one.

LEMIEUX: It should be a very interesting, that's a very important job, being attorney general of Florida.

Then LeMieux surprisingly predicted that fellow Republican Jeff Atwater would win his race. You get the picture. Another gem:

LOCONTO: Is it still, can we use the word contentious up there between both parties or do you see some coming together because there's always talk on both sides of the fences that he won't give and she won't give."

LEMIEUX: I think it's pretty good.

Then LeMieux, which he did numerous times through the half hour of hell, plugged his buddy Crist. Then Loconto said it's important to save the Everglades and LeMieux agreed ("it's tremendously important") before he praised Crist again.

It droned on and on and on and on that way. LeMieux basically gave an infomercial for Crist while Loconto played his faithful sidekick (the host actually said things like "Oh, good" and "That's good for Florida, right?" after LeMieux gave his pitches). This is stuff that makes you pine -- pine I say -- for the likes of Helen Ferre.

And again, this dreck is government-sponsored. You're paying for it. 

But maybe I'm wrong. Directly after the show was finished, an esteemed lobbyist in Florida personally endorsed Loconto and his show on the air. To wit:   

"Hi I'm Ron Book and when I want to know the issues of Broward County and what faces the people of Broward County I watch it here on County Line on BECON television in Broward County, Florida." 

If Ron Book vouches for it, how could it be so bad?

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman