Talk radio is a far cry from physics, but certain rules apply in both fields. For every action, there tends to be a reaction. For every Lizz Brown, there tends to be a Gary Wiegert -- almost.
Brown is on the air at WGNU (920 AM) every weekday for three hours, starting at 6 a.m. Her catchphrase is "Living my life as a liberal and loving it," but tune in to her show and the topic won't be Sen. Paul Wellstone's latest attempt to stop employers from busting unions. Brown talks about race and racism. What Freud did for sex -- see it as the underlying cause of everything short of why the sun rose in the east -- Brown does for race. Most of her callers seem to agree, except for a few agitated ones who call in trying to catch her in some inconsistency.
The release of Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon's report on racial profiling was more fuel for Brown, and believe it: She would show up at a five-alarm fire with a can of kerosene. The data seem to suggest that in many suburban duchies, a disproportionate number of blacks are stopped by police. One caller anxious to nail Brown asked whether statistics for Kinloch offered evidence of reverse racial profiling, given that 24 percent of the motorists stopped by police in nearly all-black Kinloch were white. Brown was unfazed. Nope, what was happening in Kinloch was still racial profiling of blacks, because whites in Kinloch are automatic suspects. Why else would whites be in Kinloch, except to buy drugs?
So either way it happens, it's all about race, baby.
The man responsible for putting Brown on the air is the mad scientist of Mound City talk radio, Chuck Norman. From his 13th-floor laboratory at Pershing Avenue and Union Boulevard, Norman has gathered a talk-show Frankenstein factory. Most hosts only broadcast once a week for a few hours, making some spare change taking a percentage of the ad revenue from their shows. Brown is the WGNU host who makes a living -- a good one, according to Norman and Brown -- solely from her radio work. And a frequent target for Brown is the police in general and city police in particular.
Police do fire back, at least in the figurative sense. Recently Brown's car was towed for unpaid parking tickets, a bit of retribution or routine street justice that received considerable notice on CopTalk, the unofficial city police Web site. But Brown's banging on the cops, heightened by the beating of Gregory Bell and the death of Julius Thurman, finally has triggered a radio response. Last week, Gary Wiegert, head of the St. Louis Police Officers Association, was the host of his own show on WGNU. Though Wiegert doesn't have a weekly slot and was described as a "guest host," Norman predicts he'll become a regular.
"I think he's going to be a regular talk-show host here, yeah," says the 75-year-old Norman. "He's just another guy doing a talk show, and it just so happens he's with the police department. The two are not connected in any way. Well, he might say a little bit of that, yeah, but he's here to discuss anything. He can discuss politics, movies or Broadway shows, whatever's in the news."
Sure. Wiegert will be flooded with callers asking, "Do you really think The Producers deserved all those Tony Awards?" Or how about: "Was 'Springtime for Hitler' your favorite song from that show?" Jeez, Chuck, the calls will be about cops. Brown agrees. "I can't help but believe part of the show is in response to what they perceive me to be," she says. "Maybe they just wanted to be close to me -- maybe that's what it is. Maybe they just have a serious crush on me."
During Wiegert's first show, most of the calls were about cops and crime. Typical was one caller's riff: "You can't even walk in and buy something in a fast-food place without the fear that someone might come in and rob it and shoot the owner and maybe shoot you for what you got. I mean it's just fear, fear in the 10th Ward. Anything it takes to do it, like the Giuliani deal, I'm all for it."
Wiegert thanked the caller and responded: "I like that style that [Mayor Rudy] Giuliani presented in New York. Basically, the criminals and gangs were taking over the city. They went into a total enforcement-type mode where they wanted to suppress even the minor-type activity." But then, Wiegert admitted, problems arose when an unarmed man, Amadou Diallo, was shot 41 times and killed by four New York policemen, who were later cleared. "[Diallo] did unusual actions," Wiegert said on his show. "I mean, he was an immigrant and didn't understand the actions of this country, or what is suspicious and what isn't suspicious, and he ended up being shot."
Yeah, reaching for your wallet and holding it up -- immigrants don't realize how suspicious that is. Wiegert recently walked off the stage at Harris-Stowe State College during a panel discussion about police and the media. During the discussion, he said he wouldn't bother to return calls from the St. Louis American or the Riverfront Times. True to his word, he didn't return a call from Short Cuts. Maybe next time his show airs, he'll take a call. Short Cuts would love to know what he thinks of the revival of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.