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10/14/2009

Columns > Happytown

Happytown

 

There’s something in the air over at public radio station WMFE (90.7-FM): We’ve heard gurglings that the station is going all talk and news at month’s end. Yay! But don’t tell anybody, because WMFE top gun José Fajardo has warned employees that the secret will be kept or else, and there aren’t many heads left on staff to roll.

It’ll be an expensive change, one that hasn’t happened already because the classical music format is ingrained and cheap. But for evidence of this new direction, look no further than the news department.

Former local Morning Edition host David Pitman moved on to Houston in July. New host Tom Parkinson, here from Kent, Ohio, went on the air in September. Also on the team are Judith Smelser, news director, and Mark Simpson, assistant radio news director. In other doings, Pat Duggins, a veteran of the WMFE newsroom distinguished for his NASA reporting and book, started his new job last week as news director for Alabama Public Radio in Tuscaloosa, Ala., after parting ways with WMFE this summer. And he’s working on a second book about NASA.

WMFE didn’t quite make its fundraising goals before the fiscal year ended: The station fell $64,000 short of the $210,000 drive for radio, but was right on target for TV with $35,000. So they had to add a couple more days to the effort, which raises the big question of how WMFE is going to pay for costly news and talk programs. Hmm.

Is it just coincidence that WMFE’s former CEO and president, Stephen McKenney Steck, is now running his own organization, the “Carroll McKenney Foundation for Public Media”? The nonprofit is a donor-funded producer of radio news content run by Steck and his wife out of their home in Oviedo.

As for classical music, the 24-7 national satellite feed (which has been streaming for the last four months) on WMFE’s HD2 channel will now be the only way to catch it, should you find yourself jonesing for Brahms.

While you were busy wondering if throwing a spaceship at the moon would result in a celestial geyser or a new water park in space – it didn’t – our favorite local name, Dick Batchelor, has been keeping himself busy with more terrestrial aquatic concerns.

Batchelor, who served in the Florida House of Representatives right up through the heady Hi Infidelity days of REO Speedwagon (and then some: 1974-1982, actually), has a dry bone to pick with Florida Senate Bill 2080, a law meant to address water conservation approved by the guv on June 30 and made effective July 1.

Specifically, Batchelor has a problem with a sneakily approved last-minute amendment to the law put forth by State Sen. J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, that grants authority to water management district directors to issue consumptive use permits without input from local governments and private citizens.

Under the new law, all that pesky input from board members and grumpy public hearings can be bypassed so that developers and water bottling companies can more quickly get on with the business of ruining Florida – businesses like Niagara Bottling Co., who are set to drain 500,000 gallons of water daily from the St. Johns River.

The move makes Batchelor, who still wields considerable influence from his downtown Orlando consultant business, the Dick Batchelor Management Group, angry. Well, as angry as nice guy Batchelor gets, anyway.

“While I am considering whether or not to file a lawsuit against the legislature for violation of the government ‘in the sunshine’ laws or against water management districts to enjoin them from implementing the referenced amendment,” he wrote in an e-mail blast on Oct. 7, “there might be an interim alternative for the governor, i.e. executive rules and/or legislative fix.”

Huh?

Actually, attached to his signature on the law, Gov. Charlie Crist included a confusing softball letter encouraging the water management districts to continue seeking public input and putting permitting issues on their agendas, just for effect. This, dear reader, is what passes for transparency in Florida.

Batchelor further complains in a letter he sent directly to Crist on Oct. 2 that the law as it stands “is discriminatory in that it provides unfettered access to public hearing processes for the rejected applicants (i.e. water bottling companies), but denies such appellate opportunities by any member of the public, or a public entity, when the recommended permit is issued.”

“In my opinion,” he continues, “this is a classic case of bureaucracy making decisions under the shadow of darkness and completely outside the protection of Florida’s historical sunshine law provisions, thus violating the public’s constitutional right to petition their government.”

Batchelor advises Crist to issue executive orders on public input – rather than an “oh, hey, guys, do whatever looks best to you” – and subsequently work toward reversing the controversial amendment.

Thanks, Dick. We’re going to keep on loving you.

Freedom! “I mean, it’s real hard to be free when you are bought and sold in the marketplace,” mused Jack Nicholson’s George Hanson in the 1969 biker-weed epic Easy Rider. “Of course, don’t ever tell anybody that they’re not free, ’cause then they’re gonna get real busy killin’ and maimin’ to prove to you that they are.”

Well, it’s a good thing that Nicholson’s perpetually distracted by the bouncing balls of the L.A. Lakers these days, because somebody’s gone and put a dollar sign in front of his countercultural tour de force, turning it into an ill-advised sequel. Or prequel?

“Part sequel, part prequel, Easy Rider: The Ride Back delves into the family lineage of Wyatt ‘Captain America’ Williams (played in the original by Peter Fonda) and the family’s trials and tribulations throughout the decades of the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s and ’70s to present day,” reads a press release that infiltrated our inbox last week. Oh, no.

Apparently, two members of the cast – most notably Sheree Wilson from Walker: Texas Ranger! – will be riding their hogs into Daytona’s annual celebration of noise, body hair and bellies, Biketoberfest, on Oct. 16 and 17, charming the masses with autographs on posters that you have to pay for.

Oddly enough, the film promises to highlight the “continuing search for freedom in an America that is struggling to find its identity.” Good luck finding it there.

May we have a moment of silence, please, for the passing of a fine publication … thank you. No, we’re not talking about the Orlando Sentinel. We said “fine” publication. (Oh god, we kill us.) We speak of the late print edition of Reax, a statewide music mag full of piss and vinegar. We loved the attitude and the beautiful layout, and we were jealous of their full-color format. The Tampa-based publication called it quits with its 40th issue, which featured lit-geek rockers the Decemberists on the cover.

Publisher Joel Cook says it may not be the end. “I’m actually weighing my options right now,” he wrote in an e-mail. “I’ve had a few offers come to the table. I’ve turned down a few, but [I’m] keeping options open. There have been talks of syndication, but it takes time and the will. I’ll keep you updated as things go down. It really comes down to what I want to do next. We’ve built a hell of brand and don’t want to tarnish it. ”

Reax will still live online at www.reax music.com. But the passing of a good magazine makes it hard to shake the feeling that printing things on dead trees really is a dying tradition. This column being the exception, of course.

happytown@orlandoweekly.com
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