- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Tom deSabla had no experience. He was just an average guy looking for a soapbox.

A month ago, the Brookeville resident and father of three got his wish.

“Everybody wasn’t beating down my door,” says Mr. deSabla of his quest to become a radio host. Now, with two hours a day at his disposal on World Radio WMET-AM (1160), the self-described libertarian says he is “trying to spread the word of freedom.”

World Radio, a kind of vanity press of the airwaves based in Silver Spring, is one of the city’s few paid-programming stations. All broadcasters, with the exception of the Greaseman during the morning drive, pay to be on the air.

It’s a format that General Manager Dennis Israel credits for WMET’s diverse schedule — a lineup that includes, in addition to Mr. deSabla’s views, Ethiopian news and big-band tunes.

“When you have variety programming, it certainly is extremely difficult” to subsist on advertising revenues, he says of the station, which is owned by New Jersey-based IDT Corp. He made the decision to switch the former traditional talk station to paid programming in March 2006.

WMET’s 50,000-watt transmission tower can be heard as far north as the Pennsylvania line all the way over to West Virginia, Mr. Israel says.

The going rate for broadcasting between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. is $350 per hour. Broadcasters are free to resell portions of their time to advertisers in effort to recoup some of the costs. The station provides them technical support.

Mr. deSabla, whose show runs from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays, says it was a spat with Chris Core, a morning talk-radio host on WMAL-AM (630), several years ago that helped inspire him to start his own show.

Mr. deSabla says Mr. Core invited him on his show to represent the libertarian viewpoint, only to later renege on his invitation. “I think he detected something in my philosophy that was so contradictory to his,” he says of Mr. Core’s brushoff. “Maybe he was scared I would prove it or something.”

Mr. Core says, “There was no promise or time named, and obviously I always discuss with my producer and program director about guests before booking them. Tom then began to badger me with e-mails … he continued to the point of being a pest … this is probably four years ago or so, and that he is still carrying that grudge speaks for itself.”

When the opportunity arose, the brash Mr. deSabla grabbed for his chance at the microphone, even if he had to pay for it.

And he has shown a knack for the medium by making enemies quickly. In just one month, he lost a producer who was offended by his view that Don Imus’ comments were no worse than those of rap artists.

“The first thing I’ve got to do is get out there,” the 46-year-old says, acknowledging that his show currently falls far short of the radio powerhouse he envisions. “I intend on being the biggest and best talk-show host in the world.”

Mr. Israel, for his part, is under no illusions about WMET’s niche appeal.

“There just isn’t a place where different constituencies or ethnic groups could really put on a show and be heard,” he says. “We may have three or four hours of Ethiopian-language programs. English-speaking people like myself can’t listen to it. We’re doing a service for those people, but certainly, we’re wiping out a huge audience.”

As for Arbitron ratings, Mr. Israel says the station shows up periodically — stations must meet a listener threshold to be listed — thanks to the Greaseman. “Very honestly, I couldn’t care less.”

Channel Surfing runs Wednesdays. E-mail krowland@ washingtontimes.com.

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