Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Suspicious white powder scares Santa Cruz stations

A KSCO radio station worker opened an envelope filled with a mysterious white powder Monday afternoon, prompting authorities to quarantine the station and close a half-mile stretch of Portola Drive for more than four hours.

The county Hazardous Materials Team and county Environmental Health Department officials sealed the area off because of concern the powder could be a dangerous substance, such as anthrax, said Sgt. Fred Plageman of the Sheriff's Office.

"We have no idea what it is," Central Fire Protection District spokesman Mike DeMars said Monday afternoon.

Three station employees were exposed to the powder, but none showed symptoms of exposure to a hazardous substance, authorities said. The three were hosed off with decontaminants and changed out of their clothes and into so-called clean suits. They were allowed to leave around 5:30 p.m. Monday, about 15 minutes after Portola Drive reopened. Three other workers at the station were not exposed to the powder.

Plageman said there was a "preliminary indication" the substance is not hazardous. Tests will be done today to determine what it is; a sample was sent to the FBI, authorities said.

"We're just erring on the side of caution," DeMars said.

The powder came out of a legal-size envelope with no return address delivered to the building Monday, DeMars said. An employee opened the envelope, which contained nothing but the powder, around 1:15 p.m., DeMars said.

The station is KSCO in Santa Cruz. KSCO's owners also own KOMY, which is an Air America Radio affiliate. KOMY is perhaps one of the weakest of AAR's affiliates, in that the station is hardly promoted, the owners obviously hate the programming, and complain about lack of advertisers, even though the station appears to have no sales department. The two-station cluster is a mom-and-pop operation (actually, a mom-and-son operation) owned by Michael and Kay Zwerling.

Some may remember a controversial dustup in October 2001, when Peter Werbe's then-syndicated show aired on KOMY in the mornings. The Zwerlings were appalled by Werbe's controversial attacks on the Bush Administration, and Michael Zwerling went on the air during Werbe's show and denounced the show and its host, 'apologizing' to the people of Santa Cruz for having him on "his" airwaves. On Oct. 18, Zwerling, called Peter an "asshole," because the station was allegedly receiving so many complaints. Local residents are considering a license challenge and a complaint for the owner's language.

If that wasn't enough, Mom went on the air with her own editorial, and bashed Werbe for being such a meanie.

Fast-forward three years later. KOMY and the Zwerlings give it another go. They affiliate with Air America after some tough negotiations (the Zwerlings wanted to put Michael Savage's show on the same station, and AAR would not allow it). Finally, KOMY cleared three shows from AAR - Franken, Rhodes and The Majority Report. But this was not the end of it. A couple months later, Michael Zwerling went on a whinefest to the local media, complaining that area liberals weren't beating down the door to buy advertising time on KOMY. In protest, they even pulled "Majority Report" and started airing infomercials in its place. After receiving some not-so-nice letters from listeners, Zwerling even went on the air again (the Zwerlings are fond of on-air editorials) and blasted the listeners who sent them. They aired another announcement that they have been receiving vicious hate mail critizing the Kay Zwerling editorials, and saying that they want hypocritical Air America listeners to send in money or they would yank the AAR programming off the station.

Of course, the conventional wisdom was that they amped up the drama a bit in 'playing the victim', and it was likely that the Zwerlings' over the top editorializing was turning off listeners. Nonetheless, yet another adventure in the continuing adventures of perhaps the country's weirdest progressive talk station.


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