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Heller Hauled Off

On Aug. 15, local radio talk show host Charles Heller was evicted from KJLL, "The Jolt," while he was on the air. Listeners to his Swap Shop show could hear someone banging on the studio door for several minutes before station personnel cut power to the control board, switched to canned programming and had law-enforcement officers escort Heller from the building, permanently.

"Charles is very outspoken about being armed," says station manager Pat Johnston. "That's why I had the police come when he was leaving the studio; I didn't know what might happen."

Says Heller, who follows Swap Shop with two libertarian shows, Liberty Watch and America Armed & Free, "I'm a gun-aholic; if I can't carry, I don't go, generally. But I'd decided that was not a good time for a gun, so I wasn't armed that day."

As you might expect from a guy who runs a talk show called Liberty Watch and refers to concealed weapons as "rescue tools," Heller is an independent cuss. He has bickered with Johnston during the past 5 1/2 years about controlling the content of his programs. Heller was not a Jolt employee; like Emil Franzi, he bought a block of time from the station that he could then program and sell pretty much as he wished. "As long as I don't swear or violate FCC rules or incite people to armed insurrection, I should be able to say whatever I want," Heller insists.

Heller had balked at Johnston's insistence that he run three minutes of CNN news at the bottom of every hour, to be consistent with the station's other programming. Heller can barely tolerate Fox news, and he has absolutely no respect for CNN or CBS (which has a news segment at the top of each hour). He insisted on running a disclaimer with the newscast and complained that Johnston was confiscating three minutes from each hour of his programming without paying him back.

Over the past month, the dispute over content control escalated, and the two men couldn't come to terms on a new contract. Heller cut a deal to move his shows to KVOI 690 AM, and on Aug. 15 told his listeners he'd be switching stations and to check his Web site for details.

On the air, Heller praised three Jolt employees--Johnston was not among them--and corrected one caller who asked about the frequency Heller would be moving to. Johnston maintains that Heller gave KVOI's call letters on air; Heller denies this. In any event, Johnston instructed the board operator to pass Heller a note telling him not to do that. "I didn't want to be bothered," Heller says, "so I locked everybody out of the studio."

That's when the banging and yelling and police presence began.

Now, Heller's programming package has moved to KVOI. As before, Swap Shop, his on-air flea market, airs 10 a.m. to noon Sundays; Liberty Watch follows, noon to 1 p.m.; and Heller's time concludes 1 to 2 p.m. with his gun show, America Armed & Free.

Meanwhile, at the Jolt, Johnston is expanding Franzi's 8 a.m. Inside Track to run until noon, and September will Bring Jeff Conway's American '70s, a show about the music and lifestyles of the 1970s.

In all this, Heller is careful not to portray himself as a complete victim.

"I'm not innocent," he says. "I'm a porcupine and a pest. But I'm a principled pest."


ROBBINS JOINS NPR

Longtime Arizona Illustrated contributor Ted Robbins is quitting KUAT-TV to become National Public Radio's first Tucson-based full-time reporter. At least for a while, he'll still have an office in the KUAT facilities on the UA campus.

"They graciously allowed me to live in Tucson rather than Phoenix," Robbins says, "adhering to my version of the Groucho Marx joke that anybody who'd live in Phoenix is nobody they'd want to have working for them. They didn't blink an eye at that."

Robbins will cover stories throughout Arizona, New Mexico, West Texas, Southern Nevada, Southern Utah and the Mexican border. He hasn't had to range nearly that far during his 15 years with KUAT, even while simultaneously filing reports for PBS' NewsHour for the past five years. But few of the topics will be new to him: growth, water, border issues, land issues and native peoples.

For the past 30 years, NPR has relied largely on field reports from the independent news staffs of its 750 member stations. Its own full-time reporters have clustered in Washington and New York, plus a few other bureaus around the world, although recently, the network has added staffers in Denver, Salt Lake City and Washington state to a Western crew formerly populated only by Texans and Los Angelinos.

"Our whole vision is to build an editorial and reporting force that looks at the country and the world from the west, and tries to push the ideas and the issues and the culture emanating from the west back onto the East Coast preoccupations of the news," says NPR national editor Ellen Weiss, who hired Robbins. "Now we'll have the country's interior left covered a lot more thoroughly than we have before. I really wanted somebody living and breathing and experiencing that region first-hand to be our eyes and ears for the network."

Weiss says she'd never heard of Robbins before he applied for the job four months ago. "Ted came in over the transom as a total surprise, and even though there were a lot of candidates I already knew, it was absolutely his strength as a reporter that won me over," she says. "We wanted somebody who knows the region and who knows radio, and Ted shined. His ideas were the most interesting, and the most likely to make me open my eyes and say, 'Really?'"

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