A Bethesda map expert has filed suit against WCLY-FM, charging that the radio station failed to award him a trip for two to Paris in a trivia contest because it miscounted Theodore Roosevelt's buttons.
Charles M. Heyda, 43, a scientific linguist for the Defense Mapping Agency, filed a civil suit in Maryland District Court Aug. 8 contending that the statue of the former president on Roosevelt Island has 21 buttons, not the 22 claimed by judges for the station's "Great Classy 95 Washington Trivia Quest" last May.
"I just felt anybody running a contest like that ought to be fair," explains Heyda. "When you go into something like this and do a conscientious job, it is unfair that the contestant has to pay for someone else's mistake. I am a person who likes to see things through to the end."
The Maryland court notified WCLY Friday of Heyda's suit, which seeks $1,738 for the value of the all-expenses-paid, week-long trip to Paris, plus 8 percent interest. Heyda will represent himself in the suit, which has been set for an Oct. 30 hearing.
The contest, cosponsored by Open University and WDCA (Channel 20), was designed by deejay John Dowling and traffic reporter Walt Starling to raise money for Children's Hospital, give listeners an entertaining local history lesson and attract listeners. The two came up with 20 primary and three bonus questions, deliberately including some that Dowling describes as "tricky." The station received about 200 entries.
In his court complaint, Heyda said the contest's "first, second, third and fourth-place prizes were inadvertently awarded to contestants who submitted contest entries containing the wrong answer to Question E, because the contest's preparers . . . mistakenly arrived at the wrong answer to that question themselves . . ."
Heyda picked up his form May 15 at a distribution site in Georgetown, met Dowling and donated $5, the suggested entry fee, to Children's Hospital. A contest buff and veteran of 16 years of researching map names, Heyda breezed through most of the questions the first week and didn't really worry about the now-controversial Question E.
On the contest form it was asked as follows:
"For a man who once up San Juan Hill bounded, find a bully remembrance by river surrounded. How many buttons on his statue?"
Heyda, who is 6 feet 3, went to Roosevelt Island and counted 21 buttons on the statue. He was especially careful, he says, to scrutinize the cuff of the statue's up-raised left arm. "The first time I looked was with my naked eye. Then I went back a second time with binoculars," recalls Heyda. He concluded the sleeve had no button.
On June 2 Heyda, his wife and two teen-age daughters tuned into the Children's Hospital Telethon on Channel 20 to hear the contest winners announced. Heyda was not among them and was crestfallen.
"I was confident I had everything right," he says. "I fully expected to hear my name mentioned. I couldn't figure out how it could be. I thought maybe they had lost my entry."
The next day, he went to the station in Greenbelt to pick up the answer sheet. "I just happened to meet the two winners. We compared notes and then I found out it was Question E in dispute," says Heyda.
The next day Heyda swung into action.
First he went to the Martin Luther King Jr. library to see if they had any closeup photos of the statue. One photo identified a cleaning crew and Heyda tracked down one member who checked his own files for photos. "He didn't have one of the left arm," recalls Heyda.
Next he called the National Park Service, which has jurisdiction over Roosevelt Island, to see if he could get their assistance in getting closer to the statue. "They said they couldn't, they only had a 90-pound female officer out there, but I let them know what I was doing," he says.
Then he rented a 10-foot ladder, carried it across the bridge to the island and took a Polaroid photograph of the statue. "But I wasn't close enough," he says.
The next day he rented a 14-foot ladder. "I got right up to it, I could touch the sleeve; there is no button," says Heyda.
But Dowling disputes Heyda's account.
"There are 22 buttons. Twenty-one are plainly visible and the 22nd is partially obscured. Each of the three judges, and a Park Service employe, independently counted the buttons and we all came up with 22," says Dowling. "When we got into the contest we got calls from contestants about the buttons. We gave additional clues over the air and we said, 'Count anything that might look like a button as a button.' We said it at least twice over the air. If there was a difference of perceptions, we made clear our perceptions."
Dowling says the station hasn't received any other complaints about answers.
On June 14, Heyda met with WCLY station manager Jeanne Oates, informing her that Starling had told him in a telephone conversation that Heyda "was the only contestant who provided the answer 21" to the statue question as well as correct answers to the other questions.
When Oates got back to him a month later, she told him the decision of the judges was final, Heyda says.
Dowling voices puzzlement at the court suit. "I am surprised he is so tenacious but he is welcome to do it. He has done everything you are supposed to do in a free society." Heyda has also written about the outcome of the contest to the Open University, Children's Hospital and the Federal Communications Commission.
But he still listens to WCLY-FM, he says, and continues to participate in the station's giveaways. Last week he won two tickets to the Power Plant amusement park in Baltimore.