It's 8:08 on a bleary-eyed Saturday morning, and most talk radio shows around the Washington area are discussing gardening or money management or car repair. On black adult WHUR (96.3), however, counselor Audrey Chapman is talking about the pitfalls of having sex with fat men. Big John is on the line.
"I am very comfortable with my size," Big John says.
"Let me get down to brass tacks," Chapman begins, seated in the Howard University studios off Eighth Street NW. "Do you hear from women that it's going to be difficult to work around your stomach or love handles? Or that sex is too sweaty and there's too much heavy breathing?"
Big John appears taken aback a little by Chapman's directness.
"I get no complaints," he finally replies. Then he regroups.
"I have a tailor who keeps me looking nice on a daily basis," Big John says.
"So you can look as smooth as those hard-bodied players out there, right?" Chapman sums up.
During the week, Chapman runs a private therapy practice and counsels part time at Howard University. On Saturday mornings from 8 to 9, she becomes a radio advice personality. In some respects, she is just another voice in a crowded field dominated by syndicated advice superstars like Dr. Laura Schlessinger and Dr. Joy Browne. What makes Chapman's show noteworthy is that it's targeted at black listeners, who are traditionally underserved in talk radio. (Talk host Bev Smith, heard weeknights on WOL-AM, occasionally touches on relationship issues, but does not dispense advice.)
What makes Chapman's show intriguing, however, is the large percentage of male callers--nearly half of all listeners--who let down their macho guard with Chapman on-air.
On Friday nights, these guys may be out at a tony nightclub like Republic Gardens, cruising the attractive female patrons. On Saturday mornings, however, they're on the phone with Chapman, wondering what went wrong the night before. Wondering either why they didn't score or, if they did, why--as Chapman says, "like after a Chinese meal"--they still feel hungry and a little empty.
On her show--which she has been doing in various forms for more than a decade--Chapman often acts as a referee in what appears to be an ongoing war between the sexes. Men call to complain that women are "mean and hostile" toward them, she says. A surprising number of women, Chapman reports, call to complain that they've discovered that they are only one woman in their boyfriend's "harem."
Indeed, it's impossible to scan around the black hits stations--such as WPGC (95.5) or WKYS (93.9)--without hearing the sounds of a gender battle more sharply pitched than any heard on white radio. Female groups sing that they won't tolerate men who are no-money, no-account "scrubs," and male groups put down "pigeons," women who turn out to be man-eaters.
Like all radio counselors, Chapman has to deal with the traditional fears and miscommunications between the sexes (or among the sexes; Chapman has a substantial gay following). In addition, though, she has to handle characteristics peculiar to her predominantly black audience.
"The bias tends to be more conservative in the African American community, to not talk about sex issues openly," Chapman says. "Also, there is a lot of shame among African Americans. There is the need to feel that they are good and acceptable and not the awful people the media tend to stereotype them as."
Men can call Chapman's show "in disguise," she says.
"They like talking to a woman. A lot of black men have grown up in a household filled with black women," Chapman says, noting the high divorce rate among black couples.
Her voice is soothing and her style is nonjudgmental, though she occasionally "spanks" callers who invoke racial and gender stereotypes. "I'm not your pastor or parent," she says.
Chapman says she likes to keep a certain professional distance on the radio (she declines to give her age), but this much can be revealed: She is divorced and has a boyfriend; also, she has an adult son and daughter. She received a master's in family counseling, has written two modestly successful books on relationships and is working on a third called "Sisters With an Attitude."
WHUR's general manager, Jim Watkins, settled her show--which had moved around the weekend schedule--in the Saturday morning slot about four years ago so it could build an audience. It scored well in the most recent Arbitron ratings for WHUR, which won a Crystal Award from the National Association of Broadcasters this year for community service shows such as Chapman's.
Last Saturday's show was called "The Overweight Lover's in the House," a title borrowed from a song by rotund rapper Heavy D. Toward the end of the hour, a caller named Cordell--who describes himself as six feet tall and 325 pounds--asserts with a confidence as substantial as his waistline, "There's not a young lady out here I can't get."
Chapman applauds his pride but also judiciously inserts a warning about the potential health hazards of being overweight later in life.
Undeterred, Cordell extols the virtues of being an Overweight Lover, offering an adage printable in a family newspaper only because its meaning is indecipherable: "If you're going to go for a meal, then make sure you get the biscuits to sop the gravy."
The Listener is no fan of major league baseball umpires. By and large, they are an increasingly hostile, unpoliced, totalitarian enforcement group that responds to criticism with a smug self-righteousness not seen since Mussolini made the trains run on time. But it's not just The Listener who's complaining--tune in to baseball games on the radio and you'll hear announcers, not often known for barbs, criticizing poorly performing umpires more and more this season.
A couple of weeks ago, the Orioles radio team of Jim Hunter and Fred Manfra was calling a game against the Cleveland Indians. Umpire John Shulock was behind home plate, judging balls and strikes. His strike zone appeared to be all over the place.
A fastball from Indians pitcher Charles Nagy sliced the plate. Shulock called it a ball.
"It catches part of the plate," Hunter said, on the radio, "but it's outside, I guess."
Shulock called some pitches while squatting behind the catcher, others while on one knee, a change of perspective that alters the location of the strike zone.
"Now he's back on one knee," Hunter said. "What's going on?"
"He's tired?" cracked Manfra.
Such umpire-bashing has become a routine part of most radio broadcasts, not just the Orioles'.
Interviewed at Camden Yards last week, Manfra said that he's not sure if it's "consciously open season on umpires," but that he and his broadcasting colleagues--as well as fans, baseball execs and most importantly players--are increasingly frustrated with the umpires' individual strike zones. Major league rules state that the strike zone is as wide as home plate; overhead ballpark cameras routinely show umpires calling pitches as strikes that are half a foot off the plate.
"One time [Orioles manager Ray Miller] held up a briefcase and said, 'This is how big the strike zone is,' " says Manfra. "I said, 'But Ray, sometimes, it's as big as a lunch box.' "
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