BROOKSVILLE — From his small studio at the small radio station in this small town, chain-smoking, caffeine-swallowing longtime talk radio host Bob Haa uses his morning show to pit conservatives against what he calls "the leftists," "the Marxists" and "the fruitcakes."
If you live in Tampa, St. Petersburg or even parts of Pasco County, chances are you've never heard of him. But on WWJB-AM 1450 here in Hernando County, he's loved by some, loathed by others — and listened to by many.
Haa (pronounced HAY) says his aim isn't to mediate. It is to agitate. He has done this five days a week, three-and-a-half hours a day, for a quarter century.
Two Fridays ago, though, he might have gone too far.
Shortly after 10, some of his listeners heard him have a conversation with a caller who mentioned ammunition, target practice and Barack Obama. It was enough to lead to a meeting with an agent from the Secret Service.
Haa and his show are a tiny piece of a much wider reality: The political divide these days is less different sides and more opposing corners. Reasonable political debate is out. Finger-pointing frenzy is in. Discourse is down. Dukes are up.
Was what Haa said a legitimate threat or on-air theater?
It's a difficult distinction to draw at this national moment marked by such spittle-lipped outrage.
• • •
Haa lives in an octagonal house on a lime rock road in rural northwest Hernando with 10 birds, two cats, one dog and his third wife. He is 61. He has worked in radio — Maryland, Alabama, Florida, rock jock, ad man, morning guy — since a week before he graduated from high school.
He moved here in 1983 because one of his ex-wives moved with two of his four kids to nearby Sumter County. WWJB at the time was playing mostly country music. Haa wanted to do talk. He was hired.
He started talking, and talking, and talking.
County commissioners: incompetent.
Taxes: enough already.
Big Brother: watching you.
This might be a good time to recall something he said in a story in the Times in 1992: "After a period of time," he explained, "we all start moving closer and closer together in our philosophies. That's spooky. That's worse than spooky."
It's bad for business.
Better for business?
Either/or, black/white, love him/hate him.
In 2001 the Hernando County administrator's office got calls from two people saying Haa was on the air promoting violence against the commissioners.
It caused enough concern that the sheriff's office set out to investigate.
Kind of. Some deputies asked some other deputies who were regular listeners whether Haa had said that stuff. They decided he had not.
Jeff Stabins, current Hernando County commissioner, and like Haa a registered Republican: "He's just a pathetic, pathetic excuse for a human being."
Murray Grubbs, former head of the Hernando County Republican Executive Committee: "Very forthright. My kind of man. We need more like him."
Brian Moore, Spring Hill resident, the Socialist Party's candidate for president last year: "His show is a hate fest. And it's been escalating."
Steve Manuel, general manager, WWJB: "Talk shows are just that. Shows. Bob likes to stir the pot to get people to call. That's just something you have to do."
• • •
Which gets us to that call that Friday.
What was said?
There's no tape. It's hard to believe. It's 2009. Practically nothing leaves no trace. But that's what the station bosses say.
Craig Bolton is a frequent listener, though, and he heard.
"I'll paraphrase," he said.
"A caller calls in, and man this guy is torqued. He says, 'Man, I'm ticked and frustrated at Obama, I'm loading up on ammunition, I'm going to be practicing.' And Haa says, 'Don't be wasting it on targets. Save it for the administration.' "
Bolton called the main number for the county administrator. He got a woman named JoJo DiViccaro on the line. DiViccaro got at least half a dozen similar calls, she said last week, maybe as many as 10. There were men, and there were women, and they pretty much said the same thing, she said: "threats against the president."
Agent John Joyce from the Secret Service's Tampa office met with Haa at the station Tuesday.
The investigation is not over.
"I really can't get into it," Joyce said. "We're trying to figure out what was said."
Aren't we all.
On Thursday morning, during the commercials, Haa stood outside and sucked down cigarettes.
First he said: "Never was said."
Then he said: "I don't remember."
And then he said: "It's possible somebody actually thought they heard that. It's possible someone misunderstood something and really was concerned."
On the air, all week long, his callers told him to "hang tough."
"You keep on truckin'."
"You now have a badge of honor in my opinion."
"All they did," Haa said on the air at one point, "was get me a lot more listeners."
Off the air, outside during smoke breaks, he said that the man from the Secret Service was "not pushy or threatening," but that the whole investigation was "nonsense," "childish" and "moronic."
He snuffed out another cigarette and went back inside. He walked back down the hallway toward the studio. He stopped at the door and turned.
"What if I actually had said that?" he asked. "So what? This is America!"
Times staff writer Joel Anderson and Times news researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Michael Kruse can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8751.