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Mertz's mouth gets him in trouble

WFLA's early-early-morning star, Freddy Mertz of the ABC Talk Radionetwork, was swept away in a hush a week and a half ago.

The often wild, sometimes woolly and always vocal Mertz, who worked locally on WFLA (970-AM) in the summer of 1988, most lately was ABC's 3-6 a.m. chatter. WFLA carried him on the network from 3-5.

He is now assembling audition tapes in hopes of a next job, he said Sunday from his home in downstate New York.

"I became a bad boy with just one bit," Mertz said of his dismissal from ABC, where his show had gained nearly 60 affiliates nationwide. Apparently he went a little too far in trying to gain air access on a station in Phoenix, Ariz., that had just axed Mertz's network offering in favor of a local show. "I couldn't resist this bit," he said. Live, on the network show, "I told her producer that if she won't talk to me, tell her I think she's gutless and a coward."

As Mertz told the story, the management at the Phoenix station voiced its umbrage to ABC. Shortly thereafter, ABC and Mertz parted.

Mertz now is on what he calls "an unemployment tour." It began in Chicago this week.

He said that inopportune timing of possible offers has so far barred his possible return to local radio in the Tampa Bay area, where he wowed many and offended many others as afternoon-drive host on WFLA before a hasty exit due to a salary squabble.

Right on? WTKN (570-AM) brings in a new 9 a.m.-noon host, Mark Davis, on Monday. "It's only appropriate that he starts on Presidents' Day," said WTKN general manager Gordon Obarski. "You take it from there."

Leave that to Davis, who joins WTKN after serving his country at WMC in Memphis, Tenn. He's supposed to be the right-wing antithesis of WTKN afternoon guy, Jay Marvin. The two are scheduled to joust verbally once a week from noon-12:30 p.m, when Davis' watch gives way to Marvin.

Davis replaces Tom Bauerle, who left early this year for KMOX in St. Louis. Liz Richards, who had warmed the midmorning chair in Bauerle's wake, is leaving full-time radio to attend law school, Obarski said. She will continue to help out during others' absences on WTKN, said the boss.

On the money? WSUN money editor Randy Wilburn put a positive gloss last Friday (and again on Sunday and Monday) on the latest producer price index, which registered its highest one-month jump in 18 years in a report issued at the end of last week. In one of his Friday spots during WSUN's afternoon news block, Wilburn wrote the increase off to higher prices for heating oil and food. "Take away the energy prices and food prices," Wilburn analyzed, and the news isn't so bad. The money markets agreed with him, he pointed out. The producer price index is a measure of the costs of products before they reach the retail level.

Counterpoint: How about a pedestrian view from someone whose financial portfolio consists of a checkbook and a pile of monthly bills? Take away those skyrocketed prices, however short-lived, and certain people could now afford to eat and stay warm next time a cold snap hits. Ask those who barely were able to scrape up enough to pay those power bills that came as a late reminder of Christmas past. To some, it's the cost of living; to others, it's the cost of surviving.

Don't wholesale prices inevitably reach all of us at some point?

Wilburn's longevity on local airwaves can be attributed to his articulate analysis and candor, balanced, accurate and competently interpretive. His is a touchy assignment: make financial matters interesting and meaningful to a mass audience.

But an undercurrent of cynicism can seep into so-called financial analyses on radio, TV and in printed media. There's an inherent blind spot in that most of these authorities who broker stocks, bonds, etc. in real life, then take to the pulpit as supposed objective analysts of the financial world; they spend the bulk of their careers in an elite realm, dealing with money, not the lack of it. Street-level consumers often aren't the target audience, and that's too bad.

Wilburn's Sunday (10 a.m.-noon) program has been redubbed Wall Street and More. It formerly was called The Money Show, when carried on WTKN, earlier WPLP. He moved to WSUN about a month ago.