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LEFT OF THE DIAL

Think WMNF is too "out there" for you? Meet five DJs whose shows bridge the gap between mainstream and off-the-beaten-path.

Franco Silva

Host, Latino 54, 9 to 10 a.m. Wednesdays

Silva started at the station in 1995 as one of a handful of hosts of the Latin music show Oye Latino. As his co-hosts gradually dropped out, Silva stayed on as the solo emcee until programming changes threatened cancellation of the show in 2002. Thanks to public outcry, the station decided to keep Silva, but with a new time slot and a new name for the show. "I said, 'What am I going to call a 54-minute Latino show? Latino 54?" recalled Silva, 46, who works for the City of St. Petersburg Sanitation Department. "And then it stuck." Silva and co-host Yadira Caro say the show's purpose is to educate both gringos and English-speaking Hispanics about Latin American culture. "There's a lot of people who like Latin music," said Silva, a native Nuyorican (New York Puerto Rican) who now lives in St. Pete, "but then when the deejay comes out talking (in Spanish), they lose it."

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Lizz Straight

Host, Poetry Is..., 11 p.m. to midnight Saturdays

Iambic pentameter goes down easily for fans of hip-hop and neo-soul on this program, which fuses music with academic and slam-style poetry. When Straight started the show in 2005, she deliberately kept its title open-ended. "I left it Poetry Is... on purpose because I feel poetry can be whatever we want it to be," said Straight, 29, of Tampa. Her favorite part of hosting the show is getting feedback from listeners. "They don't think that poetry can be the type of things that I play," said Straight, a professional poet and English major at the University of South Florida. "They think Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson-type stuff." A few years ago, Straight began receiving 30 to 50 letters a week from inmates at Hardee Correctional Institute in Bowling Green. She started dedicating each show to them, and they soon invited her to perform at the prison. One inmate's wife even brought $300 to the studio to cover Straight's travel expenses. Now Straight and a few of her poet friends do an annual prison tour.

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Marcie Finkelstein

Host, Morning Show, 6 to 9 a.m. Tuesdays

The Baltimore native began volunteering at the station in 1982, shortly after she moved to Tampa to take a job as a USF psychology professor, a position she still holds. After several years on the administrative side, she got behind the mike in 1986. Today, Finkelstein's eclectic program features singer-songwriters in genres from rock, blues and Americana to reggae and world music. The host introduces lesser-known acts while sprinkling in familiar names like Bruce Springsteen, Jack Johnson and KT Tunstall. Listeners turn her on to new music, too. "I'm learning as much as anybody else that's listening to the radio," said Finkelstein, 55. "I always feel like this programming is a two-way street." Finkelstein's next special, an interview with Mark Johnson of the Playing for Change world music project, will air Sept. 15.

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Duncan Strauss

Host, Talking Animals, 11:30 a.m. to noon, first and second Wednesday of every month

When Strauss was a 10-year-old boy growing up in Orange County, Calif., he wanted a mynah bird so much that he took on a paper route to afford the $27.50 pet. Fast-forward to 2003, when the animal lover and former journalist combined his passions to found Talking Animals, a variety show blending animal-related news, music and comedy. He's used his Hollywood connections and persistence to nab guests like Pretenders lead singer Chrissie Hynde, actress Janeane Garofalo and techno musician Moby. A vegetarian and owner of cats Homer, Elwood and Curtis, Strauss knows not all his guests are hard-core animal rights activists, but listeners often tell him the program has led them to make small changes. "Even people who aren't ready to plunge into things that are talked about on the show still find it interesting and not shrill and proselytizing," said Strauss, who also emcees the WMNF music show Sonic Detour from 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesdays.

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Jeff Stewart

Host, Rhythm Vault, 9 to 10 p.m. Mondays

In the mid-'80s, when Stewart was a student at Sarasota's New College, he'd listen to WMNF on his dorm room radio and make mix tapes for dance parties in the center of campus. Each semester when he moved, he'd lug his record player and enormous album collection to his new home, but it was worth it. With each new disc, Stewart discovered a gem by one of his favorite bands, like the Temptations' Papa Was a Rolling Stone. After graduation, Stewart emceed a classic R&B show on WMNF for two decades, until a change in his work schedule prevented him from keeping his radio time slot. Now an administrative clerk at the Tampa Museum of Art, the 45-year-old has been back on the air since January. He still mixes music by lesser-known artists with favorites like the Supremes and Al Green, with an emphasis on up-tempo B-sides. "I love getting calls from younger listeners that are into hip-hop," he said. "They'll hear the original song that I'm playing that some artist has sampled. They're like, 'What is that? Who is that?'"

dcolon@tampabay.com

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