Orbitals

News, events and weird stuff happening around Tampa Bay

Bluesman Benefit

Lesser men who have lived life like "Hollywood Dave" Wright are long dead.Substance abuse. Jaegermeister. Smoke. Cheeseburgers. Stayin' out way late. Hangin' out at the clubs. Wild women. Playin' guitar for long hours at low pay in every beach bar, bistro, crab house, juke joint and no-account tavern in the great blue city.

"I ain't never stole a freight train," Dave allows, in a mantra he has used to push aside the devil for the past 30 years.

But the leader of one of the Tampa Bay area's top blues band (Hollywood Dave and the Hotheads, Weekly Planet Readers' Poll Best of The Bay winner in 2002) is now facing a Grim Reaper known in oncology circles as transverse myelitis. It is a medical bastard that has forced a chemotherapy shunt into his back and is deteriorating his spinal cord.

Doctors say the neurological disease will steal his mobility in six months and kill him shortly after that.

Hope, however, reaches out to the 47-year-old Wright from Massachusetts General Hospital, where the world's top scientists are looking for "subjects" like the obese singer/songwriter, who once backed up such music greats as Gamble Rogers, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, and Root Boy Slim.

The Boston hospital has an expensive and rigorous yearlong shut-in treatment that could shed two supermodels' worth of weight from his 400-pound-plus frame, and bring the patient back to the performing stage. Healthy. "Or die," says Dave. "That is my choice."

To help this cause, more than 30 of the area's top musicians are joining together for a Jan. 30 benefit at Nick's Seabreeze on Treasure Island (9546 W. Gulf Blvd., Sunset Beach, 727-360-1398). From sunset until 1:30 a.m., the music will go nonstop and donations will be accepted.

Dave and the Hotheads will join performers such as T.C. Carr and Sarasota Slim. Two days later, Dave will be off to Beantown.

The fat man had originally planned to just "slip out of town unnoticed." Now he is touched by the outpouring of support from his peers, as well as club owners, businessmen and others he has entertained with his humor, guitar prowess and songwriting skills over the years.

"I never thought I'd find myself facing such a situation," he says. "But facing it with all the love and support that everyone has shown me is making it much easier to face.

"God willing and if the creek don't rise, I'll see everyone in a year or so."—Peter Gallagher

Saints and Sinners

The Forest Hills Neighborhood Association has struck a blow for sinners everywhere.The association's meetings are often well attended, but a larger-than-usual group gathered at the Jan. 14 meeting to hear stump speeches from the five leading candidates for Tampa mayor.

Whispers rippled through the crowd, advising members to stick around after the forum and vote on whether to oust association President Monte Belote. The former director of the Florida Consumer Action Network and longtime Democratic activist recently dropped out of a Tampa City Council race after revelations about his involvement in an Internet prostitution ring.

Among those most vociferous in their support of Belote was association Vice President Mary Mooney, who quoted the first line of a book by Mother Teresa: "I am a sinner."

Mooney challenged those without sin to cast the first stone. They did, saying that Belote had committed an illegal act and that he lied to constituents — apparently by not telling them whom he was sleeping with.

Perhaps the strangest argument raised was that Belote's presence was embarrassing to the mayoral candidates.

Most of the board members, while stressing that they didn't condone his behavior, expressed opposition to dumping Belote. They reminded members of his many accomplishments in the neighborhood. Their comments drew several rounds of applause.

Belote apologized to the members at the beginning of the proceedings and then sat quietly, looking his accusers in the eye. In an interview later, he said he just wants to put the whole incident behind him and repair the damage to his family.

In the end, rather than voting on whether or not retain the president, members voted not to vote on the issue at all, effectively thwarting the coup attempt.

In a later interview, Mooney explained the board's support for Belote: "If you've worked with him, you know how much work he's done."

Among his accomplishments, she said, are instituting the association's bylaws and the neighborhood watch program, and getting the city to plant trees, enforce codes, and include the neighborhood in the NEAT cleanup program.

"He goes to city council meetings and zoning seminars," said Mooney. "He's very active in letting the city know they could be doing a better job."

Sounds like he might have made a good city council candidate.—Susan F. Edwards

We're No. 1

Can the commercial airwaves get any more inanely homogenized?According to a recent Rockefeller Foundation-funded study, the Tampa Bay area is more dependent for commercial radio programming on four conglomerates that dominate the medium nationwide than any other top-25 U.S. market. Tampa has the 21st-largest radio market.

Using Arbitron ratings and other data, a group of academics and consumer advocates known as the Future of Music Coalition determined that an average of 95 percent of Bay area listeners are tuned to radio stations owned by these conglomerates at most times of the day.

The four conglomerates are Clear Channel, Viacom, Cox Radio and Entercom. (Cox Radio is corporately related to an investor in Creative Loafing Inc., the Planet's parent company.)

The coalition study is timely.

The Federal Communications Commission is considering lifting more media ownership restrictions, despite a disastrous experiment in radio deregulation by Congress with the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

The act eased up on rules limiting the number of AM and FM stations that one broadcaster can have in a single market. Local radio ownership everywhere has since dropped, as the big fish swallowed the minnows. Plus, the conglomerates like to program by remote control, beaming the same talk or shock-jock shows into multiple markets, ignoring local talent and tastes.

But even free-marketeer FCC Chairman Michael Powell is having second thoughts about continued media deregulation. "I am concerned about media concentration, particularly in radio," Powell testified Jan. 14 at a Senate committee hearing.

The Future of Music Coalition study does more than just serve as a de facto promotion for satellite radio.

The study attempts to quantify just how much vitality has been sucked out of broadcast radio by the mergers and acquisitions. It does so by evaluating the impact of radio ownership consolidation on musicians as well as on listeners and advertisers.

The coalition, looking at station formats and song play, found music programming less varied than industry claims.

"Music today is certainly diverse enough to fill 10 different radio formats with different styles and genres of music," according to the coalition study. "Instead, we see hits and non-hits. A hit can be played in just about any format. Repeated exposure plays an important role in making a song into a hit. That few songs receive a large number of repeated spins may not identify such songs as hits; rather repetition may in fact transform songs into hits. A non-hit is any song that doesn't reach this level of repetition and success."

Which brings the study's authors to what they call "the new payola." The hoary — though still illegal — practice of compensating radio personnel to play certain songs is back, with a twist. Unlike 1950s payola, record companies today use so-called independent promoters as bagmen. Thus, record company employees don't have to commit the bribery themselves.

The beauty of centralized programming in this era of deregulation is that there are far fewer palms to grease than in Alan Freed's day.

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