St. Petersburg Times Online: Business

Weather | Sports | Forums | Comics | Classifieds | Calendar | Movies

Girl talk shoves way onto bay area radios

Soon, the morning drive will have a feminine slant. Watch out men: Allison Diaz is giving her sisters a soapbox.

TOM ZUCCO
Published December 27, 2003

The premise, most people in the radio business agree, has promise.

A former Hawaiian Tropic model turned Hooters server turned real estate agent who is also a twice-divorced mother of two, hosts an edgy morning talk radio show to discuss relationships, men, children, men, the empowerment of women, sex and ... men.

It will be one of the few radio call-in shows in the country devoted exclusively to women.

The show's host, Allison Diaz, sees herself as a somewhat toned-down female version of shock jock Howard Stern, and envisions the program as Sex and the City comes to Tampa Bay. "But it's not about anger or male-bashing," Diaz said recently. "There's a lot of great guys out there. Not many, but some.

"The idea is to get women to talk about their lives."

The question is whether people will listen when Hitting Below the Belt with Ali Diaz hits the airwaves Jan. 5 from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. on WTAN 1340-AM in Clearwater. There's also the question of whether advertisers and sponsors will buy into it. WTAN operates on 1,000 watts and has a listening radius of 45 miles. It reaches from Hudson to the north, Longboat Key to the south and Brandon to the east.

And there is one huge hitch.

Diaz has never done a radio show. Nor has she worked in the industry. Her closest link to the airwaves is that she was married for four years to a man who will be a competitor: Ron Diaz, host of the Ron Diaz Show from 6 to 10 a.m. on Thunder 103.5-FM.

"But I've prepared for this for four months," Diaz said. "I have a whole bunch of people helping me, and I really think it can work because I'll be talking about things I've experienced in life - divorce, raising children, working, dating, getting out of a marriage and not knowing who I was - that I know lots of other women have gone through, too."

Diaz, who turns 30 on Jan. 2, said she also noticed the majority of on-air radio personalities are men. And many times, she said, a woman's role is either as a sidekick or the brunt of jokes.

So she signed a 52-week contract with WTAN. She will pay the station $100 an hour to be on the air and try to recoup her investment and then some through sponsorships and advertising - an arrangement commonly used by hosts at smaller stations.

"She's definitely gutsy," said WTAN co-owner Lola Wagenvoord. "And it's her first time doing something like this, so what can you say?

"But everybody has got to start someplace. The SportChix started here, and I told Ali that if she's good, a big station will pick her up. If that's what happens, good for her.

"Howard Stern got fired many times before he got where he is."

Stern owes at least some of his success to the small army of producers, writers and cast members who contribute to his show. Diaz plans to add a co-host, but those in the business say whether her gamble pays off depends largely on how fast and how well she clicks with her audience.

Brenda Lee, co-host of the SportChix, a morning sports talk radio show on WQYK-AM 1010, has been down the same path. She began her career in 1988 as an intern on the former Ron & Ron Show. One of the co-hosts on that show was Ron Diaz. Lee went on to co-host Hooters on the Radio in the early 1990s, made a stop at WTAN and then landed at WQYK.

"It will fly if she has chemistry with her audience," Lee said. "You've got to have that.

"And with stations like WTAN, you're on your own. You have to pay the bills, so you have to keep your advertisers happy. And be careful with the content. You have to know not to go over a certain line, and it can take years to learn what that line is.

"Women will like to hear this kind of radio," she added. "And I wish her well."

WQYK-FM 99.5 radio personalty Dave McKay, who has been on the air in the Tampa Bay area for more than a decade, said Diaz faces an uphill battle, not just because of her lack of experience.

"It will be difficult because she doesn't have an FM signal," McKay said. "She can succeed because nobody is really doing what she wants to do except maybe Nancy Alexander," co-host of the Nancy & Mike Show on WMTX-FM 100.7.

"But it's really hard to make waves in that (AM) market. An FM signal would definitely bring her a lot more listeners.

"And regardless of where you start, it takes time to hone the skills and be comfortable and compelling. The hardest part of my job is not the four hours on the air. It's coming up with creative stuff."

When contacted for this story, Ron Diaz would say only, "I have absolutely no comment."

But the Diaz name, McKay said, is a decided advantage.

"If she were Ali Jones, so what?" he said. "But then again, it's all about your ability to entertain.

"It would be much better if she was at 104.1, right next to 103.5. Then you'd have Ron Diaz on the left, and Ali Diaz on the right. That would be ideal.

"But she's taking what she can get. And she's going to school right now. Camp her out on the AM station for a while and see if she can make waves. Who knows?"

For now, Diaz sounds like a law school graduate a few days before her bar exam. "I don't have too much fear anymore," she said. "Society has taught us that women shouldn't be vocal, and that things like getting divorced or having a career are not always acceptable. I don't think that's right.

"I've made mistakes in my life. I can let it hold me back, get caught up in the anger and resentment, or I can learn my lesson and move on.

"That's what the show is about."

© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.