Who's that girl?
Allison Barnett is a normal mom-to-be until she goes on the air. Then Alli That Girl takes over.
By Amber Mobley
Published July 19, 2007
ST. PETERSBURG - Four months pregnant, WLLD-FM 98.7 disc jockey Alli That Girl decided to tell her listeners about her condition.
But who was the "baby daddy"? Who knew? Not Alli, she declared.
So just like on TV's Maury where unwed mothers point the finger of potential paternity at every dude they've slept with, Alli gathered 10 of the station's male DJs during her afternoon drive-time show.
"One of y'all knocked me up," she told them on air. Denials and coarse banter ensued on the station known for hits and hip-hop with a sprinkling of hedonism.
In the months that followed, "Who is Alli's baby daddy?" was heavily hyped on the 2 to 6 p.m. show. According to Arbitron, WLLD already was the most popular radio station during evening drive time in the Tampa Bay area among listeners ages 18 to 34, the demographic advertisers covet most. Ratings data for the 3-month "baby daddy" stunt are not yet available from Arbitron, but WLLD says it drew even more listeners.
For the big reveal last month, Alli again gathered the potential baby daddies - and a doctor - to announce the paternity test results live on the air.
"DJ Rhinestone, you ARE the father," the doctor announced as the room erupted in cheers, laughter and off-color jokes.
The minute that baby arrives, Alli That Girl is the kind of girl who's leaving the kid with grandma, heading to the club and drinking until the sun comes up.
That's Alli: party girl gone wild.
But when the show is over each afternoon, in a sense, so is Alli.
In her place is a rather different woman, Allison Barnett, a nine-year radio veteran and one of the few women to host her own drive-time show. She came up with the idea to put her unborn child at the heart of a radio soap opera.
But where does Allison end and Alli begin?
On the station's Web site and on the air, Alli calls herself "the afternoon HO(st)."
Allison has always known the identity of her child's father. He's her fiance, Drew Mueffelman, a.k.a. DJ Rhinestone, the only Wild 98.7 DJ with whom she has slept. The couple share a two-story house in St. Petersburg, eight pets and a lavender nursery stocked with stuffed animals, frilly little dresses and onesies with sassy sayings like "Does this diaper make my butt look big?"
"Alli That Girl is not engaged and in love and all that," she said. "That's an Allison thing."
Alli kicks off her 2 to 6 p.m. show with her own theme song. Among the lyrics: "She loves to hit the club and boy can she drink."
Allison gave up drinking the moment she suspected she was pregnant. Being pregnant during a Florida summer, she said, "(is) like the drunk without the fun."
Alli spins hits and hip-hop. Allison grew up listening to chamber music during family dinners.
Alli's theme song proclaims her to be a "white girl thug." Off the air, Allison said she once soothed a caller worried Alli really has no clue who fathered her child. "Oh, honey, I hope that's not true," the caller said. "It's a bit," Allison said. "Completely for entertainment purposes."
Radio personalities have created characters since broadcasting began. There's a reason they call it "theater of the mind."
But Allison Barnett insists that she's not making up Alli.
"I'm not acting," said Barnett, 34. "Alli That Girl is an exaggeration of Allison."
She knows the differences between Alli and Allison are glaring.
"I think about it sometimes," she said. "I'm torn.
"But I know who I am."
Her boss, station manager Orlando, agrees that Alli wouldn't be That Girl if Allison wasn't being true to herself.
"When you're real or having a good time or are entertaining, people gravitate to you," he said. Best of all, she's pulling in the ratings. "Alli is b----slapping the guys in her (time slot)."
But does a woman who wants to make it in radio have to portray a hoochie to be a host?
If she's in corporate radio, the answer could be yes, says Jennifer Pozner, executive director of Women in Media and News, a Brooklyn-based organization that analyzes representations of women in media. (WLLD-FM is owned by CBS Radio.)
"In general, it's harder for women in corporate radio and corporate media in general to get any kind of platform unless they're even more outrageous than the boys," she said.
"People may say it's her choice," said Pozner. "But . . . why is that the woman's show that gets play on the dial?"
Pozner's answer: "It's what owners and advertisers think we want."
Olivia Fox, a former Tampa Bay area radio personality, says the Alli That Girl routine "is typical, supported on-air behavior of a station with a format such as Wild's."
For two years, Fox, a wife and mother in real life, remained a wife and mother on air as she hosted her own morning show on WBTP-FM 95.7.
"As a black woman, I find some of the lingo, slang and story lines of shows such as (Alli's) a bit over-done and unappealing," said Fox, who recently moved to Washington, D.C., to host a radio show. "If you're going to be the hip-hop baby mama stereotype, at least keep it real and be that all day long."
Barnett thinks the critics need to lighten up. After all, she notes, Wild is not NPR. During the three months of the "who's my baby daddy" suspense, she says only a few people called in to criticize her.
"I am so over people being offended by everything," she said. "I don't try to be extra offensive."
But there's at least one point on which she'd agree with Pozner.
During her eight- or nine-week maternity leave, she vows to visit the studio regularly, since staying away too long means risking being forgotten.
"Media is still very much a boys club," Barnett said. "I want to show my little girl that you can work and be a mother. You can have it all."
Wild, Wild world
The 4-foot-11 blond DJ drives her burnt-orange Hummer with THT GRL on the license plate into the parking lot of the Wild studio in St. Petersburg.
Before her pregnancy and the mini-menagerie at home - a bird, a snake, a dog, two cats and three fish - "This place was my first baby," she says, maneuvering her way inside.
Even this late in her pregnancy, she makes her way up the office stairs. "I refuse to use the elevator," she vows.
She already has bought a running stroller, eager to get back to her prepregnancy routine of running 5 miles a day and boxing five times a week after her scheduled C-section Aug. 1.
"I don't even recognize myself. I am a circle," she said.
When standing next to her baby daddy, "together we look like the number 10."
Mueffelman, 24, couldn't be prouder of his future wife.
When he came to the station five years ago, he didn't think he had a chance with Barnett.
"I mean, look at her," he said. "She's so amazing and successful and I'm just me."
Barnett started at Wild when it was created almost nine years ago. She just renewed her contract. In addition to her on-air role, Barnett, a graduate of Eckerd College, also is the station's research director, in charge of figuring out what songs boost and bust Wild's ratings.
As a kid, Barnett wanted to be a veterinarian. But then one day she called in to Tampa Bay's Q105 and the DJ let her announce a song, Jenny (867-5309) by Tommy Tutone.
"And after that first time I said, 'This is what I want to do.' It still gives me a thrill to hear myself on the radio."
One of Barnett's most devoted listeners - and occasional show participant - is her mom, Lucia Barnett Gordon.
One time, Gordon, 59, decided to call in to her daughter's program and join the fun by pretending not to know the identity of her grandchild's father.
"She's got a crazy mother," Gordon said with a laugh.
Barnett's family moved to St. Petersburg from Memphis when she was 6. Her parents later divorced. She credits her mom with helping her develop her sense of humor. "That's how I got this way," the DJ says. "It's almost unbelievably sweet how proud my parents are of me. They know they raised me right."
And when it comes to raising her own child, Allison is not letting her baby girl listen to Alli That Girl. At least not until her daughter is "much older."
"Not because I think there's anything wrong with what I say," Allison Barnett said. "But because Alli That Girl is not Mommy."
Amber Mobley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org">href="mailto:email@example.com" mce_href="mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com or (813) 269-5311.