Best Of 2007

In this age of rip-and-read radio news, listeners are often assaulted with breathless reporters predicting the end of the world. But leave veteran gumshoe Karen Schaefer out of that mix. After more than 10 years on Northeast Ohio's public-radio airwaves, the Colorado native has amassed a mountain of accolades for her fair, balanced, and well-researched reports on the environment. Now at Kent's WKSU, Schaefer spent nearly a decade at rival WCPN in Cleveland, where her stories aired on National Public Radio, the BBC, and the Voice of America. In 2002, the Ohio Environmental Council gave Schaefer their Excellence in Environmental Journalism Award for her investigations of shoddy work at the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Plant. "Schaefer has raised the bar," the judges wrote, "for the coverage of environmental news in Ohio."
A guy who can keep a straight face while busting a kid cranking it in the library is a rare commodity. So it's no surprise that local investigator Carl Monday has stations wooing him like he's a drunken sorority sister. Last February, Monday decided that Channel 19 was a worthy suitor and made the switch. But a contract clause with his former station, Channel 3, stopped him from using his face or name on the air for six months. Fortunately, the clause said nothing about using the back of his head and his initials. So Monday reported his typical stories -- busting rim thieves and other nefarious characters. But he labeled them "C.M. Investigations" and never showed his face when they aired. He even kept up the act with fans, denying any involvement with the mysterious new investigator. "My standard line was that it was Charles Manson," he says. Yes, it's creepy. But that's the price of keeping Carl on the job.
If someone's going to tell you your weekend camping trip is off due to hail the size of a Prius, he needs gorgeous hair and a smile that could solve the Mideast peace crisis. Channel 3's Mark Nolan has both. He's also everywhere: Besides five nightly TV appearances, Nolan gives the forecast on radio stations, the internet, and on the Jumbotron at Indians games. And he emits an everyman I-hate-this-shit-too vibe that other forecasters don't. "I hate severe weather," he says. "I'd rather come in and say Ôsunny and 72' every day. But then I'd have to move to San Diego, and that's not gonna happen." Cali's loss is our gain.
Believe it or not, there's a place on your radio dial where people discuss news, politics, and sports without morphing into screaming, bumbling morons. As host of "The Sound of Ideas" on 90.3 FM-WCPN, Dan Moulthrop invites newsmakers, journalists, and regular folks to dissect the stories behind the latest headlines. The conversations go deep -- even when it's just Larry from Middleburg Heights on the line. But while Moulthrop actually lets guests talk, he's no Larry King-style softballer. From city-council crackpots to heavies like Governor Ted Strickland, Moulthrop asks tough questions that make politicians squirm and keep listeners tuning in.
For many people, the arts aren't something you enjoy; they're something you endure. But Dee Perry can cure this affliction. She's host of Around Noon, WCPN's daily lunchtime arts show, the smartest thing going on Cleveland radio. Perry's gift is that she can make playwrights and conductors interesting to anyone, be they aficionado or official schmuck. Her weapon is unbridled curiosity: Her questioning unveils tales not of this abstract, distant thing known as "art," but of people, humanity, life. The lady could interview a telephone pole and make it seem more fascinating than Gandhi. But don't take our word for it. Tune in. Only the words of Dee Perry can convince you to listen to Dee Perry.
It's not easy being a balls-out daily newspaper reporter these days; newsrooms, once the Land of the Free-Swinging, are now the Home of the Safe. But Mark Puente, The Plain Dealer's Lorain reporter, and John Caniglia, a courts reporter, somehow convinced their editors to take off the gloves when they went after the Lorain Police Department, arguably the nastiest batch of badges this side of Cop Land. The two found that in the last six years, fully one-third of Lorain's officers had disciplinary records for everything from fighting in bars to stalking the local ladies. Puente even caught some old-school heat: Before the story came out, he says, police intimidated his family and let the air out of his tires.
When Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Connie Schultz’s husband, Sherrod Brown, decided to run for the U.S. Senate, Schultz found herself in an unfamiliar place: Instead of screaming her own viewpoint on the pages of The Plain Dealer, she was packing her hubby’s lunch and being introduced as “his lovely wife.” But Schultz managed to strike a cool balance between firebrand and wife — using her voice to promote the Sherrod for Senate positions she supported, and quietly slinking into the background whenever she could get away with it. And give her credit: She turned it into a nice little business opportunity, penning . . . And His Lovely Wife: A Memoir from the Woman Beside the Man, which chronicles her time on the campaign trail.
The principal life of a Cleveland politician: Say pretty things to get elected, then set a brazen course of apathy and self-interest. But Housing Court Judge Raymond Pianka has long been in violation of this essential rule. Years before predatory lending became a national crisis, he was the one local official who battled banks and venture capitalists who neglected their rosters of repossessed homes. When they decided to blow off their court dates, Pianka began trying them in absentia. He fined Destiny Ventures of Oklahoma $40,000 for failing to keep up its 100 houses in Cleveland and East Cleveland. It promises to be the first tussle in his guerrilla fight against the banking industry, whose neglected properties turned crack dens are the bane of the city. When Pianka finally takes on local giants Key and National City, we'll gladly elevate him to Best Messiah.
You could say Mike Polensek has a special affection for his Collinwood ward, having spent every one of his 58 years there. And he's got no time for polite talk when it comes to the drug dealers, shady bar owners, and predatory lenders who have invaded his hard-working neighborhood. Take, for instance, the letter Polensek penned to a guy caught selling drugs outside a convenience store. After calling the man a "crack-dealing piece of trash," Polensek closed the letter with the words "Go to jail or the cemetery soon." The lovable councilman is equally outgoing with reporters, who always know whom to call when they need some straight talk from City Hall. When Scene interviewed Polensek last year about the shady Browns Stadium and I-X Center deals, Polensek searched for the perfect analogy to describe how the taxpayers got screwed. He finally arrived at "the big jar of Vaseline from Sam's Club, you hear me?" Loud and clear, Mikey, loud and clear.
While quote-machine city-councilman Mike Polensek might deliver the punches more consistently, Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann knocked out the competition with the "F-you" heard around the world. When Warren Tribune reporter Steve Oravecz criticized the usually genial AG for getting his adopted daughter a job with the state, Dann dusted off his old Youngstown manners, yelling at the scribe: "Hey Steve, write this down. Go fuck yourself!" Though he was caught on tape, Dann refused to apologize. "He's a father first," his spokesperson told the Associated Press. And if you don't like it, fuck you too.