"It's nice to have the validation, especially two years running," proclaims Xpress movie reviewer Ken Hanke. Of course, Mr. Cranky did give the all-American Seabiscuit a lower rating than the recent remake of Disney's Freaky Friday. And true sons of the Confederacy and playas down with gangsta rap have jointly formed the Hanke Defamation League in response to his ruminations on Gods and Generals and 8 Mile, respectively.
Still, Xpress is proud to claim this self-styled "elitist bastard" who's contributed to or written eight books on film, and who is the associate editor of Scarlet Street, a horror-film magazine. Hanke's reviews reveal a cinema-obsessed curmudgeon with a soft spot for a great story superbly told. His big goal for 2004? To win as WNC's "Best Free Activity," he reports.
Just as an aside: You people only gave me four votes in this category. But I'm not mad. Hell, no. (Note to Hanke: Better get someone to start tasting your food, Movie Boy). -- FR
As a spinner of stories often offbeat and inspirational, Asheville Citizen-Times writer Susan Reinhardt has gained a lot of fans through both her regular Sunday columns and her feature stories. What is it about Reinhardt's work that so speaks to local readers?
"I really don't think it's my writing," said Reinhardt in a recent phone interview. "I think it's the subjects that I choose." Recent columns, for example have covered near-death experiences and the merits of public breast-feeding versus the horrors of hairy men in speedos. For Reinhardt, a top priority is keeping readers' interest. "There are a lot of really good writers," she says, "but if you don't have a fun story or one that's going to evoke some kind of emotion, it's going to be boring." -- SS
Don't get Brian Sarzynski started. "We're the only profession written into the Constitution," the Xpress reporter, civics fan and two-time winner begins. "Right on top, too: the First Amendment. The Founding Fathers were pretty clear on the need for a watchdog, and given the national climate, it's more important than ever." Sarz's heart may be in the stories that indulge his playful side, but his news-hound ethic has been known to ruffle feathers on some pretty prominent birds. Earlier this year, Sarzynski was barking up the Buncombe County Sheriff's Department's tree over allegations of internal wrongdoing in the handling of a domestic-abuse case. The year before, Sarz bit into both the DMV and, again, the Sheriff's Department, digging up facts that neither agency was rushing to publicize. Still, Sarzynski maintains that he bares his teeth only when the occasion demands. "That's the responsibility of the job," he observes. Woof! -- FR
If it weren't so popular, I guess it wouldn't be so controversial. But after several years of turmoil, the board of trustees at Isothermal Community College in Spindale (which holds the station's license) grew sufficiently concerned about the antics of some of the free spirits who listen to and work for WNCW that they were considering selling it just to be rid of the bother. That captured the attention of a number of potential buyers -- including both Christian radio stations and an Asheville-based group of fans called Preserve WNCW -- who tendered multimillion-dollar offers.
In the end, however, the trustees decided to hang in there, meaning one of the last bastions of broadcast eclecticism will continue to make its presence felt, both on the radio dial and in the hearts of its legions of fans. -- SR
WNCW 88.7 FM
If you think our local music scene doesn't extend farther west than the Smokies, think again. Out on the West Coast, a lot of folks are downloading Uncle Dave's Wednesday-night broadcasts of "Dead Air" (via WNCW's Web site) and trading them. That means they're dancing in San Diego to jam bands from Asheville and Charlotte.
WNC's favorite DJ feels lucky to be able to give fans and performers of new local music a weekly oasis of air time amid the vast radio wasteland.
"They took a real chance on me, I think, seven years ago, not knowing what to expect, and some people didn't expect for us to last this long" or become so popular, Uncle Dave confessed to Xpress.
"It's really about the music, what we get to do. That's really what matters, I think. People always tell me I put a personality with it, but I think, you know, the music does all the talking." -- SR
Darcel Grimes was pleased when I told her she'd won our Best Local TV Reporter crown for the "umpteenth" time (I'd lost count, but it's actually the fourth straight year).
"I'm happy for the umpteenth time!" she exclaimed.
She's got a right to be proud. Darcel has been an anchorwoman (and reporter) on WLOS 13's nightly news since 1983, just two years after the Washington, D.C., native came here by way of Jackson, Miss. (where she also worked as a TV news reporter and anchor).
That places her in another hall of fame, as well: the pioneer women journalists who helped shatter the glass ceiling in America's TV newsrooms in the 1970s and early 1980s. Today, an estimated two out of every five TV-newsroom staff are women, and the number continues to grow, according to Vernon Stone of the Missouri School of Journalism. Women now outnumber men in the prestigious anchor slots, and one out of every four television news directors, who make the decisions on what news to cover, is now female. -- SR
Like many of our readers, Asheville City Council member Brian Peterson says he's "sick of [the scandal]. I'm ready to put things behind me, and I hope that the rest of the world will just move on -- you know, we're all tired of hearing about it."
The flap involved a police stop (in which Peterson was charged with minor traffic violations) and Police Chief Will Annarino's subsequent allegations that there was a hooker in the car. Peterson's Council colleagues chimed in with an unprecedented resolution to censure him.
To many onlookers, however, Peterson's behavior was only half the scandal. Did he feel he was treated fairly, we asked?
Peterson said he has no complaint with Council -- but he had more to say about his treatment by Annarino:
"I definitely think there was some politics to it. I don't want to make excuses -- I screwed up, and I paid a price -- but I think there was definitely more to it than just my making a stupid mistake. ... Say you have a disagreement with your neighbor, and they make some tip to the police. They come out and they don't find anything wrong, but they think you did something wrong. And just to report, 'Well, it looked like he had grown marijuana, but we didn't find any marijuana' -- no one would want the police just to try people in the press. I think in my case, because I'm a public official, I expect that kind of attention. But ... I heard one person who said his teenage son had ordered some of those Girls Gone Wild tapes. What if somebody found that in his house? 'Oh, well, he must be a child molester, a dirty old man ...'
"I think there have been a lot of concerns about ... the competence of the Police Department," said Peterson, adding, "and mine was just one of several questions." -- SR
Mount Pisgah, Asheville's clear-sky bellwether, is getting harder to discern through the haze every year, longtime locals report. Dirty coal smoke drifting from our Tennessee neighbors' power plants is to blame for much of the smog poisoning the ridge tops -- but here in the valleys, Air Pollution is mostly the fault of our own cars, trucks, lawn mowers and bulldozers. That's why local governments are working on an "early action plan" to clean up our ozone pollution -- before the EPA comes down and does it for us.
"Medford scandals" ranked second in this category. But you readers must mean "underreported in other media," because Xpress has devoted a number of cover stories to examining diverse allegations concerning Buncombe County Sheriff Bobby Medford. On the sheriff's heels comes "Bush's lies": about the Iraq war, WMD, corporate scandals, the Social Security trust fund, and a Pinocchio-length list of other instances cited by our readers. -- SR
"Oregon Hitchhiker, Pritchard Park Sizing Each Other Up"; "First McWal-Krispybucks-Mart to Open in Baghdad"; "Defeated Mullets Regrouping in Mountains; Waging Guerrilla Hairfare"; "Joke Much Funnier in Dream."
If the daily paper's seemingly endless parade of headlines about the Rev. Billy Graham's next-to-last crusade and Private Jessica Lynch's April Fools' Day rescue is starting to make you wonder if you've somehow accidentally moved to Spartanburg -- relax. Just look for one of the The Asheville Disclaimer's quirkily painted little flowerboxes, which have sprouted on street corners all over downtown lately, and you'll find a monthly protest march of headlines such as those above that couldn't have been crafted anywhere but Asheville.
Almost equally popular with fans of WNC's free press is Western North Carolina Woman, devoted to "celebrating the inherent strength, wisdom & grace of women." Like the womenfolk who flourish in these mountains, this new monthly magazine defies simplistic stereotypes; the many featured articles in its recent issue on the Y chromosome, for example, were written by and about men. -- SR
"Hal Warden, 16, of Nashville, Tenn., was granted a divorce from his wife, Catherine, 13. It was his second marriage, he having previously been divorced by Wendy, 14, who got fed up with him because, as she complained to the judge, 'He was acting like a 10-year-old.'"
That's the very first News of the Weird item, printed back in 1988 when the Washington alt newsweekly City Paper decided to publish a "long-haired, wild-tie-wearing" (in his own words) business professor's chronicle of a civilization in decline. So now you know: Chuck Shepherd doesn't work here at Xpress (though he would probably fit right in). No, Shepherd sifts the world press for stranger-than-fiction news nuggets from his home in the truly weird state of Florida.
Want to send him an eye-roller you found in your local rag? Visit his Web site at www.newsoftheweird.com. -- SR
So a lot of you say. But a sizable number of other readers voted Rob Breszny's Free Will Astrology the third best feature in Xpress.
As a longtime astrologer myself (I wrote the "Planting by the Moon" weekly almanac that occupied a corner of our Gardening section for several years), I may be able to provide a satellite's-eye overview of this matter. On the dark side, "sun-sign" astrology (with its 12 pigeonholes purporting to cover all humanity) is a media-tailored oversimplification of the art, and most professional astrologers view it with contempt. On the bright side, Rob really does work skillfully with these crude tools; however irreverently he may word them, his predictions, I've observed, are always carefully grounded in what the planets actually are doing in relation to each sun sign.
So grin and bear it, you disgruntled skeptics. And remember: When Xpress merely experimented with running a different sun-sign column in Breszny's place some months ago, we were showered with more fiery reader complaints than we'd ever received about anything. -- SR