By Joel Warner
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The federal law enforcement officer lurking around the downtown studio of KHOW-AM/630 pleads to remain anonymous. Not that he's doing anything wrong. It's just that his visit to KHOW isn't official. He's on a break, see. His time is his own for the next few minutes, and he's spending it by hanging out with talk-show host Jay Marvin. He and Jay have been buddies for a while, and the officer worries about him. He worries so much, in fact, that sometimes he stops by during Jay's programs--and sometimes he stops by after shows, too, just to make sure that Jay makes it to his car okay.
Marvin nods as he listens to his friend's comments, and a half-smile implies that he's glad to have this cop watching out for him. It wasn't always so: As soon as Marvin took over the afternoon-drive shift at KHOW in September 1996, he started making enemies, including police who found his daily "pig reports"--in which he revealed the locations of traffic squads against a backdrop of pre-recorded oinking--less than hilarious. But following the November 1997 murder of Officer Bruce VanderJagt by a man reputed to be a skinhead and an incident in which a dead pig with VanderJagt's name carved into it was left outside a police station, Marvin dispensed with the oinking shtick and became one of the biggest boosters of the city's boys and girls in blue. Now many badge-wearers from throughout the metro area adore him, as do a growing legion of talk junkies, and the voters for the Colorado Broadcasters Association, who last Saturday named Marvin Denver's best news/talk personality. There remains, though, a portion of the public for whom Marvin is not just an annoyance, but a threat. And if one of them decides to register disgust with a revolver or a shiv, Marvin knows that having a cop on hand would be very good.
"I might seem like a rough, tough person--like, 'Fuck them. Let them come and get me,'" Marvin says. "But I do get scared sometimes. I do. But what choice do you have, man? Do you buckle under to it? Or do you say what you've got to say?"
For the most part, Marvin, who's 45, takes the latter course. But that doesn't mean he's a single-minded confrontationalist dedicated to provoking the ire of anyone within hearing range. He's more complicated than that. He says he's been diagnosed as a "bipolar manic-depressive," and from 3 to 7 p.m. every weekday, he does his best to prove it. In his decade as a talk-show host, his routine, which has already served him well in other cities, has been powered by mood swings--and swing his moods do. In contrast to most other on-air yakkers, who present predictable viewpoints in predictable ways, Marvin hops from one extreme to another like a barefoot child on a hot sidewalk. The happy, stable, lovable Marvin venerates music, movies, animals, food, humor and dishing with co-workers and callers. But just when you think you've got him pegged as a pushover, up pops a Marvin who's belligerent, militant, capricious--a wild man with a mammoth chip on his shoulder. One minute he's mellow, the next he's as furious as a man in a straitjacket with an itch that won't go away.
In other words, Marvin is two, two, two hosts in one--and he says even he doesn't know which of them will come out, or when. "There are some days when I go in and I can't summon the energy to try to convince people of my point of view," he says. "And then there are days when I'm in a good mood and I think to myself, 'My God--what does it take to get through to these people?'
"I think it's a hundred percent permissible to start yelling at each other, and I think it's a hundred percent permissible to get down and go for it. But that doesn't mean I hate the callers. And it doesn't mean we can't be friends."
It's not difficult to understand why some folks would be gun-shy about taking Jay Marvin up on this offer. When he sees a wrong that he feels needs to be righted, his two minds become one, and he strikes with a vigor that would earn the average pooch a rabies shot. Just ask Glendale mayor Joe Rice.
The conflict between the pair first arose on February 27, when Marvin denigrated a Rice-backed proposal aimed at placing restrictions on the tiny city's strip bars; if passed, one of its provisions would have effectively eliminated table dancing by requiring that peelers remain at least six feet from patrons at all times. Marvin charged that the Glendale proposition duplicated an ordinance drawn up by the National Family Legal Foundation (NFLF), a right-wing religious organization. (The city's link with the NFLF was first reported February 12 in Westword.)
As Rice tells it, he was at his day job (he works for MCI) when he learned about these assertions and was informed that Marvin had dared him to debate the topic live. Rice took the bait and phoned KHOW, much to his subsequent chagrin. "What I learned was, it's not about the truth," Rice says. "It's about entertainment, and it's about fueling the fire for a debate to make it a lively show. His technique is to ask you a lot of complex, rapid-fire questions that are really several questions in one. And if you start to answer them, he's like, 'Stop beating around the bush. You're acting just like a politician.' He insists on yes or no answers to questions that can't be answered that way."