Double Trouble

Meet Jay Marvin, Denver's only one-man radio team.

Marvin has been on a career upswing since his treatment breakthrough. He had a solid following at WFLA-AM, and after a seven-month detour in Milwaukee, he scored with fans of Chicago's WLS-AM, a talk giant whose signal can be heard in 38 states. When Marvin left WLS to take the KHOW position, rumors circulated that he had been fired, but that's not so. He left on his own after WLS was sold to ABC, a network owned by the Walt Disney Company that he says censors controversial hosts. He gives credit to Jacor Communications, the Cincinnati company that owns KHOW and seven other stations in the Denver-Boulder area, for letting him be himself. Plenty of listeners are pleased by the results: Although Marvin trails KOA-AM's Sports Zoo in the afternoon ratings by a substantial margin, his numbers are big improvements over those of his predecessors, and they keep rising. He won't reveal how much he's being paid by Jacor beyond saying, "I'm not some highly paid radio performer, but I'm managing for the first time in my life to put a little money away."

The growth in Marvin's popularity reflects a modest mellowing in his approach. The Jays heard during his early KHOW broadcasts were much more abrasive than the ones on display now, and reviews in the daily newspapers were caustic. Mention these notices and the cantankerous Marvin surfaces. "They bothered me because they were unfair," he says. "It's unfair to have a guy move his family to a city with the best intentions and then be on the air for only two days before people start writing awful things about him because he's not doing quote-unquote National Public Radio."

By the same token, Marvin does allow that his style is idiosyncratic. Some of his critics have painted him as a radical, and so does an autobiographical paragraph attached to Second Skin, which describes him as "one of the only openly leftist talk show hosts on commercial radio today." But this descriptive is too rigid. He's still enamored of revolutionary Cuba; on the walls of his modest Denver home, he proudly exhibits a framed autograph of Fidel Castro and numerous photos and posters depicting Che Guevara, who he says "was Christ-like." But at the same time, he openly supports Treasurer Bill Owens, a Republican whom political opponents see as a water-carrier for various far-right causes, in the gubernatorial race. Marvin has also been exceedingly kind of late to Denver mayor Wellington Webb; when Webb appeared in-studio with him in late February, softball questions like "When did you first move to Denver?" and "How did you meet your wife?" were the order of the day.

If there's a contradiction here, Marvin doesn't see it. About Owens, he says, "I don't agree with everything he stands for, but I found him to be very candid, very open and not afraid of an argument--and in this day and age, we need that."

As for Webb, Marvin contends that the mayor "has a plan to make this city even greater--and I really like him. I think he's the kind of person who pretty much tells you how it is, and either you like him or you can lump it."

The same goes for Marvin. He may sound dogmatic, but his political convictions are actually as multi-faceted as his psyche--and he's proud of it. "I opposed sending troops into Iraq when I was working in a town [Saint Petersburg-Tampa] that had a military base," he says. "When the Gulf War started, people wanted to lynch me. They even had to call the bomb squad. Then, after that, I supported a police chief who had been accused of being racially insensitive, because I didn't think he did it, and all of a sudden all my so-called liberal friends accused me of being a fascist. But fuck those people. I'm never going to stick to a party line. I never have and I never will. I'll do as I please and I'll think as I please, and if people don't like that about me, I'm sorry."

After a pause, he adds, "Actually, I'm not sorry. I'm not sorry at all."

Marvin has taken some heat from people who might agree with him if he lowered his voice. Last November, after the racially motivated shootings of Oumar Dia and Jeannie VanVelkinburgh, Marvin spoke forcefully against white-supremacy groups and neo-Nazis. But at a November 25 rally dubbed "Hate Not Welcome Here" that Marvin had tirelessly promoted, he was blasted by Rabbi Steven Foster of Denver's Temple Emanuel for helping create a divisive atmosphere. Marvin reacted not by trying to explain himself to the rabbi, but by repeatedly excoriating him on his show. (Foster declined to comment about Marvin for this article.)

The motivations behind other attacks on Marvin make more sense. After Marvin condemned skinheads, unknown people broke his car window, trespassed on his property and poisoned one of his three beloved dogs. The dog, named Papito, survived and is fine, but the incident caused Marvin to redouble his efforts to keep himself and his loved ones safe. After cabdriver Daniel King, a longtime local gadfly known for his support of a ballot amendment supporting the right to carry concealed weapons, made comments that Marvin viewed as inappropriate and later appeared at a restaurant at which he was eating, the host filed a temporary restraining order against him. King admits to having contacted Marvin numerous times in regard to a case in which he was cited by police for trying to get cabbies at Denver International Airport to sign a petition, and King even confesses to suggesting that they engage in a boxing match--for charity, he swears. But he shrugs off the suggestion that he's been stalking Marvin. "He's an Alan Berg wannabe," King says. "And to paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen, I knew Alan Berg--and Jay Marvin is no Alan Berg."

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