The Worst of D.C.

Shock jock's found a new way to annoy people

Shannon and Chymes' antics made national headlines, but nearly a decade later, they're no longer at the top in their home market. Their rating of 3.5 for the winter months of January, February and March puts them behind KSHE (94.7 FM) with a 9.1, WIL (92.3 FM) with 5.9 and KYKY (98.1 FM) with a 4.8. Howard Stern's syndicated show at KPNT (105.7 FM) is at 4.2. Steve and DC's rating among the 25-54 demographic translates into an estimated 9,500 listeners during the average quarter hour.

The show is syndicated to 29 cities, most of them smaller markets in southern states including Biloxi, Mississippi; Macon, Georgia; Tuscaloosa, Alabama; and Danville, Kentucky. In his bankruptcy filing, Wilhelm estimates that income from syndication of the show amounts to $3,000 per month. His base salary is $170,000 for 2002. The last year of his contract, 2005, raises the base salary to $190,000. Additional income comes from ads, personal appearances and the show's Web site.

In recent years, Steve Shannon and D.C. Chymes' professed Christianity has surfaced on the show enough to concern WMLL's owner, Emmis Communications Corp. Limitations were put into the duo's contracts requiring that they "keep the religious content of the program to a bare minimum."

The reason is simple:

The contract with Emmis states that "if the program should take the form of [a] religious entertainment show we are not confident the ratings will be maintained and grow and therefore our investment in the program will be materially diminished." The contract allows that "sporadic mentions of certain religious beliefs" are allowed, but "there shall be no proselytizing or praying on the show or any emphasis of religious material or content."

Word of Wilhelm's financial trouble has spread through media circles, particularly on the Internet message board at www.stlmedia.net. A string of messages about the bankruptcy triggered a long defense from Wilhelm's wife. Mike Anderson, publisher of the Web site, said that because people have a love/hate, "polarized" view of Wilhelm, the messages got personal and sometimes ugly.

"I dropped the thread because the posters had gone way over the line," Anderson says. "This is not an issue that relates, at least not yet, to their professional performance. It's a personal issue and I didn't think there was a place for that on the message board."

Because he was unaware of the magnitude of his financial problems, Wilhelm says they should not reflect poorly on his religious beliefs.

"It's personal," Wilhelm says. "It's a situation that's between me, my wife and my family. I regret that some people have used it as an opportunity to attack me and say I'm not a Christian or that I'm being a hypocrite when they don't know the whole story. That's the part that bothers me. If you knew every fact of the story, you might not sit back and say this guy's a phony."

But Wilhelm's troubles aren't going away. A public hearing on the bankruptcy is scheduled for July 22. The U.S. Trustee for the court has until late August to decide whether the filing qualifies for Chapter 7. Wilhelm's lawyer, Robert Eggman, says it was Wilhelm who decided to try Chapter 7.

"The budget shows he's got more expenses than income; that's primarily why he filed a 7 rather than a 13," Eggman says. "He does make a lot of money, but that's not the only consideration: it's whether or not you have funds in excess of expenses at the end of the month. They do take into account if your expenses are reasonable. We do have that issue."

Lawyer Nicholas Franke, who represents Thomas and the Chase, says the Wilhelm case is an example of the issues surrounding bankruptcy reform. As it stands, only the U.S. Trustee can rule that the filing doesn't qualify for Chapter 7 eligibility.

"What Congress is debating now is whether there should be a needs test," Franke says. "If someone has the ability to pay their debt, should they be allowed to go through the process, or should they be required to do a Chapter 13 and put in some of their income? That's what is at the heart of bankruptcy reform."

"To be very frank, Mr. Wilhelm is a very high-income Chapter 7 debtor," Franke says. "The average Chapter 7 debtor does not make $200,000 a year."

Travers, the attorney who was burned by Wilhelm, agrees his former tenant shouldn't get Chapter 7 protection. But for him there's been one main lesson from this experience.

"Yeah, never to lease to him again," Travers says. "As soon as somebody says they're 'born again,' I walk away. He destroyed the credibility of that kind of a comment."

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