VCU Fights Feathered Enemy; Quasi-Experts Host Raucous Fishing Show; Arts Center Planned for Historic Theater; Not Funny, Earley's Team Says 

Street Talk

VCU Fights Feathered Enemy

For most of the summer, a series of loud, squeaky chirps have been blaring through the air over part of downtown Richmond. The noises seem to be bird-related, but there's no easy way to tell what they are or where they originate.

As it turns out, the sounds are the work of Virginia Commonwealth University.

Two years ago, VCU officials noticed that large flocks of starlings were overtaking the trees at the university's Medical College of Virginia campus downtown. The ugly black birds, typically 5 inches tall, tend to roost in urban areas beginning in late August and into the fall. MCV was perfect for them.

They flew into the area in droves. They crowded the trees, standing feather to feather on branches at night and leaving messy, stinky droppings. In the mornings, MCV staff would arm themselves with power washers to clean the sidewalks.

In some cases, though, the birds are more than a nuisance. At VCU's Massey Cancer Center, doctors were concerned.

"There were patients with low immune systems," says Joe Kuttenkuler, a VCU spokesman. "There was a problem with the germs. Walking through the area wasn't healthy for [the patients]."

Fed up, VCU purchased six Super BirdXPeller PRO "sonic repellers" with a retail price of $550 each from a company called Bird X.

Each repeller, about the size of a grapefruit, has four speakers to emit digital recordings of birds being attacked. The sounds, which can cover a three-block radius, are intended to discourage starlings from landing in nearby trees.

VCU's facilities-management crew attached the speakers to tree branches around campus, including the area behind the Massey Cancer Center and in the trees surrounding the neighboring Valentine Museum.

The museum welcomed the repellers. Before they were installed, Ken Myers, director of operations for the museum, banged boards together under the trees to scare off the intruders. The museum is also trying "scare eyes" — 2-foot-wide, bright-colored vinyl eyeballs designed to frighten the birds, too.

"No one method works," Myers says.

But the repellers may. "Thus far, they've done their job," Kuttenkuler says. "There's not as many [birds] in the trees."

Some residents and commuters in the area have noticed the noise. But Kuttenkuler says he hasn't had any complaints.

I haven't even seen a starling yet," Myers says. Then again, he adds, the season is still young. — Dan Wagener

Quasi-Experts Host Raucous Fishing Show

If you like your fishing news peppered with everything from politics to social commentary to tales of misadventure, there's a new radio show in town that could be for you.

Listeners who've tuned in to WLEE-AM 990 on Sundays from 6 to 7 p.m. might describe it as a kind of "Car Talk" meets "Prairie Home Companion" meets Howard Stern. It is called "Fish Talk Live," with local hosts Tom Daniel and Tom Trenz.

Daniel is a free-lance photographer and Trenz is the art director for Riddick Advertising. Until six months ago, the two friends knew little about being radio show hosts and — some would say — even less about catching fish.

"We know nothing about fishing," Daniel cheerfully acknowledges. "What we rely on is experts to call in and tell us what to do."

Anything goes on the show. Daniel likes to make leering innuendoes to his "girlie" callers, while Trenz says it's his job to reel Daniel in. "He's a crazy wild man but most of it's a show," Trenz explains. "T.D.'s the one who'll go off and create the humor. He obviously has to have the center of attention. I make sure we talk about fishing — at least three minutes of the show."

Despite that, the station is calling the show a success. "Nobody else is doing anything like this," says Jim Jacobs, vice president of operations at Radio Richmond, the company that owns WLEE.

The station doesn't use Arbitron ratings to gauge its audiences. But proof of Fish Talk's success, says Jacobs, is the growing number of callers and sponsors. In fact, the station is giving the duo another slot for an altogether different program on Saturdays from 6 to 7 p.m. And more could follow.

In September, Daniel and Trenz — along with John Morand from the recording studio Sound of Music — will launch "The Richmond Music Machine," which will feature bands scheduled to play at local spots like Fireballz and Hole in the Wall. There will be special guests. And Daniel's teen-age son, Wolfgang, will even review the area's high-school bands.

As for fishing, Trenz points out that the two are not total novices. He, at least, has spent time working as a fishing scout in upstate New York. And Daniel and Trenz say they troll for fish twice a week everywhere from the James to the Chickahominy River to the Chesapeake Bay. Their escapades become fodder for the radio show.

"A lot of our fishing trips are comedy of error," says Trenz. "One weekend Tom fell off the boat and landed in the mud. And that's the show." — Brandon Walters

Arts Center Planned for Historic Theater

The curtain may part again at a historic, rundown cinema house in Highland Springs. But first Henrico County needs to find $4 million.

County officials need the money to turn the 63-year-old Art Deco-style Henrico Theatre into a new cultural-arts center for Highland Springs.

The renovated theater, in the heart of Highland Springs on Nine Mile Road, could serve as a venue for an array of cultural activities, says Chuck Schroll, project representative for Henrico Recreation and Parks. Among its uses after renovation, he says, would be theater, dance, film festivals, public lectures and other educational and community events.

In 1938, it cost $85,000 to build what was at the time a fashionably modern theater. One trade publication said that the "Poured-in-Place Monolithic Concrete" used to construct the 14,500-square-foot building resulted in "architectural design [that] flows in one smooth line without joint or break and creates that much desired modern effect of massive simplicity."

By 1998, ticket revenues had dwindled. The theater stopped showing films, closed its doors and created an opportunity for Henrico County. In 1999, the county purchased the theater for $240,000 and hired Guernsey Tingle Architects to help develop a proposal to restore and adapt the building.

In the proposal, the architects suggest that the county reduce the size of the auditorium from 710 seats to 450. The extra space allows room for a 32-by-56-foot stage, including the wings, along with a green room for performers. The architects also propose expanding the lobby, and adapting the second floor above it into a 1,700-square-foot meeting area with a small caterer's kitchen. Handicapped-accessible restrooms and spaces for audio and visual equipment and technicians are also included in the plan.

In the next several months, the county will work to finalize construction plans, Schroll says. But the big question is money. Already, the county has sunk nearly a half-million dollars into the project. And it's unclear where they'll get the rest of the $4 million.

Schroll says it's too early to discuss potential funding sources, but adds that the county is "still looking." — Kevin Finucane

Not Funny, Earley's Team Says

Virginia's gubernatorial race has hit the national stage.

Sort of.

In a recent edition of The Onion, the satirical pseudonewspaper based in Wisconsin takes a poke at Mark Earley, the real-life Republican candidate for governor, or maybe at politicians in general:

"RICHMOND, VA — Wanting to 'feel out the popular attitude before taking a position,'" the paper writes, "Virginia House of Delegates candidate [sic] Mark Earley turned to focus-group analysis Monday to determine Virginians' stance on the hot-button issue of rape.

"'So far, results indicate that the state's residents skew heavily toward anti-rape,'" Earley said."

Thank goodness.

Earley's campaign isn't laughing. At all.

"We all like a good humor piece, and spoof-style humor can be entertaining and funny," says Earley spokesman David Botkins. "But rape is not a subject to joke about. It is violent and degrading to women, and we didn't find it funny or amusing at all. The Onion went beyond the limits of what's appropriate humor in this case."

Botkins says the campaign won't contact the Onion to protest or otherwise respond to the piece.

Find the full text of the short "article" at www.theonion.com/onion3728.

Greg Weatherford


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