COVER Talking it out: Radio host offers disaster therapy
It's late Thursday afternoon, three days after the Virginia Tech massacre, and Charlottesville's best-known afternoon radio host, WINA's Coy Barefoot, is once again working through the seemingly incomprehensible disaster.
"This thing has really shaken me up," says Barefoot in the moments before he goes on the air. "I had to leave the living room last night and just go cry it out alone in the dark."
His radio show dubbed "Charlottesville... Right Now" usually features a mix of local and state– sometimes national– figures. But what happened in Blacksburg caused Barefoot to cancel all his guests.
"This week," he tells callers, "it's just you and me, folks."
The first call is a mom with a child at Virginia Tech, who thankfully is safe. The mother says she did not get upset when she first heard the news, or cry as details were filled in over the next few days, even as the body count kept rising. But when she drove down Rugby Road Wednesday and saw that UVA students had painted their beloved Beta Bridge orange and maroon, she "just lost it."
Barefoot picks up one of several typed documents he has neatly arranged around the studio. This one is a spare, typed list of the 33 students who died.
"Every day I look at these names, and I think, today I'm going to read these, and I'm going to talk about them," Barefoot says. "But I can't, and I don't know why." His voice cracks almost imperceptibly.
During a commercial break, the long-time observer of the Charlottesville scene explains how he and his afternoon drive-time callers have moved through the range of emotions. "Tuesday and Wednesday were more about shock and grief," he explains. "Today is more about anger."
Here's the first hour from "Charlottesville... Right Now!" on Thursday, April 19.
Barefoot is incensed that NBC chose to air the violent video footage the killer mailed between his two murderous assaults. Barefoot believes that action rewarded the killer with undeserved notoriety. And even though radio is all about the audio, Barefoot won't air any killer rants on this AM radio show.
"NBC was played beautifully by the shooter," says a caller named Tom from Charlottesville.
"The families' pain and despair have been deepened," Barefoot agrees, "and their healing has been postponed. That's the part that's most reprehensible."
Barefoot and his listeners are also angry at Neal Boortz, a nationally syndicated radio host in Atlanta who is broadcast on WINA. A day after the shooting, Boortz intimated that the Tech victims deserved some degree of blame for allegedly acting like "weak zombies" instead of somehow taking out an assailant armed with two deadly weapons.
"To ask trapped, unarmed people to rush their killer is just ludicrous," says Barefoot, and a listener agrees that Boortz, who spoke in Charlottesville less than two months ago at the Omni Hotel, offered "a load of hooey."
"People in the media have power," Barefoot explains during a news break. "Those in power should be held to a higher standard."
Even when he's expressing anger, Barefoot's posture doesn't change, and his voice stays level, though his eyes convey a certain passion. The next caller takes several minutes to explain his opinion– that Boortz's comments were taken out of context– that Boortz was not blaming the victims, but society, which ought to have equipped the victims to defend themselves.
During this call, Barefoot leans back in his chair, arms crossed, listening intently. When the caller finishes, Barefoot is silent for a few moments before he responds.
And here's the second hour.
"Hey, Pete? What were those kids supposed to do?" asks Barefoot. "All they did was get up and go to class, for God's sake."
And with that, the show is over. Barefoot takes off his headphones and shrugs in frustration– all he can do is listen while people talk– and maybe that's a start.
WINA's Coy Barefoot cleared his calendar for Tech talk.
PHOTO BY WILLIAM WALKER