Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Political Pirate Radio by Julie Sobel - City Hall News

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From a cluttered basement studio, Roberto Perez talks politics and aspirations...

Week after week, prominent New York officials make the long journey down to the basement of LaGuardia Community College in Queens, navigating their way through a room cluttered with boxes, file cabinets, upsidedown tables and a row of dusty computers.

There, in a cramped studio with foam-padded walls, they talk politics on a radio show called The Perez Notes, hosted by a part-time mailman named Roberto Perez.

The political web-radio program, which is accessible via Perez’s blog, thepereznotes., has attracted many of New York’s political heavyweights, such as David Yassky, Doug Muzzio, Eric Gioia, Hank Sheinkopf, Joseph Crowley and Ruben Diaz, Jr.

“Politicians, they’ll go anywhere for any type of press,” Perez says modestly of his ability to lure so many leading political figures to the basement studio.

His fans give him more credit than that. “He asks really good, informative and fair questions,” said Assembly Member and Bronx Democratic Party chairman Carl Heastie, who was recently on the show. “And actually some tough questions. But even asking those tough questions, he asks them in a dignified and professional manner.”

Lynn Schulman, who was a recent guest on the Perez Notes, says it was a “pleasure” being interviewed by Perez.

“He’s very knowledgeable about politics,” said Schulman, who was beaten by Karen Koslowitz in the primary for Melinda Katz’s Council seat. “And he’s also very versed in what’s happening in the news right up to the minute. So he really keeps his interviewees on their toes.”

Schulman also noted the value of reaching Perez’s audience.

“He has a significant following that’s important, he’s had some very important people on the show, which shows the kind of niche that he has, and I think he’s got an important voice,” she said.

Perez estimates that his audience is likely a few hundred people, mainly comprised of students and political junkies. The nature and number of his listeners may contribute to the informal feel to the show. He strives to make his guests feel comfortable.

“I like to say it’s like jazz,” he says. “Just two guys on the street corner talking about things happening throughout the city.”

Perez uses no notes during the show, which he chalks up to both his voracious reading and enthusiasm for politics. He will often talk about certain politicians, most of whom are virtually unknown outside their districts, with the same enthusiasm other hosts talk about having George Clooney or Alex Rodriguez on their shows.

“There are people who don’t have the opportunity to talk to their elected officials in depth,” he says excitedly. “How many people can say that they get that opportunity? To talk to a Joe Crowley for an hour—a whole hour!—about various things.”

Born in a Lower East Side project, Perez grew up in Woodside, Queens, and has lived there ever since. He started college at LaGuardia and still thinks about returning to school to finish a degree.

While a student at LaGuardia, he met a prodessor who saw a natural radio host in the inquisitive, opinionated student. He suggested Perez listen to Howard Jordan's radio show, The Jordan Journal, on WBAI. Perez liked what he heard so much he went to the station and approached Jordan.

While a student at LaGuardia, he met a professor who saw a natural radio host in the inquisitive, opinionated student. He suggested Perez listen to Howard Jordan’s radio show, The Jordan Journal, on WBAI. Perez liked what he heard so much he went to the station and approached Jordan.

“He showed up at the radio station up at WBAI one day and he said he wanted to get involved in radio,” Jordan recalled. “I was scheduled to go on in half an hour, so I just told him to come on in.”

When Jordan needed someone to stand in for him during several programs, he picked Perez, keeping a watchful eye on Perez’s developing skills.

“He developed his own style, and it was a very interesting process, because in the beginning it was more me sort of navigating him through the process. And then after a while, as with most mentor-mentee relationships, he started teaching me a lot about the process,” Jordan said. “So it sort of inverted itself.”

Perez is now an assistant producer on Jordan’s show and continues to guest host. This was a wise career move, said his mentor.

“The other possibility he had was a potential political career, but I told him to stay away from that,” Jordan laughed. “That’s dangerous.”

Perez may have resisted the urge to become a politician, but nevertheless, politics has shaped his career.

Since he does not get paid to do the Perez Notes, he supports himself working as a mailman. He delivered mail in the financial district until March, when he became the union’s legislative chair. Perez says he became interested in politics after the hotly contested 2000 presidential election.

“There’s something fundamentally wrong with the way things went down,” he said. “I felt like somebody had taken the blinders off as to how the power structure works.”

He recalled working with Jordan during the election. “After that it was like, ‘Wait a minute, I need to know who really pulls the strings.’”

Perez would like to continue to develop the show, which he thinks fills a Latino media gap.

“I think there’s a niche for me,” he said. “I’ve had people tell me that. I’ve had people refer to me as the Dominic Carter of the Internet."

Times are tough, with most public universities looking for ways to trim costs. But Perez says he hopes for a larger commitment from LaGuardia.

“I think I could do a hell of a lot with more resources, I think I’ve done a lot with limited resources,” said Perez. “I think the sky’s the limit.”