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Published Friday, March 26, 2004
ON-AIR SHOPPING
WWBF Morning Show a Swap Shop for Listeners

Jeff Thornburg hosts a one-hour show at WWBF in Bartow that includes an on-air swap shop.
David Mills/The Ledger
Enlarge photo
 
ABOUT `THE SHOPPER'
WHAT: The "WBF Shopper," a radio swap shop where callers can buy, sell or trade items.

WHEN: 9 to 10am Monday through Saturday on WWBF 1130 AM.

COST: Free.

PHONE: 863-533-0745.

RULES: Callers can only call up to three times per week, one call per day, and a maximum of three items per call. The show does not allow the sale or trade of commercial or home businesses, rentals or rental property, or any type of animal. It also does not allow CB radio linear amplifiers.

WEB SITE: wwbf.com.

By Rebecca Mahoney
The Ledger


When Bob Whittle wants to sell some of his unneeded belongings -- old car parts, an electric dryer, or antique furniture, for example -- he doesn't hold a yard sale. He doesn't take out a classified ad and he doesn't hit an online auction.

He just turns on the radio.

He tunes his dial to WWBF Oldies 1130 in Bartow, waits until 9 a.m., and makes a simple phone call.

"Hi, I've got a couple of items for sale today," he says.

Whittle is a regular participant in the "WBF Shopper," the station's unique on-air swap shop.

Six days a week, the radio station takes a break from playing oldies tunes and turns into a live classified column. For one hour, Monday through Saturday, callers can sell, buy or trade on the radio.

Think of it as a down-home eBay: People call up, tell listeners what they have to sell or what they're looking for, leave their phone number, and hang up. It's simple, free and effective.

"Most of these things are so minor they're not worth putting them in the classified," said Whittle, a 75-year-old Lakeland man who has listened to the show for more than 10 years. "There's a real variety of things on there, and the people are decent."

It's also incredibly popular -- a recent survey by Verizon showed there are an attempted 2,800 calls into the radio station during the hour "Shopper" is on. It is believed to be one of only a handful of radio swap shops in Central Florida, and the only one in Polk County.

"We'd be run out of town if we shut it down," said Jeff Thornburg, who has hosted the show since 1986.

The show is uniquely Polk County -- straightforward, comfortable and just a touch offbeat. Callers have a sense of community; there's a country, Southern, trust-your-neighbor feel to the show.

"The callers are the stars of the show," said Thornburg. "They're characters."

Every day is different. Some callers are simply hoping to unload old cars or pick up some inexpensive furniture. Some are regulars, people who call up to three times a week in an effort to make some spare change by selling various household bric-a-brac.

And then there are the really bizarre calls.

"We had someone once who called in and said he had a parachute for sale -- used once, never opened," said Thornburg, whose father, Tom Thornburg, has owned the station since 1984.

On a recent morning, participants called in to offer everything from size-12 cowboy boots to live chickens. A Lakeland man said he had 30 hubcaps for sale; a caller from Auburndale offered a variety of items, including a band saw, a queen-sized bed and a barbecue grill.

The regulars make enthusiastic pitches.

"I do have this warm ladies' coat, needs to go North to somebody," said one woman, a frequent caller from Auburndale. "If you're going North and you know a widow somewhere up there that has no family and a little bit of money, do a good deed to her and buy her a nice winter coat in a medium size. It's a nice winter coat and (worth) a lot more than I'm asking for her."

Everyone treats Thornburg like an old friend, inquiring about his well-being and asking after his family. One caller recently phoned simply to wish his wife a happy 40th birthday.

Thornburg hosts the show five days a week; his father takes over on Saturday mornings. Thornburg is actually the station's technical manager, responsible for the engineering side of the business as well as its Web site (www.wwbf.com).

But he runs the swap shop with the ease of a practiced disc jockey, smoothly answering the phones and chatting with callers with grace and good humor. He knows all of the regulars by the last four digits of their phone numbers.

"Yeah, 7548. He's a regular," he'll say.

Or: "Oh, 0870. I know her, she's been calling for years."

He's used his technical savvy to create a computer system to keep track of calls. People are only allowed to call three times a week, so Thornberg made a spreadsheet that identifies each caller by phone number and city. The system lets Thornburg know if it's the first, second or third time that week a caller has phoned.

That's really the only high-tech aspect of the show, however. There are only two lines that receive calls. No calls are placed on hold, so you're on the air as soon as Thornburg picks up. And whether or not you sell your items -- or find what you're looking for -- depends entirely on fate.

"We have fun. We hope it's fun for the callers," Thornburg said.

Listeners swear by the show's value.

Odis Fillmon, a 68-year-old Alturas man, believes it's so safe and effective that he's willing to sell his $54,000, 31-foot mobile home on the radio.

"I've sold a lot of items (through the show), including another mobile home," said Fillmon, who has listened to the show for more than 20 years. "It's the best advertisement you can get -- it's free.

Rebecca Mahoney can be reached at 863-802-7548 or rebecca.mahoney@theledger.com.