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Small Radio Station Big On Personality

By NICOLA M. WHITE The Tampa Tribune

Published: Aug 12, 2006

ZEPHYRHILLS - Dr. Dr. Thayer - high school teacher, bodybuilder, radio station owner, body paint aficionado - sometimes worries he's becoming overexposed.

Some weekends, you find him recording live from The Clock diner on U.S. 301. The next minute, he slathers on green body paint to become his alter ego, The Impressive - not to be confused with the Incredible - Hulk, and emcees a downtown Zephyrhills street festival.

All the while, though, it's a good bet Thayer is thinking and brainstorming about "The Zephyr," a low-power, oldies radio station he operates out of a small trailer off Chancey Road.

It's the city's only FM radio station. It's also Thayer's childhood dream.

"It's even better than I've dreamed of," Thayer, 57, said recently. "I'm the Scott Shannon of Zephyrhills."

Scott Shannon might be a bit of a stretch. Shannon's famous voice booms over 400 radio stations across the nation, while Thayer's voice echoes in homes and car stereos within 9 miles of Zephyrhills.

But you can't deny Thayer's presence in this small east Pasco city.

Drive down any city street, and you'll spy a poster, yard sign or bumper sticker for The Zephyr, WZPH, 96.7 FM. Attend any Main Street function, and there's Thayer, microphone in hand, egging on the crowd or recording "shout-outs" to be broadcast over the airwaves later.

"He's just wonderful; he comes through for us on all our events," said Sue Harvey, executive director of Main Street Zephyrhills, an organization that promotes downtown businesses.

Thayer does this all gratis. He doesn't make money off the station, either. There are no ads on the air. Even if he could sell ads (he's tried - no takers), he couldn't charge much; technically, The Zephyr is a nonprofit radio station.

He pays for the station's upkeep, rent on the empty pasture where he parks his trailer, and all that green body paint, imported from Germany, out of his own pocket. Thayer works as a math teacher at Land O' Lakes High School and as an online instructor for distance-learning colleges.

To Thayer, it's not about the money. The radio station is part of who he is.

The Personality

First, the name.

Yes, Thayer goes by "Dr. Dr.," or simply "Doc." If you ask him, he'll say "Dr." is the name his mama gave him, although he'll admit that maybe he went by something else - John - and changed his name as an adult. He's registered to vote as "Dr. Thayer," according to voter records.

"That's my story, and I'm sticking to it," Thayer said.

As for the second "Dr."? In 1991, he earned his doctorate in education from Florida International University.

At school, he's all business. He rarely walks the halls without a tie.

His alter ego, however, is another story. That painted guy promoting "The Zephyr" sometimes wreaks havoc while dancing to his favorite song, "The Monster Mash."

His "gal," Joyce Sundheim, aka Wonderful Woman, also dresses up, although not as often as Doc, she said.

Sundheim, several notches more subdued than the larger-than-life Thayer, shrugs off his wild antics and ideas.

"He's got a million of 'em," she said.

The Doc's resume includes several claims to fame, including 52 bodybuilding trophies, six titles and several Guinness Book of World Records attempts.

He's worked at more than a dozen radio stations through the years - from Illinois, where he grew up, to Baton Rouge, La.

The whole time, he dreamed of owning his own station.

In March 2005, when the owner of the 96.7 FM frequency decided to forgo a Christian rock experiment, Thayer jumped at the chance.

The frequency was for a lower-power FM station, designed to give local communities access to the airwaves in an era of corporate radio ownership.

"It took me, oh, all of about two-tenths of a second to say yes," Thayer said.

It took 20 minutes to switch the programming to 1960s rock 'n' roll. The first song he played was Bill Haley and His Comets' "Rock Around the Clock."

Thayer said he likes to think the station has been doing so ever since.

On The Air

On a recent overcast afternoon, Thayer leaned into his microphone and delivered several puns to introduce his song lineup, a huge collection of MP3s.

"And now, the Fifth Dimension," he boomed, in an old-school announcer voice - the kind you heard on TV shows back when DJs weren't trying to sound ironic.

"Won't you let the sun shine?"

The lyrics, from the Fifth Dimension's "Aquarius," echoed through the speakers on a Panasonic computer.

"Let the sun shine. Leeeeet the sun shiiiiine."

The Zephyr is not a fancy operation. Thayer's trailer is outfitted with a leather loveseat, two working computers, a few swivel chairs, Buccaneers and Lightning posters, a stand-up fan, an air-conditioning wall unit and a couple of promotional posters.

"More Music Than Ever Before," one boasts. Doc's going for a world record, after all.

A sign on the wall reminds users to clean up the studio before leaving. Of course, Thayer is the only one who ever goes in there.

"To me, it's my hobby," he said. "It's fun. It can be creative."

Then he turned back to the mike.

"And now, won't you snuggle up to me and give me a kiss?"

Cue "Everlasting Love," by the 1960s British pop band Love Affair.

Reporter Nicola M. White can be reached at (813) 779-4613 or nwhite1@tampatrib.com.