Crossing Boundaries

It's 8:45 a.m., drive time in talk radio land, and Darrell Ankarlo is just winding down. On the air is a caller who calls himself the Wingman. For a small fee, he says, he drives drunk people home.

It's one of the lighter bits of the morning, and Ankarlo, who is perhaps Dallas' most controversial talk radio host, is enjoying it. He is sitting in his studio, behind three glowing computer monitors and a microphone the size of a small football, his hands resting on his head, his reading glasses pulled down on his nose, his white sneakers stretched out before him. On the other side of the wall, behind a window, is his producer, who is simultaneously checking e-mail (the show gets between 400 and 600 e-mails a day from listeners) and handling the lit-up phone lines jammed with callers hoping to win a flat-screen TV.

With a broad smile, Ankarlo reads from a brochure advertising the Wingman's services. A technician cues up a beer jingle to play once the segment is over.

Darrell Ankarlo
Tom Jenkins
Darrell Ankarlo

This Wingman bit isn't typical of the show. Usually Ankarlo's riffing about gun control or gays or the war in Iraq. Half an hour ago, he was talking to Dallas Mayor Laura Miller, explaining why he carries a Glock in his car. In five minutes he'll be warning parents about a new drug called the cheese--a form of heroin that looks like grated cheese.

But what's really caught the public's attention, what makes Ankarlo stand out amid all the chattering on the DFW talk radio dial, is his take on immigration. It's an unapologetic, frank and possibly racist position, and it is the main reason Ankarlo is now one of the most talked about radio personalities in town.

"I think he's a very hateful person, and I'm just basing that on the way he talks, a lot of what he says has racial overtones. Even his audience, I think he kind of teaches them to hate, he gets them riled up," says Jesse Diaz, president of the local chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). Among other things, Diaz has a problem with Ankarlo's insistence on referring to all illegal immigrants as Mexicans.

Ankarlo insists he's not a racist, just a speaker of the unfiltered truth. When it comes to immigration, he says, people are tuning in because he's got the guts to tell the truth, whether it's politically correct or not. "I speak for Americans. Exclamation point, period. Americans," he says. "Who I'm not speaking for are illegals...It incenses me; it pisses me off when somebody uses that kind of loaded term: You're a racist because you disagree."

Mexicans, Ankarlo tells his listeners, don't want to learn English, pledge allegiance to the U.S. flag or pay taxes. What they do want is free health care and jobs. There is also a covert plan afoot, supported by Latino organizations like La Raza and LULAC, to take over the Southwest and colonize it as part of Mexico. "Their plans are to open up the floodgates, let in as many as you can so that one day they can reclaim a Texas or a New Mexico or a California," he says.

Whether Ankarlo actually believes this stuff (he insists he does), or he's just saying it for shock value, it's having its desired effect--people are tuning in. LULAC is urging his advertisers, such as Texas Lending, to pull their support of the show. So far none have complied.

Ankarlo's been in radio for 28 years--from New York to Chicago to Nashville to St. Louis--and in that time he has figured out a formula that works: Be yourself. "With me, what you see is what you get. If you knew me well, you'd know that what you hear on the airwaves is exactly the way I am at home...I know there are a lot of guys in my business giving what I do a bad name because they are just venom-spewing pukes."

Ankarlo, despite what his detractors say, is not of that ilk. He describes his on-air personality as sarcastic, hugely passionate and, at times, angry. But he has also been accused of being too nice a guy and too easygoing, which is how he comes off in person.

Besides speaking from the heart, Ankarlo says he speaks from experience: He marched in the city's immigration rally to understand where Latinos are coming from; he has visited migrant workers in their homes; he has a son in the Marines.

Whatever his appeal is, there's no denying his influence. In February, he organized a "pro-America" rally in Bedford that drew 3,500, which Ankarlo considered a success because it was cold and rainy that day. And that was nothing compared to the Great Tennessee Tax Revolt he helped organize in Nashville in 1999, when he was a talk show host there. Thousands marched to the Capitol, which was enough to convince the governor he should kill a proposed state income tax.

This kind of power is enough for Ankarlo, at least for now. Down the road he may run for Congress, and there's talk of a nationally syndicated TV show, but for now radio is the best way to affect change.

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