On the Air: Cooley law student has 'The Ticket'


By John Minnis
Legal News

If you ever called "97.1 The Ticket" to vent a Detroit Tigers or Red Wings loss, chances are you were screened by Thomas M. Cooley law student Mark "Rob" Weber.

By day, Weber, 26, is a law student at Cooley's Auburn Hills campus. By night, he is a board operator and screener at The Ticket, where he sits with his finger on the "dump" button "in case they swear."

"The 'dirty seven,'" Weber says, referring to the words that cannot be said on the air that were made famous by comedian George Carlin. "After the Super Bowl thing, they really clamped down."

As a third-year law student, Weber would know his statement infers two important legal cases that made it to the U.S. Supreme Court.

FCC v. Pacifica Foundation (1978) involved WBAI-FM's 1973 uncensored airing of Carlin's skit. When the FCC upheld a complain filed against the station, WBAI appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and the FCC decision was overturned. The FCC then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which reversed the appellate court.

FCC v. CBS Corp., of course, deals with Janet Jackson's "garment malfunction" in which the singer's breast was exposed for 9/16ths a second during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show. The FCC fined CBS $550,000, which the broadcaster appealed. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit threw out the fine as an "arbitrary and capricious" change in policy. On appeal, the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008 vacated and remanded the case for further deliberation by the lower court, where the case remains.

Coincidentally, on Tuesday, July 13, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York ruled in Fox Television Stations Inc. v. FCC that the FCC's crackdown on indecency following the Jackson incident, particularly the barring of "fleeting expletives" on air, violated the First Amendment and was unconstitutional.

Weber's combined interest in law and radio began as an undergrad at Indiana University, where he majored in legal studies and minored in telecommunications.

At the time, IU's radio station, WIUX, made a "callout" for anyone interested in working on the air. While Weber was taking a shower, the fire alarm went off, and he was forced to flee his dorm room wrapped in a towel. Undaunted, he went to the callout dressed as he was.

"I just thought it would be cool to show up," Weber recalls. "I got noticed and started a show right then. I started winging it, and I loved it."

As a cyclist, Weber attended classes in the morning, biked in the afternoon and worked radio at night. When he was a junior, he applied for program director, this time clad in his cycling attire, a la Lance Armstrong. He got the job.

Weber's leadership role at the station included switching from AM to FM.

"Suddenly we're broadcasting past the parking lot," Weber says of the change. "That's when things really came into focus. That's when I realized I could do this."

While at IU, Weber interned summers at WDET in Detroit and during one semester for Clear Channel Radio in Indianapolis, an hour commute from Bloomington, Ind. After graduating, he interned for the "JJ and Lynne Morning Show" on WCSX.

As a graduate student at Michigan State University, Weber was a DJ at the campus radio station, The Impact 88.9 FM. He also produced, recorded and edited a weekly four-hour music variety show, "Impact Hijack."

"All this and I still wasn't getting paid," Weber recalls of his radio career up to that point.

After he completed his master's degree in telecommunications information, policy and society at MSU, Weber found himself working as a janitor at his former high school, Grosse Pointe South.

"It was one of those post-graduate dry spells," he recalls.

One day he got a call from 97.1 The Ticket.

"I never thought of doing sports radio," Weber says.

When not working a board in the studio, Weber is in "the box," a closet equipped with a computerized phone call screening system. In the box, Weber takes callers, checks to see when they last called, determines what they want to talk about and indicates their emotional state. Emoticon buttons vary from happy to red-faced irate.

"We don't want the same topics or same people going on all the time," Weber explains. "It's computerized (with caller ID). Before we had a handwritten list. It does make it a lot simpler."

The box also has Internet access and accepts "texts" to the station.

"It's a pretty smooth running shop most of the time," says Weber, kicking back in the "bullpen," an area where people mostly "hang out."

"It's the most interactive I've ever seen," he says of the number and variety of calls he receives. "People are so into sports, especially in Detroit. We rarely go four or five minutes without a call. We don't only do sports. We were really on the Kwame Kilpatrick thing."

As in a bar, on-air banter can range from sports to politics to sex. Nude beaches was the topic during one recent "Morning Show" program.

Weber does get his share of drunken callers, "especially after the Red Wing won the Cup ... especially after they lost the Cup."

"It's entertaining," he says. "They just want someone to talk to. Just keep your eye on the dump button."

When not screening callers or studying law, Weber has been acting out -- on stage -- for Grosse Pointe Theatre.

"It's sort of like being on the air," he says of acting. "It's kind of like winging it."

When asked how long his has been acting, Weber quips, "According to my director, never."

He first auditioned as a New Year's resolution a few years ago for "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat." He got a part and liked it.

"It's amazing to push yourself to do things you never thought you could do," he says. "I'm pretty sure I'm the only one who has studied secure transactions while wearing wings."

Recently, Weber played the role of Eugene in "Grease." The thinking was that "playing the role of a nerd for Rob is not acting," he says.

Back at Cooley, Weber says he hopes to be taking the bar exam next summer.

"It's a whole different animal," he says of law school. "I think any law student would be lying if they told you they were having a great time."

Weber said he went to law school so that he could understand the radio business from the top down. He believes an education in law is good preparation for any career.

"I'm not sure if I will really end up practicing law," he says. "I want to be on the air. At least I'll sound smarter."