Consumers get voice of their own on radio Air time: Business leaders, consumer advocates and government regulators will be guests on weekly talk show.

October 31, 1995|By Ellen James Martin | Ellen James Martin,SUN STAFF

There are radio talk shows for the political right, the political left and those with no particular bent.

Now there's a talk show for Baltimore-area consumers seeking to avoid the growing array of scam artists in the marketplace.

"Talking Business" is the name of a new call-in show. It's sponsored by the Better Business Bureau of Greater Maryland and will start airing Monday on WCBM-AM (680).

"We want to alert the public to scams -- both here and in other states -- because these things can slip in the back door," said Nicholas G. Greaves, the newly appointed president of the local bureau.

The new weekly program -- to air Mondays from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. -- will tackle topics ranging from "vacation sweepstakes scams" to "how to find a good auto mechanic."

The host of the new show, which will feature two-way talk by consumers with questions, is Holly Brooke Smith, 27, who joined the newly reorganized bureau as marketing director in February.

The BBB is buying the hour of time on the talk station. But neither the bureau nor the station will say how much it's costing.

"That would be tantamount to me divulging someone's salary," said Brian Costantini, marketing director for WCBM radio.

"Talking Business" is a "brokered show," meaning that the buyer of the time is allowed to use or resell half of the commercial time involved with the program.

In this case, the Better Business Bureau will control six of the 12 minutes of commercial time the station allows per hour, Mr. Costantini said.

Local BBB members will be permitted to advertise on the program, which could link them with the bureau in listeners' minds, Ms. Smith said.

Under most circumstances, the BBB strictly limits the ability of its member businesses to affiliate themselves with the bureau in their advertising, she noted.

The new radio show comes at a time of change for the local BBB.

In September, Malcolm C. Taylor, chairman of the BBB's governing board, announced that the association was being reorganized to address declining membership and allegations that its salesmen used improper pitches to persuade local businesses to become dues-paying members.

The radio show reflects the expansion of the bureau's program of outreach to the public, Ms. Smith said.

"Before, we relied more on word of mouth. People just kind of knew that the Better Business Bureau was out there," she said.

Guests on "Talking Business" will include local business leaders, including Better Business Bureau members, as well as consumer advocates and government regulators from various fields.

The Better Business Bureau of Greater Maryland Inc., a nonprofit group supported by its member businesses, takes an average of 1,433 calls per month. And the most common complaints concern home improvement companies and auto mechanics.

"There are so many unethical businesses out there. So many old scams are constantly being revisited," Ms. Smith said.

At the national level, as well as the local level, work-at-home scams are becoming a more prevalent form of consumer fraud.

Increasingly, print and direct mail advertisers promise that people can make large sums of money at home simply by stuffing envelopes, typing labels or assembling craft kits, said Holly Cherico, a spokeswomen for the Council of Better Business Bureaus, based in Arlington, Va.

At a time of much insecurity at many workplaces and widespread layoffs, work-at-home schemes are especially appealing.

"People are tired of having no job continuity. They want to work at home," Ms. Cherico said.

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