In your face in cyberspace Computers: Pete and Jeremy Moulton unite talk radio and the Internet in their "Dial-a-Nerd" show, produced in the basement of a home south of Columbia.

June 19, 1996|By Dan Morse | Dan Morse,SUN STAFF

In-your-face talk radio and the Internet had to meet somewhere, and a high-tech warren in the Baltimore-Washington corridor seems as good a place as any.

"Good morning, listeners, and a happy high colonic to you," says Jeremy Moulton, 27, who is host of a weekly radio show called "Dial-a-Nerd" with his father, Pete, 51.

The father-and-son team produces the show from Pete's basement in a tony subdivision just south of Columbia. Home to their computer-training business, the basement is a nest of souped-up computers, fast-food remains and desks made of closet doors laid over file cabinets. Curtains block the sunlight. Monitors gurgle with the sounds of fish-tank screen savers.

The Moultons call themselves the "shock jocks of nerd radio," and they apparently can claim that status to themselves. About a half-dozen other computer-oriented radio shows are broadcast in the country, but all have a more straightforward format, says Carol Nashe, co-founder of the National Association of Radio Talk Show Hosts in Boston.

Such distinctions mean little to Pete's neighbors in Riverside Estates, a leafy subdivision along U.S. 29, where spotless lawns sweep down from $300,000 brick homes. The residents -- angry over employee cars parked in front of Pete's house -- say "the computer man" is flouting Howard County zoning laws.

"It's a neat neighborhood, but he doesn't quite fit in," says Bruce Costabile, who lives two doors from Pete along Rivers Edge Road. He says neighbors also privately refer to Pete as the "dandelion man" for his lack of lawn care.

So far, Pete's neighbors are winning a battle before county boards to force Pete to take his business elsewhere.

In his basement, though, Pete and his son continue their high-tech irreverence on the airwaves.

They speak by telephone to their lone media outlet, 50,000-watt WALE-AM in Providence, R. I. WALE also airs a wellness show touting enemas -- the program that prompts the younger Moulton to utter his biological salutation.

Technical questions

On their show, the Dial-A-Nerds answer technical questions about subjects like CD-ROMs. But they also rip politicians who want to control the Internet. They peddle promotional pocket protectors.

They don't even need callers. On a recent Saturday, the two simply presented the top 10 questions that should be asked before consummating a relationship with a nerd. No. 9: "Have you genetically altered yourself?"

Pete hopes that within six months Dial-a-Nerd will be heard on the Internet -- with advancements in "real-time audio" software enabling direct broadcasts via computers.

Throughout the show, Pete delivers a monotone laugh that sounds something like the booting up of a hard drive. "He's the ultimate nerd," Jeremy said on the air recently.

Trained flight instructor

For Jeremy, who was trained as a flight instructor, nerd-dom does not come so naturally. Jeremy has a tattoo. So does his wife. Still, as the younger Moulton puts it, "Acorns don't fall too far from the tree."

They don't make any money from their radio show for now; it costs them $100 a week. But they say their home-based `D computer business -- which has Pete and Jeremy giving telecommunications seminars throughout the nation -- brings in more than enough to support their radio habit.

In the basement, operating speeds are the stuff of bragging rights.

Pete has cranked up his 166-megahertz Pentium computer to run at 180 megahertz.

"I've voided the warranty," he says matter-of-factly, fidgeting with his mustache. "I need the absolute fastest computer on the planet."

The two have a casual style they believe makes computers more interesting. At the start of a recent show, Pete was suffering the effects of a long night on the Internet.

'Shock jock' patter

Jeremy: "Pete's on time today, right, Pete?"

Pete: "Oh, God, we're live?"

"Yeah, we're live. Pete still needs another four to five cups of coffee."

"Ahhhh. I need at least another two."

"I know it's hard."

"The Internet does you in."

"It's rather addictive."

"Absolutely."

Meanwhile, beyond their basement the zoning spat rages on -- the type of residential problem that likely will grow as more entrepreneurs set up shop at home, says Milton Hunt, executive director of the Maryland Home-Based Business Association.

There are 41.1 million home-based businesses nationwide and 70 million expected by 2000, Hunt says. An increasing number are technology-based.

"It's going to be like Judge Wapner, with everyone going into court," he says.

Pete says he never has made neighbors or lawn care a priority.

But he insists his neighbors should be able to live with the half-dozen or so cars that his employees park diagonally in his enlarged driveway -- especially now that he has planted about 15 small pine trees to help hide them.

But the neighbors say the miniparking lot clashes with the flavor of the subdivision. And they fear if Pete is allowed to run his business, other businesses will move in and property values will decline.

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