On the line, again, with Helga Profile: Talk radio is a calling for a certain woman from Westminster and she'll go anywhere toll-free numbers and ideological conflict take her.

July 22, 1996|By Robert A. Erlandson | Robert A. Erlandson,SUN STAFF

She stakes out her positions in no uncertain terms, beating up on liberals in general and Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton in particular. But she also lambastes conservatives who displease her, including House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

She's highly opinionated but also informed and articulate, and persistent enough to be a distinctive presence in the cut-and-thrust world of Baltimore talk radio.

If you tune in, you know her name -- or as much of it as she's willing to reveal: "Helga from Westminster."

"The benefit of talk radio is that it's a way for people to express themselves," says the 47-year-old homemaker, whose unusual name and combative style make her memorable.

"It's like an electronic town meeting. And for somebody who has stuff bottled up, it's a way of venting anger."

Venting has the potential for serious consequences, Helga said, and for that reason she agreed to an interview only on a first-name basis. She said that after an earlier interview -- also by first name -- death threats were sent to her at the publication.

But on the air, she'll take on all comers. Conflict is the essence of talk radio and when Helga calls, it's verbal combat with "no quarter asked or given," said former WCBM talk-show host Tom Marr, now on the airwaves in Philadelphia.

"I enjoyed her immensely. She has a great sense of humor and we've even agreed on a few things," Marr said. "She may be on the wrong end of the microphone, though. She's very dominating and she'll act like a talk show host if you let her."

Marr said he used to pit Helga against other callers on a "Caller Challenge" segment and she more than held her own.

In an arena where cutting retorts are favored weapons, a thick skin is vital. Helga is so sure of her own views that even the most sarcastic put-downs -- especially from WBAL's liberal-moderate Allan Prell -- simply bounce off.

"She's uninsultable. No matter what you say, she'll call," said Prell, who views her with bemused tolerance.

Helga said her talk-show debut was in 1994 when the first lady and her daughter, Chelsea, appeared at the Winter Olympics in Norway, "and we [taxpayers] were paying for it."

She said she called the Prell show, "but I didn't know I was on the air yet and I cut loose. He was really nasty." Over the next few weeks, she called Prell 37 times, using different accents and voices, once even imitating a man.

"He finally caught on to me, on my French accent. I guess it was bad," she said.

It becomes an avocation

Having discovered talk radio, Helga decided to make it a hobby and a forum for her conservative views. That led to her talk-show addiction; she calls local or national shows nearly every day.

Even the hosts she jousts with concede that Helga does her homework. She reads politics, history and religion voraciously, studies newspapers, watches television news-maker shows and keeps her information handy in a box of thick files.

"She's informed, articulate and wrong," Prell concluded.

Helga has debated welfare reform with former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo and called shows in Washington and elsewhere. She hasn't reached Rush Limbaugh or Larry King yet, but vows: "I'll keep trying; I'll call anyone who has an 800 number."

Helga, who came to the United States from Germany at age 7, is rTC married to a retired Army engineer. The mother of two children and grandmother of one, a bi-racial child, Helga describes herself as a born-again Christian Zionist American, a life member of Hadassah and vehemently antiracist and antiabortion.

She also believes Alan Keyes should be the Republican presidential nominee although, pragmatically, she voted for Bob Dole in the GOP primary.

Prell believes Helga's persistence goes beyond a hobby. "She needs acceptance. I think she spends more time thinking about being on the radio than I do." But, he said, she's welcome "as long as she remains entertaining."

Her favorite political target is the Clinton administration, so she and Prell play a game: He baits her and she sets an ambush.

"I kind of lay in wait for Allan. When something negative about Clinton comes up, I call," Helga said.

"She's there in her own little world, Helga-world," Prell said as he opened a recent skirmish.

"It hasn't been a good couple of weeks for the Clintons, has it?" she asked.

"You mean the GOP charges?" Prell replied. "Anti-Clinton people believe everything Al D'Amato says and everything the Clintons say is a lie. No matter what exculpatory material comes up the Clintons are lying, is that it?"

"The facts don't lie," Helga retorted. Prell hung up.

But it's not all "serious" political controversy between the two.

When Prell went to Las Vegas on holiday, fill-in personality Max Weiss held a Prell imitation contest. Helga called, as "Aldina," Prell's cousin. She said Prell's wife, "Sparky" had called her to come to Las Vegas because "he was out of control, pretending to be a one-armed bandit and yelling, 'feed me, feed me.' "

Prell was so amused that he broadcast the tape after his return from holiday.

Banned but not boring

Ron Smith, Prell's conservative colleague at WBAL, is no longer amused by Helga, however. He banned her from his show in January.

Helga was a regular caller "but after a time, we determined that she detracted from the show rather than added to it," Smith said. "She would indulge in repeated personal attacks on me. I don't do that to callers and I don't tolerate it."

Helga denies attacking Smith. She says he kicked her off his air "because he doesn't like anyone to disagree with him."

Helga's warmest reception has been from WCBM's largely conservative line-up, but they recall some fierce debates with the Westminster grandmother.

Les Kinsolving, who calls his show "uninhibited radio," has tangled with her over abortion and capital punishment. His liberal stand on both issues collides head-on with Helga's strict conservative views.

That's the best part, Kinsolving said. "She's absolutely splendid, enormously stimulating, and she has never ever been dull."

Pub Date: 7/22/96

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