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Morning fun with homelessness

In 2008 a guy nicknamed Tuna worked for the WKLT morning show “Omelette & Friends”. His real name is Daniel Scott Delater.

Delater was an intern for the station, and he willingly took part in various pranks. He ran around the neighborhood wearing a Speedo. He had paintballs shot at him. And he went through a carwashin the back of a pickup truck.

Delater lived on the street, off and on, and the way he was treated on WKLT upset his friend, CJ Haney, who wrote a story about Omelette & Friends recently for the new zine Speak Up and the White Pine Press, the student newspaper at Northwestern Michigan College (NMC).

“I felt that it was a story that needed to be told,” said Haney, a student at NMC and an advocate for the homeless. “I love homeless people and I’ve listened to the show for a long time. With their low self esteem, I don’t think it’s fair to use them for stunt radio.”

Haney says the homeless are often used for comedy on Omelette & Friends.

In her story she quotes a host asking: “How many homeless people does it take to screw in a light bulb? None, because they have nowhere to put it.”

Haney says the jokes and stunts reinforce stereotypes of the homeless as alcoholics or degenerates.

“If Tuna were here he’d tell you that it hurt his self esteem,” said Haney. “That he only did it because he wanted to be a DJ some day.”

Tuna is currently in jail in Kalkaska. He is charged with delivering drugs to a man who died of an overdose last year.

CJ Haney’s story has created a stir and sparked a debate.

The hosts of “Omelette & Friends” agreed to an interview for this IPR story about their treatment of the homeless if I came on their show.

“Some people have the wrong idea about us in terms of treating the homeless poorly,” says Omelette, whose real name is Steve Normandin. He says they’re unfairly maligned.

Normandin says they donate money to the Goodwill Inn and the Salvation Army. They also promote the annual Sleep Out fundraiser, which raises money for heating assistance.

“We do charitable efforts throughout the year. For the Salvation Army I did a 36-hour food drive. If you know us through our actions in the community, you know that we’ve got big hearts.”

During my hour on Omelette & Friends, all the callers into the show supported the radio hosts. However, one woman did ask whether it was right to use Tuna in a stunt, given that he was a mental health patient.

Normandin has no regrets.

“We do the same thing with all of the interns,” said Normandin. “I thought he was more able than people gave him credit for.”

Normandin’s guest host is Rick Coates. When he wrote for the Northern Express, Coates said he once grew his hair long and spent a week with the homeless. Coates says the team at WKLT has gone to bat for the homeless on numerous occasions.

“We found a homeless person six years ago living in the yard behind studio,” said Coates. “He is known as Hard Days Robert. We helped get him cleaned up, got him a makeover, got him a job, reconnected him with ex-wife and daughter.”

But Tuna’s friend CJ Haney is not convinced. She says talk about the homeless on Omelette & Friends doesn’t match their actions.

“On the show, they are made fun of,” said Haney. "It’s derogatory. People in the community need to realize they’re human too. They don’t all have problems with drugs and alcohol.”

The hosts of Omelette & Friends maintain they are champions of the homeless.

Jacob Wheeler is a freelance journalist and editor of the Glen Arbor Sun newspaper in Leelanau County. He teaches journalism at NMC and is a faculty advisor to the White Pine Press student newspaper.