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CONVENTION 2000 / THE DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION | THE PACK

Radio Street Reporter Is Storied Himself

August 17, 2000|Ann O'Neil

Pete Demetriou circles the streets of an edgy city Tuesday night--as he does most nights--in radio station KFWB's Mobile 4, a white 1994 Bronco with 123,000 miles on it. "The O.J. Special," he calls his ride.

"It was the first white Bronco to get to O.J.'s house--five minutes before O.J. did," the 43-year-old Demetriou said.

"This is a piece of radio history. It's a solid piece of machinery. It does the work."

So does Demetriou, Los Angeles' hardest-working radio reporter--and one the city's most endearing characters. He literally is larger than life at 6 feet, 5 inches, 250 pounds, with a booming voice and a cop's street smarts and swagger. Riots, disasters, mass protests are his forte, and he has been showered with awards for his sharp reporting in the midst of chaos.

On this particular night--the third of protests targeting the Democratic National Convention--Demetriou is short on sleep but ready for action. He's "geared up": gas mask strapped to his leg, bulletproof vest bulging under a many-pocketed fisherman's vest, headphones hugging his ears, microphone at the ready.

This is Demetriou Heaven.

A police scanner the size of a filing cabinet blinks and crackles beside him. Demetriou has been tuning in to the chatter since he was 16--and he recognizes most of the voices coming over the 100 police and fire frequencies.

As the protesters regroup in downtown Los Angeles, Mobile 4 is stuck in Westside traffic. "Let's go, let's go, let's go!" Demetriou barks. "This job is part art, part instinct and part controlled road rage," he explains, with a smile. He calls a friend in the LAPD's traffic division to get the scoop on the best route. He shoots up Olympic Boulevard.

Demetriou arrives at Pershing Square just in time for a gay rights "kiss-in" demonstration. He goes live, reporting "mass liplock," an event that is "part love-in, part political protest." Men kiss men. Women kiss women.

"I'm male, I'm straight, it ain't that bad a fate," Demetriou quips off-mike in the same deep, well-modulated tones he uses on the air.

He follows demonstrators to Parker Center between 8 and 9 p.m. At one blocked intersection near the Criminal Courts Building, he spies dozens of black-and-whites, lights flashing in the night.

"It kind of looks like a Christmas tree gone mad," he reports.

*

During the 2-to-midnight ride with Demetriou, it was all police and protesters. He seemed impatient at sharing air time with KFWB's man inside Staples Center. It just didn't strike him as news.

All night, stern-looking cops in riot gear break into smiles and wave at Demetriou. He leans out the window of his Bronco, exchanging gossip, jokes and tips.

"Are you having any fun yet?" he shouts at a carload of bomb squad cops. "Peachy, peachy," comes the unofficial response.

"Roger on that," Demetriou waves.

"How are we doing?" cop after cop asks Demetriou, worried about how the department's deployment is playing with the public.

Demetriou tells them they're doing OK. Roger on that.

Cops trust Demetriou. They feel he's one of them, and that gives him access.

"He's not a liberal puke," says one officer who asked not to be quoted by name.

As for the official line: "He's always fair and balanced in his reporting, and he has an incredible amount of knowledge about police work," says Cmdr. Dave Kalish, LAPD spokesman. "He gets it."

They used to call him "Pistol Pete" for his knowledge--and collection--of weaponry and military hardware. Everybody has a "Pistol Pete" story.

There was the time at a City Hall press conference that Demetriou engaged Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) in an argument about the proposed sale of AWACs aircraft to the Saudis. "Young man," Kennedy said, "if you are correct, you know more than the Joint Chiefs of Staff."

Demetriou shot back, "That may very well be true."

During the 1980s, Demetriou, then single, regaled the City Hall pressroom with his weekend adventures. On a romantic stroll on Dockweiler Beach, he and his date were accosted by three thugs. "You picked the wrong beach," one of the punks told Demetriou.

"Wrong, gentlemen," Demetriou responded, aiming a small revolver at the men. "You have 30 seconds to get off the beach." They ran and the date continued.

Demetriou will "neither confirm nor deny" whether he ever packed heat on the job. He's not packing now. "It's against company policy."

He ends the night at Parker Center, wolfing down two hot dogs at the canteen while he files half a dozen 30-second reports. It was a good night.

"I love this work," Demetriou said after midnight. He's sensitive about the "Pistol Pete" legend, blaming it on the brashness of youth. "I'd rather be remembered as a guy who went out there and did the best he could every night," he said.

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