LIKE LARRY KING, JENNIFER HAWKINS knows how to schmooze with celebs. Like Rush Limbaugh, she can be opinionated. And yet in one key respect, Hawkins is quite unlike her fellow talk-radio jockeys: she's only 16. Nevertheless, on her one-hour Sunday morning call-in show on WBZT-AM in West Palm Beach, Jennifer, a sophomore at Florida's Palm Beach County School of the Arts, sometimes seems twice her age, coolly dissecting such issues as teen violence and illegal immigration, politely bantering with obstreperous listeners and holding her own with such call-in guests as Linda Ellerbee, former First-Son-turned-Florida-gubernatorial-candidate Jeb Bush and three of the Holocaust survivors from Schindler's list.
Jennifer, an honors student who pores over newspapers in search of call-in topics, doesn't shy away from controversy. In a show last March, she questioned the Justice Department's account of the fire that killed cult leader David Koresh and some 80 followers, recalling her own escape from a blaze that engulfed her family's West Palm Beach home eight years ago. "You will never convince me," she told her mostly adult listeners, "that you could stay inside a house and commit suicide by burning to death."
Jennifer was 11 when an executive at West Palm Beach radio station WPBR, hearing her taped portrayal of a bag lady for an elementary-school acting class, was impressed enough to ask her to serve as host of a kids' call-in show. Jennifer's mother, Rita, 40, an interior decorator, and her father, Darrel, 50, a billboard-company manager, shelved the offer until Jennifer turned 14. After switching last November to WBZT (where she earns $50 a show), she began pondering a career in either broadcasting or acting. While WBZT is now negotiating to syndicate her show nationally, Jennifer still relies on her dad to help her book guests. "Because," she explains, "if you received a call from a 16-year-old girl asking you to be on her show, would you believe it?"
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