Cranky advocate returns

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For those who think the Orlando Sentinel has too many columnists, you're about to get one more. But Greg Dawson's return will fill a much-needed spot at the paper: the resident eccentric.

For the past 18 months Dawson has written a consumer column at the Indianapolis Star under the name Herbert Hoglebogle, an Ann Landers-esque hand-me-down moniker. Readers would solicit Herman's curmudgeonly advice on dealing with refunds, scams and incompetent mechanics. Dawson would respond by contacting the perpetrators and moderating a resolution. This frequently meant naming names and making enemies with a Colombo-style quirkiness.

Dawson began at the Sentinel in 1986 as a television critic before becoming a Local & State columnist in 1994. In a sarcastic 1990 piece about TV news, he swore that former Channel 9 weekend anchor Alice Tall was "trying to hypnotize me." He continued his rant on the monotone Tall by writing, "`Todd` Ulrich, one of the stiffest performers in town, looks like Mister Bojangles next to his petrified partner."

However wacky his delivery, Dawson isn't nearly as strange as the people he used to cover in his column before leaving for Indiana in 2000. He has profiled a St. Cloud taxidermist who fed animal innards to an alligator, an Orlando veterinarian who moved his whole family to Alaska, and a Winter Park inventor who developed a flame-retardant goo for stunt actors.

Now, on the eve of his Sentinel homecoming, the worker bees at Concord & Orange are keeping mum on Dawson's new beat.

A Sentinel spokeswoman would only tell me that he is 53 years old ("a very young 53"), that his column would have a consumer focus, and that it would start around the end of the month. We'd have to wait for any more details.

Dawson himself has been pretty difficult to contact lately, as he settles into his new desk at his old paper. It took four transfers to reach him by phone, and then he spent the first three minutes just trying to get the damn thing to work.

"I really can't comment on the column," he told me. "They said you might call."

Apparently, the Sentinel would prefer readers rediscover Dawson when the column finally launches. Luckily, he described how he got his new position in an e-mail to me back in November.

"Tim `Franklin` and I have e-mailed back and forth since he got to Orlando," he wrote, referencing the Sentinel editor. "He tossed out the Herman idea more than a year ago, but the paint was barely dry on our house here."

Over the summer, Dawson checked in again with Franklin to see if he was still interested and, "one thing led to another."

He's abandoning his alter ego this time, saying it will be "just like Herman, minus Herman, though probably not in the third person." The column will likely run three times a week.

Still, a guy like Dawson doesn't seem the type to confine himself to a consumer watch. Is there anything else they'll assign him to do?

"Correcting all the typos and non sequiturs in Mike Thomas' column," he jokes.

The new cable guys

While the corporate brass from Time Warner Communications and News Corp. quarrel out in California over our access to Sunshine Network, some new folks are moving in to tend the store here in Central Florida.

Meet the Newhouse family. They're just your simple, down-home, multinational corporation-owning clan. And they're taking control of Time Warner Cable this year.

"Pa" Robert Miron heads Advance/ Newhouse Communi-cations, the cable TV branch of the Advance Publications/Newhouse Broadcasting behemoth. Miron's late uncle, S. I. Newhouse Sr., founded the dynasty, which is now run by Si Jr. and brother Donald Newhouse. Robert Miron's son, Steve Miron, ran TWC in Advance/Newhouse's hometown of Syracuse, NY, while daughter Nomi Bergman is a TWC vice president in Charlotte, N.C.

It's all just another part of an unsettling trend of gargantuan communications conglomerates taking over every possible media outlet.

The parent company owns more than 30 newspapers nationwide, as well as Condé Nast Publications, which publishes GQ, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, Wired, and scads of other titles.

They'll be re-branding, dropping TWC's creepy eye-logo from vehicles and letterhead by late April. But you'll still be begging the same people for an extension on your cable bill. A company spokesperson says most of the customer-service staff will go unchanged, as will the channel lineup.

No word yet on any plans to control the weather or copyright the English language.

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