Monday, October 14, 2002

Shock segues into unemployment
for DJs

By Larry McShane
The Associated Press

It's become a cliched formula for radio success: bad taste equals good ratings. No outrage seemed too outrageous if the Arbitron numbers were up - until lately.

This month, a Phoenix disc jockey was dismissed after an offensive call to the widow of St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Darryl Kile. The firing came just weeks after a pair of New York shock jocks were dumped for encouraging listeners to have sex in church.

Are the days of "anything goes" radio gone? Does FM now stand for "fire me?"

Perhaps. Radio industry veterans believe DJs are getting more cautious with their words and more aware of their actions since the crackdown on crass behavior.

"For the stations and the shows that do those kind of stunts, there certainly has been a re-examination of conscience, attitudes and guidelines," said Scott Shannon of WPLJ-FM in New York.

Tom Taylor, editor of the trade publication Inside Radio, has heard the same thing in conversations with disc jockeys.

"They're becoming more careful," Mr. Taylor said. "There's a thing in their heads, the self-censoring thing: `Should I do that?' "

That thing comes too late for some. Greg "Opie" Hughes and Anthony Cumia kicked off this bout of broadcast introspection with an August stunt that grounded their nationally syndicated afternoon show.

The duo, based at WNEW-FM in New York, broadcast the play-by-play of a couple allegedly having sex in St. Patrick's Cathedral. The couple was arrested; Opie and Anthony were sent packing.

This month, Phoenix disc jockey Beau Duran dialed up Flynn Kile, barely three months after she buried her husband.

"You're hot," the DJ told the mother of three. "Are you going to the game today?"

When Ms. Kile said she was, Duran asked, "Do you have a date?"

Mr. Duran ended up without a date, and without a job.

"He's one of a class of guys that go over the edge," Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa said.

His feeling was shared at Infinity Broadcasting, owner of 180 radio stations in 22 states, including WNEW. Spokesman Dana McClintock said the company's August decision to yank Opie and Anthony off the air speaks for itself.

What's going on?

"In American culture, we're constantly deciding where the lines are," Mr. Taylor said. "Somebody is offended by just about everything."

When they are, they often reach out for the Federal Communications Commission.

The FCC, in the first half of this year, received 383 complaints from around the country, said spokeswoman Rosemarie Kimball.

It has also fined a half-dozen stations since January, for questionable material that included a rap song called "Smell My Finger" and a tasteless joke involving a baby and a butcher knife.

Among those fined $21,000 for three instances of indecent radio: WNEW's Opie and Anthony. Their show was canceled after the Catholic League, a 350,000-member group, called for the FCC to yank WNEW's broadcast license.

"These people understand their jobs to be creating attention," Mr. Taylor said. "And that's what they're paid to do. But they're not paid to lose their station's license and create legal problems."

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