Don Imus is going to be sleeping in for the next two weeks, thanks to an ignorant comment regarding the Rutgers Women’s Basketball Team. Referring to the Rutgers squad as ‘nappy-headed ho’s’, Imus opened his mouth to change hand-tooled cowboy boots, hopefully fresh from the stables at the ranch.
Imus’ words are spiteful, no matter how you slice it. Even going on Al Sharpton’s radio show to do a mea culpa won’t make it better and his employers have benched him for two. Is it an appropriate punishment? Well, yes and no. You can argue fair comment, irony, comedy, sarcasm and all the other excuses, but the terms he used are across the line. The problem is, the line is situational, especially in radio.
I worked in private radio, as a DJ-host, in the 70’s. If one were to say ‘damn’ on the air, the length of your career would be measured in the time it took for the Program Director to run down the hall from his office to the control room. Needless to say, if you were to use other words of a harsher nature, the last thing you would hear would be another round being pumped into the shotgun. Consider it the Mossberg Outplacement Procedure.
There were ‘saucy’ jocks in the day. Scruff Connors comes to mind, on either CHUM-FM or Q107 with his "Morning Squirt" Meaning, call in while you’re taking that delightful first of the day piss and be heard all over the city. There was the Weather Fairy with (going by memory here) Mike Cooper at 680CFTR.
Before Ottawa had an FM rock station (CHEZ-FM), CKBY-FM played hard rock on Saturday night instead of the country tunes they played the rest of the time. One jock, who shall remain nameless, but was Brian Murphy, could be heard inhaling very deeply of what we all assumed was illicit smoking substances, on the air. This made sense while playing Led Zepplin or Black Sabbath and was perfectly in keeping with the general attitude of the times.
The Shock Jock revolution started, at least on my radar, January 13, 1982. On that date Air Florida flight 90 took off from DC’s National Airport under severe winter icing conditions and crashed into the 14th street bridge, killing 78. The next day, a jock called Air Florida asking for their fare from National Airport to the 14th street bridge. To me, that was where the line was crossed from ‘saucy’ or ‘naughty’ or ‘suggestive’ to nasty.
Notice that qualifier in there: Nasty to me. I am not the arbiter of taste for anyone else but me.
Don Imus calling the team a bunch of ‘nappy-headed ho’s’ is nasty to me. Which leads us to what to do about it?
Here’s how we can make our feelings heard, if we so choose: Private radio stations live on advertising revenue. They charge more per commercial for larger audiences. Nielsen is one of the biggest audience survey companies out there. They send a diary and/or telephone people in every area of the US and Canada to ask them to list their listening habits in 15-minute increments.
From the sample of returned diaries and phone interviews, Nielsen and other companies, like Arbitron, or BBM in Canada, statistically project how many listeners are tuned to various radio stations in each 15 minute daypart. To the radio stations, those ratings mean money.
If you get an audience measurement diary, or get a phone call from a survey company, you can wreak havoc with a broadcaster who has carried a program you find inappropriate. What you do is not list their call letters for the specific daypart you found, or find objectionable. Don’t listen, or instead list the call letters of your local NPR or CBC station. Heck, if there’s a private station in your community that exclusively plays Icelandic folk tunes, list them instead.
Radio stations are notorious for changing programming based on miniscule changes in percentages of listeners, as there is a lot of money on the line. If you so choose, you can make the personally objectionable go away by hitting the owners in the wallets.
Who knows, perhaps that Icelandic Folk Tunes station (Noregur sjúga!109.9 FM) will become wildly popular and make a ton of money.