By Noah Hubbell
By Kiernan Maletsky
By Tom Murphy
By Noah Hubbell
By Alex Distefano
By Darryl Smyers
By Jon Solomon
By Britt Chester
And get out it did. Saunders's denunciation was followed in the Rocky by an April 26 editorial--the first of two the paper has published thus far--demanding that the Peak pull Stern from its lineup. Immediately thereafter, other media outlets began piling on. Both KHOW-AM and KNUS-AM/710 (a station not owned by Jacor) devoted much of their morning airtime on April 26 to anti-Stern harangues, with KHOW's Tom Martino saying that he was embarrassed to be associated with Stern in any way. (Stern's Saturday-night television show is owned by CBS and broadcast locally by Martino's television employer, KCNC-TV/Channel 4. Because of the connection, Channel 4 has also been targeted by anti-Stern protesters.) The Peak's switchboard was subsequently overwhelmed by irate locals. In one of the most unfortunate choices of metaphors imaginable, the station's receptionist told me that she was "under heavy fire."
As this onslaught was at its height, Visotcky got on the phone with Stern, who he said was dumbfounded by the anger being directed at him and would attempt to "clear everything up" on the next day's show. But if Visotcky was hoping for Stern to issue a simple and heartfelt apology during his April 27 broadcast, he didn't get it. After kicking off the first hour of the show with a rap parody called "My Niggaz," which he delivered in a white man's joking approximation of black English, and some banter with a stripper eager to participate in a "lesbian dream date" with a pair of porn stars, Stern launched into a vigorous forty-minute defense of his post-shootings behavior--one of several he'd offer throughout his shift. "I made a comment, and anybody who heard it knows that it was totally in context," he declared. "And I think I've made some fairly sensitive comments about this. I talked about the teacher, I did a profile of the students." About the disputed remarks, he added, "I was just looking for the motive in all of this, because I understand the criminal mind. If somebody goes out and rapes a woman and kills them for sexual pleasure or something like that, I can understand it. But this was just so senseless that I was trying to understand it."
On only a couple of brief occasions did Stern come close to sounding conciliatory; for instance, he said, "I assure you that I feel pretty bad about this." But he spent much more time protesting his innocence with arguments such as "If my comments were so insensitive, I would have heard about it all the time--but I'm on in fifty markets, and I haven't heard a single complaint from anybody outside Denver. I put my foot in my mouth all the time, but I didn't on this. Maybe it wasn't the most profound point, but I've got five hours a day to fill."
Even Stern realized that weak rationalizations like these were unlikely to change minds set against him, especially now that the story has gone national (it made the New York Post on April 27 and is on the Associated Press wire). "This show is not going to solve the Denver problem," he said. But as proof that he wasn't all that worried about the situation, he even aimed several barbs at Visotcky, noting, "I've got this general manager there going on the air apologizing, which only makes things worse. And then I'm on the phone with him, and he's going, 'Oh, my God, oh my God,' and saying I should apologize. But why should I apologize? Apologize for what? Maybe I'll be off the air in Denver, but at least I'm going to tell you what's really going on."
Still, Stern's most effective tack was to cast Jacor as bad guys involved in an underhanded attempt to disparage him. "My competitors are freaking out," he announced. "They hate this show. They're scared to death of me, because they can't come up with any decent shows against us. We're getting ratings, and they're scared to death."
There's something to that. The Peak's morning ratings are on the rise: In February, the most recent month for which tallies were available at press time, Stern's show was the fourth-most popular drive-time offering in the Denver area among listeners between the ages of 18 and 34, trailing only KALC-FM/105.9 (Alice), KRFX-FM/103.5 (the Fox) and KQKS-FM/107.5 (KS-107.5). In addition, industry insiders are anticipating that Stern's ratings will go up in the wake of the Columbine flap, just as occurred at Alice a couple of years ago after a DJ ridiculed an epileptic who drowned as a "seizure salad." It's natural, they say, for people to tune in to see what all the fuss is about. But this is generally a temporary phenomenon that doesn't take into account advertising dollars--a station's lifeblood. The Peak is selling commercials in the Stern morning block to strip clubs and the like, but most mainstream businesses have been steering clear for fear of tarnishing their reputations. And the Columbine matter will likely further fuel a trend that's already hit the Peak in the wallet. A possible corollary can be drawn to the experiences of KEGL-FM (the Eagle) in Dallas. Stern had helped the station climb to the top of the ratings heap in the city, but after the jock made fun of Latin singer Selena's death and music, local outrage scared advertisers away. Eventually the Eagle pulled the plug on Stern, even though he was number one in the market.