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Kirk Montgomery, entertainment reporter for Channel 9, didn't hear the routine about him on KOA radio a few weeks back. But he certainly heard about it.
Montgomery has never publicly discussed whether or not he's gay, nor have most of his peers, including Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings, Dan Rather and yours truly. But plenty of assumptions were made in this regard during KOA's Sports Zoo, a popular afternoon-drive-time program co-starring Dave Logan and Scott Hastings.
Specifically, eye-in-the-sky Jason Luber was chatting with one of the show's recurring characters, "Chick McGillicuddy," whose real identity is kept secret from listeners. At that moment, Montgomery's image appeared on a TV in the station's studio, prompting McGillicuddy -- supposedly an old-time broadcaster -- to start riffing. According to KOA program director Don Martin, "Chick alluded to a Channel 9 function where [Montgomery] supposedly hit on Jason." A listener who heard this interlude live remembers more lame, arguably homophobic gags along these lines, including one about a "rear-ender." Ha, ha, ho, ho.
But Montgomery isn't laughing. A twelve-year media veteran who worked in Detroit, Tampa and northern California before arriving here in March 2001, he keeps his remarks about the KOA matter succinct: "If what I heard they said is true, I would be disappointed that they would resort to sophomoric antics like that. I think their listeners would be offended and deserve better."
Patti Dennis, Channel 9's news director, doesn't go that far -- no surprise, given that her station is a frequent media partner with KOA. But she was concerned enough to telephone Martin about the incident. "Don and I just talked about whether we would want to encourage that kind of conversation on the radio," she says, "and both of us agreed that we probably wouldn't. But it wasn't that big a deal."
Martin concurs. "It was just a Saturday Night Live-esque pop, that's all -- and by no means was it a serious discussion. It was all in jest, all in fun."
It's also fairly typical of the alleged humor about gays that can be found on the Denver dial. Martin emphasizes that neither Logan nor Hastings took part in the Montgomery exchange, but it's not uncommon for them to engage in teasing, look-how-gay-you-are remarks of the sort that are endemic in locker rooms across the country (the Zoo hosts are both former athletes). In the midst of a recent show, for instance, a reference to a pileup led to supposedly comic banter about dudes getting a charge out of being covered with men's bodies.
The Fox, a classic-rock purveyor that, like KOA, is part of the sprawling Clear Channel empire, has gone even further with this theme, running occasional parody advertisements for "Gay-Mart" and "Homo Depot." (Both of these names have been used by actual businesses specializing in gay-themed fare, but the Fox's ads definitely weren't legitimate spots.) Morning teammates Rick Lewis and Michael Floorwax occasionally go after yuks in a similar manner; they've used overtly gay characters with names such as "Paul Polesmoker" for ages.
But Lewis and Floorwax are pikers in comparison with Lamont Hollywood and Paul Tonelli, staffers at KSJO-FM in San Jose, California, whose program airs weeknights on the Fox. Granted, the duo, known as Lamont & Tonelli, have a reputation for going after groups other than gays: In 1998, residents and officials of East Palo Alto, California, a largely African-American suburb, were apoplectic after the pair aired new names for the town suggested by callers -- "Ebonicville" and "Niggerville" among them. They also love pushing propriety to the snapping point, as when a sex expert dubbed "Dr. Terry" explicitly described proper oral-sex technique in a way the FCC found indecent ("...she should go up and down the shaft about five times, licking and sucking, and on the fifth, swirl her tongue around the head before going back down..."). But evidently they went unspanked for playing a version of Elton John's "Candle in the Wind" titled "Candle in My Rim," complete with lyrics such as "Like a candle in my rim/Up where Bernie Taupin's sperm used to swim."
Is this kind of material insulting? Many observers would say no. To them, anyone crying foul in response to the Montgomery incident, and others like it, is taking political correctness too far. Gay-oriented humor is a staple of network sitcoms such as Will and Grace and art-house crossover films like Kissing Jessica Stein -- it's mainstream now. And besides, none of the individuals referenced above threw the word "fag" around, as Eminem does on his new mega-seller, The Eminem Show. To believers in this line of thinking, people wounded by sketches like these are overly sensitive professional victims whose too-strict standards about what's amusing and what's not would make most comedy illegal.
"I don't feel we're being mean and nasty," KOA's Martin says. "And we're not singling anyone out. Nobody is safe on the Zoo. Male, female, lesbian, homosexual, black, white, green, yellow -- it doesn't matter. So the problem is, the skin is fragile when it gets pricked."
"We're equal-opportunity offenders," adds Garner Goin, program director for the Fox. "If you look at Lewis and Floorwax, they've been successful for many, many years, and you can't maintain that level of success by going over the line constantly. We're just having fun here: We're making fun of everybody; we're making fun of ourselves; and we're not trying to be mean-spirited in any way."