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The current U.S. advertising climate is widely considered to be the chilliest in years -- maybe even decades. So it's just this side of startling to discover a businessman whose recent attempts to buy commercial time from Denver radio conglomerates that gladly took his cash in the past have been roundly rejected.
"It makes no sense," says Pat Jagos, the entrepreneur in question. "The first thing people cut back on in a tight economy is advertising, so I know stations have been hurting. But here are stations that are turning away money because they don't want to have an adult advertiser."
Oh, yeah: Jagos is the owner of Fascinations Superstores, an Arizona-based chain of upscale sex shops with locations in Glendale, Lakewood and Boulder. He describes the outlets as "adult Disneylands. You can pick up things there that are a little different -- oils, lotions, lingerie, adult toys -- without having to feel you're going down to a dark, seedy part of town. They're fun places to go."
Among the ways Jagos hypes Fascinations, which was founded in 1989 and came to Colorado in 1995, is with radio ads; he claims to have spent approximately $300,000 on the medium last year in Denver alone. But rather than loading the copy with graphic descriptions of butt plugs and cock rings, he says he takes a subtler approach, relying on coyly delivered double entendres to clue in potential customers. "Our stuff is very tongue-in-cheek; we don't take ourselves seriously. And you'll find more risqué humor, more sexually oriented material, in an episode of Friends than you will in our ads."
Bolstering this contention is the fact that Fascinations commercials have been heard over time on numerous Denver stations. But in recent years, Jagos has had increasing difficulty getting on the air in Colorado. He says he's received blanket turn-downs from the Fox and KBPI, a pair of rock-oriented specialists owned by Texas's Clear Channel Communications, the nation's preeminent broadcasting leviathan -- and whereas KTCL, also in Clear Channel's portfolio, once did business with him, that's over, too. In addition, he was recently informed by representatives of Alice, the property of another national conglomerate, Pennsylvania's Entercom Communications Corporation, that the station will stop accepting Fascinations advertising at the end of this month. Yet in Phoenix and other markets where Jagos advertises, he's never been turned away, even by Clear Channel or Entercom stations.
"It's only in Denver," he says. "Denver is the problem child."
Jagos has grown so frustrated by this state of affairs that he hired a Tempe, Arizona, public-relations firm to put out a "pressure release" to protest it. The document, headlined "Denver Radio Giants Ban Advertisers," points out the metro dominance of Clear Channel and Entercom, which collectively possess a dozen Denver stations and "hold a more than 44 percent market share among adults, according to a June Arbitron survey of the Denver-Boulder listening area. Clear Channel alone boasts the top three stations among adult men."
The release also points out that the programming on the Fox, KBPI and Alice isn't exactly sex-free. The Fox's Rick Lewis and Michael Floorwax are cited for their interview with Fred Finlay, the man whose testicle may or may not have had a starring role on the front page of the Rocky Mountain News, and "a feature in which two Fox 103.5 FM female employees discuss demonstrating an artificial insemination strap-on device together." KBPI, meanwhile, is credited with broadcasting Loveline, a syndicated program co-starring Adam Carolla and Dr. Drew Pinsky "devoted to frank discussions about sex," as well as a Web-site survey dubbed "Who Would You Do?" in which "listeners choose between two Denver newswomen." News junkies of the kinky sort will be disappointed to learn that last week's "Who Would You Do?," viewable at www.kbpi.com, was dominated by images of anonymous bikini-contest trollops, not flirty shots of Adele Arakawa.
Finally, Alice morning teammates Greg Thunder and Bo Reynolds get mentioned in connection with an amateur striptease contest and for photos on the station's Web site, www.alice106. com, showing "mothers competing in an in-studio breastfeeding race."
As Jagos sees it, his ads are downright tame compared with such shtick, which is why he sees the treatment they've received as overtly hypocritical. "They say they put these policies in place to protect their listenership -- to prevent listeners from becoming angry, irate, embarrassed, critical. But then you've got Lewis and Floorwax doing 'Vibro Tuesdays.'
"The real reason they're doing this is because they're afraid of having a national advertiser listen to the station and hear their spot next to our spot," he surmises. "They're afraid of offending another advertiser. But if someone is talking about some stripper's nipples and then they run a Budweiser spot next to ours, is Budweiser really going to get upset? It's bizarre..."
To Lee Larsen, regional vice president of Clear Channel-Denver, this argument has some holes in it. He's not familiar with the Fascinations commercials, but he suspects that if his people felt the ads had issues, they probably did. "Something doesn't add up," he says. Larsen notes that stations in Clear Channel's Denver cluster won't run advertisements for a handful of products, including Internet gambling sites and pornographic movies. For everything else, he goes on, "we make our determinations based on the copy, the content, and what people are trying to sell. If Victoria's Secret wants to buy ads and their spots are tasteful, we'd run them. But if this guy's trying to sell sex parties, we probably wouldn't."