Trouble by the Bay

Labor strife looms in a western outpost of Dean Singleton's media empire.

Stations owned by Clear Channel, far and away the nation's biggest radio conglomerate, won't consider broadcasting Secrets spots, and Jefferson-Pilot, a concern that owns five stations in Denver, isn't much more receptive, Kodner says. But representatives of the corporations have been more than willing to work with him in other ways. "I've gone on [Jefferson-Pilot's] KS-107.5 -- brought along vibrators, vibrating panties, whatever, and we talk about my store. But they won't let me advertise," he says. "And I used to be able to do on-air appearances with Uncle Nasty on [Clear Channel's] KBPI when I had porn stars coming to town. They'd let the porn stars come on and talk about anything and everything under the sun sexually, yet have never once taken a commercial, because they won't take any adult ads."

Still, Kodner sees Alice, at 105.9 FM, as "probably the worst, the most hypocritical" of the stations that have blown him off. "I've sponsored their 'Naughty Mommies' contest several times -- and who else are they going to get to do that? A tire company? Besides, my ads have the most innocent copy you can imagine. I pushed the envelope a couple of years ago with this ad where someone was in confession, saying, 'Forgive me, Father. I went to Secrets.' But we haven't done anything like that since, and they're still refusing to take them. They said goodbye to a $60,000 contract because they're afraid of other advertisers being offended."

Not that Alice is entirely averse to collecting Kodner's cash. Last week, a salesman asked him to be a co-sponsor of the "World's Largest Office Party," an event hosted by the morning team of Greg Thunder and Bo Reynolds that's scheduled for November 22 at the Hyatt Regency. The offer came with a request for $2,500; Kodner would rather eat broken glass than pay the sum. "They'd love to take my money to have a booth there, but they won't let me on their airwaves," he fumes.

Fortunately for Kodner, he's found at least one Denver radio station willing to include his commercials in its programming -- and surprisingly enough, that outlet is KOOL 105, the city's chief purveyor of rock oldies. Because of its format, KOOL has plenty of graying listeners whom younger types might suspect of being prudish and thin-skinned when it comes to anything smacking of sex. But thus far, Kodner says, his ads on KOOL have appeared without significant incident.

Even so, Kodner remains frustrated by the limitations being put on his ability to advertise in this market. "Denver likes to think it's not a cowtown anymore -- that it's trendy and hip and with it. But I think this whole debacle says a lot about where this town really is. It's John Ashcroft's world; we just live in it."

The joys of automation: In an article published earlier this year ("Going Public," February 21), Max Wycisk, president of Colorado Public Radio, said the service pre-recorded the vast majority of its programming, including many donation pitches being made this week as part of its fall subscription campaign. The reason is quality control. "Over the years, I've learned that one of the things people value about public radio is that the programming is distilled," he said. "If you get a chance to edit it, you increase your ability to make sure that what you're saying is absolutely clear."

Of course, the odds that an embarrassing screwup will remind listeners that they're hearing canned segments, and not human beings speaking to them in real time, goes up, too.

Examples? Here are two.

Several weeks ago, All Things Considered, National Public Radio's popular afternoon-drive staple that airs locally on KCFR-AM/1340, featured a humorous segment about what was dubbed "the 'Potato Ball' Incident." The yarn, about minor-league catcher Dave Bresnahan's decision to substitute a spud for a baseball during a 1987 game, had gone on for several minutes and was nearing its punchline when, without notice, CPR computers inserted a local break that said the upcoming portion of the show would be devoted to (guess what) "the 'Potato Ball' Incident." By the time the announcement had run its course, the punchline had long since been delivered, leaving those who'd been waiting to hear what had been done with the potato feeling thoroughly mashed.

More recently, on September 30, a caller reports that an afternoon update on the network told in detail about the speech delivered in Denver that day by President George W. Bush. Too bad Bush's visit had actually taken place three days earlier, on September 27.

There's no news like old news.

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