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."
Larsen's counterpart at Entercom, Jerry McKenna, may feel the same, but it's impossible to know for certain; he didn't return numerous phone calls from Westword. Fortunately, Pat Paxton, vice president of programming for Entercom nationwide, was more responsive. According to Paxton, "We don't have a company-wide policy on this; we look at our specific products in each market. In Denver, for example, we have KOSI, which targets females between 25 and 54. It's our belief that we would run the risk of offending a significant portion of that audience by running sexually driven advertisements. But in some markets where we have rock stations that target younger men, we will run those types of advertisements. So it's not just a commercial policy, but a content policy -- because commercials are content, too."
That still doesn't fully explain why Alice, whose morning show is often sexually frank, can't handle a walk down Fascinations' street. However, a planned tweaking of the Greg and Bo extravaganza does.
"Greg and Bo are an extremely talented and successful morning show," Paxton says. "But we've just recently taken over the radio station [its purchase from Indianapolis's Emmis Communications became final earlier this year], and we're taking a look at some of the content that Greg and Bo air. I think it's safe to say that in a month or two, the show is not going to have as much sexual content. It's not going to be a KOSI show, but it's not going to be quite as racy."
Paxton denies this shift marks a change in direction, characterizing it instead as "a matter of focusing on the 25-year-old female we're trying to attract and balancing the edge of the morning show with what that female wants to hear. We want to get her to listen more often and longer -- and therefore, some of the sexual content may not be as appropriate as it might once have been."
This decision closes a door for Jagos, but it's unclear if lots of other business owners were interested in walking through it. Kevin Larson, owner of Pandora's Toy Box, which spotlights frilly nightwear and the occasional sexual accessory, is quoted in the "pressure release" decrying the de facto radio boycott. Even so, he admits that neither Clear Channel nor Entercom has turned down his requests to buy Toy Box commercials, because he's never tried to purchase any. Three years ago, moreover, KTCL ran ads for Kevin Larson Presents, a production company whose events often have sexual themes: An October 17 lecture concerns the joys of "lite feathers and bondage."
In addition, Larson, who sees himself as a crusader against sexual repression, believes some of Jagos's complaints are off-key. "If a commercial is tastefully done, I don't see a problem -- and when you listen to the morning shows, there are a lot worse things on there," he says. "But I think going around screaming about what Lewis and Floorwax or Greg and Bo are doing isn't going to help things. Let's present a better argument and try to educate the community, not just point fingers."
Such critiques are unlikely to quiet Jagos, who's become politicized by his Denver travails. "Radio companies are allowed to buy up to eight stations a market, and if they're the eight most powerful stations, they can really control what people hear. It's not just advertising. They can actually control what people know about occurrences worldwide and how they're spun. And to me, it's wrong. It allows someone with an agenda to drive information and eliminates free speech. Obviously, my situation is what's upsetting me the most at this point, but if you look at it on a larger scale, it's scary."
Right now, Jagos plans to concentrate his advertising budget on billboards, print ads and the like. But he'd like to get back on the radio and hopes that his campaign will make it happen. "There are only two things you can use to change people's minds about something like this: money and public perception. And since they've already tossed away the money, there's only one way to go."
Life and death: New Denver Post editor Greg Moore certainly talks a good game, as proven by his side of a recent question-and-answer session in these pages ("Moore Than Before," August 8). But reports from the Post newsroom suggest he's backing up these words with plenty of action. Stories about him ripping up front pages because they're not interesting enough and making his people try again are becoming commonplace, as are accounts of his eagerness to make changes immediately if not sooner. As a result, some folks have been coming, other staffers are heading in new directions, and at least one person -- Jim Sheeler, whose long-form obituaries have been arguably the finest regular contribution to the Sunday Post -- was given an ignominious heave-ho.
Previous Post editor Glenn Guzzo left numerous management-level positions open for months, and often longer, but Moore has already filled two of the biggest vacancies with candidates sporting impressive pedigrees. The new assistant managing editor for national and foreign news, as well as the Sunday edition, is Mark Rochester, a board member of Investigative Reporters and Editors Inc. (IRE), who most recently served as the enterprise editor for New York's Newsday. Also taking up residence in Denver is Jeffrey Taylor, a former AME in the business section of the Chicago Tribune who's been named assistant managing editor for local news. These recruits were nearly joined by a hotshot from the Boston Globe, Moore's old paper, who'd been earmarked as the next AME for features, but insiders reveal that the Globe, not wanting to be raided by an expatriate, outbid the Post for her services. On this topic, Moore says only that he lost his first choice for the job but hopes to hire an equally qualified applicant shortly.
Elsewhere at the Post, the Rocky Mountain Ranger is hanging up his badge. The concept of having a reporter who roams the West, sending in dispatches from unexpected settings, is a venerable one at the paper, but it had fallen out of favor until Guzzo revived it. Although Guzzo's first choice for Ranger, Mike Ritchey, crashed and burned, his second, novelist Ron Franscell, got off to a much stronger start before succumbing to stereotypical topics and a general malaise. Moore apparently agrees, since he's reassigned Franscell to a less-defined feature-writer gig. Down the line, reporter Gwen Florio, who's spent much of her recent time in Afghanistan, is expected to tackle big regional stories that might previously have fallen under the Ranger's hat, but without the title, the mug shot beside the article and, presumably, the tacky Rangermobile Franscell was made to pilot.
Also on the move is religion editor Virginia Culver, who's covered sacred matters at the Post for over three decades. Given that Moore, in his Westword Q&A, said that anyone who's held a beat for more than five or six years has probably been there too long, Culver's targeting didn't come out of the blue. But Peggy Lowe, who worked with Culver at the Post before signing up with the Rocky Mountain News, was still shocked by it.
"Her nickname around the Post is 'God,' and it's not just because of her beat; it's because people really respect her," Lowe says. "She's fair, she's passionate, and she's kick-ass competitive. I know, because she's kicked my ass a couple of times in the last few years. As a friend of Virginia's, I feel for her. But as a Rocky reporter, I feel like Greg Moore's done us a favor -- because now we don't have to watch our backs for Virginia Culver."
True enough: Culver has been reassigned to write obits, a potentially rich and rewarding arena, yet one that's traditionally been seen as the daily newspaper pasture to which older reporters are sent to play out their careers. Since the Post already has a full-time obituary authority, Claire Martin, this switch doesn't address a big need. Moore, though, studiously avoids portraying it as a demotion. "Virginia's obviously done a lot of distinguished work, but change is good for everyone," he says. "I wanted to find a job for her that I consider to be important and allow her to have more control over her time. And she's comfortable with it." Culver, for her part, didn't return a call from Westword seeking comment.
After learning about Culver's transfer, Sheeler, who's written "A Colorado Life," his Sunday Post pieces, on a freelance basis for several years, contacted Moore to find out if his status would be affected. Boy, was it ever. At a meeting, Moore told him he was leaning in a certain direction; less than a week later, he was informed via e-mail that his last article would appear two weeks later.
Moore insists that Sheeler's axing wasn't personal. "We're just looking harder at our freelance expenditures," he says. "My philosophy is, if it's important enough for us to do every week, we ought to have one of our people doing it -- and we will. We're going to continue to highlight ordinary people who've done extraordinary things over a lifetime."
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That's a relief -- but it's hard to imagine anyone doing it better than Sheeler, who was lauded in this space mere months ago ("Dead Lines," April 18). His last effort for the Post, published August 25, was typically remarkable. The family of the late Nick Papadakis, founder of a landmark Pueblo restaurant known simply as the Deli, contacted Sheeler before Nick's death, giving the reporter the opportunity to actually visit his subject and see the final preparations made by his loved ones. These elements lend tremendous immediacy and poignancy to Sheeler's summing up of this particular Colorado life.
Sheeler would like to keep writing in this vein, and after being cut loose from the Post, he had a meeting at the News. He's also readying a book proposal based on his columns and is in the midst of researching a story that will take him to Israel's West Bank. But he can't help mourning a bit over how internal happenings at the Post wound up pulling his forum out from underneath him.
"I've learned more about philosophy from the people I've written about than I ever could have learned from a philosophy course," he says. "These people -- the families, and the people who've died -- really mean a lot to me. I've cried with them; I even dream about them. I've poured so much into this -- and it's really worth pouring that much into, because I've gotten so much out of it. So this is something I'm really going to miss."
No doubt untold thousands of Post readers feel the same way.