Off Limits

The first rule of publicity stunts is to deny everything, so that the masses and the media won't know they've been played. No one understands this better than Bob Richards, a deadpan exec with the Denver division of Clear Channel, the nation's largest owner of radio stations. When asked if briefly removing The Locker Room, a bawdy morning program, from the airwaves of hard-rocking KBPI-FM for two days was merely a canny PR grab, he acts as innocent as the Olsen Twins circa Full House.

But if there's one thing Richards can't be accused of, it's innocence.

The Locker Room has generated plenty of publicity over the years, thanks largely to Stephen Meade, aka Willie B. , who co-hosts the show with Marc Stout and Darren McKee, known as D-Mak. For years, Meade has made headlines with his allegedly wacky routines, like heaving a live chicken out of a third-story window in February 2000. Richards, the program director for KBPI and sister station KISS-FM, put his contrition on display after this and other lunk-headed incidents, but he's seldom censured his microphone-wielding, highly rated ne'er-do-well. So KBPI fans were surprised on Friday, March 12, when Richards, in a recorded statement, announced that "as of today, The Locker Room morning show is off. By early next week, KBPI management will make an announcement regarding the future of the morning air shift."

Channel 9, the Rocky Mountain News and the Denver Post reported this move in straight-faced fashion, and why not? Clear Channel, under pressure from Congress and the FCC, had recently declared "zero tolerance" toward indecency, sacking controversial Florida DJ Bubba the Love Sponge and yanking Howard Stern's syndicated extravaganza from six of its stations (which hurts Infinity Broadcasting, a major competitor that owns Stern's program, more than it does Clear Channel). Maybe Richards had finally been forced to clean up The Locker Room, too.

Don't bet on it. The March 11 broadcast that supposedly led to the Room's removal contained nothing worse than the usual lineup of stupid jokes, according to reliable listeners. Channel 9 speculated the next night that a wayward remark about Britney Spears was the culprit, but at this point, what bad thing could be said about her that isn't true? Besides, Spears's current tour, including her March 15 visit to the Pepsi Center, is promoted by Clear Channel -- the same company that pimped KISS-95.7 last November with a billboard over I-25 showing Spears swapping spit with Madonna. Clear Channel later maintained that it had been coerced by a government office into taking down that sign -- milking even more publicity in the process -- even though the Colorado Department of Transportation, which oversees billboard placement, said otherwise.

Richards's next recording, aired early March 16, featured some suspect claims, too. He asserted that the Room had been closed in the wake of criticism that its content didn't meet Clear Channel standards, but after an "investigation," he was "convinced that the allegations are baseless and without merit." Seconds later, Willie, Mark and D-Mak were back -- and to prove that nothing had changed, Willie immediately began fantasizing aloud about boinking Britney. If his hand had been slapped, it wasn't the one he uses for wanking.

The trio tried to act as if the show had truly emerged from the Valley of the Shadow. "You can blame Janet Jackson for this," Willie muttered. "I never thought a nipple would cause this much freakin' heat."

Richards declines to name nipples, or any other body part, as the reason that The Locker Room was pulled. Nor will he say if listeners complained. Although he denies that the FCC was involved, he insists that he took action because of legitimate concerns. "Given the new scrutiny in this day and age," he says, "with quarter- and half-million-dollar fines, this sort of stuff needs to be taken seriously."

If he's talking about promoting his station, take him at his word.

Thumb and thumber: The University of Colorado could take a few PR lessons from another local institution -- Red Robin, the Greenwood-Village-based burger chain. When a customer at Red Robin Gourmet Burgers in Jackson Township, Ohio, bit into her lunch salad two weeks ago, she got more than a mouthful of lettuce and tomatoes -- she got a piece of human flesh about "the size of a sunflower seed" that a kitchen worker had severed the night before.

Admittedly, part of a thumb is hardly the mouthful of penises that Lisa Simpson claims she was assaulted by at the now infamous 2001 CU recruiting party. Still, Red Robin went into action immediately and came clean.

"There is no excuse. We made a mistake and had a breakdown in our system," says company spokesman Dwayne Chambers. "The very first thing that we concerned ourselves with was the people involved."

To that end, Red Robin paid for the 22-year-old woman to have a complete medical checkup. "Obviously, she was upset and concerned for her own health," says Chambers. "We tried to make her feel better by helping her to work through that." The kitchen worker had taken what was left of his thumb to a doctor immediately after the accident, and the area where he'd been working was cleaned and sanitized -- but somehow the missing tip made it into the cooler full of lettuce destined for salads the next day.

Because the company moved fast -- unlike CU, which knew of the alleged assaults within days of the party -- so far, the digit diner has taken no legal action. "We've never had anything like this happen before," promises Chambers. "We're very sorry, and we're going to do better, because that's what we're about."

The loneliest guy: While Colorado Democrats were falling all over themselves in February, trying to find someone to go up against Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, already-announced Democratic candidate Mike Miles, an educator from El Paso County, waited patiently, knowing that sooner or later, someone would realize he was in the race.

Now it's Dan O'Bryant's turn to be ignored. Back in November, when incumbent Campbell was planning another run for his seat, Republican O'Bryant, another El Paso County resident, announced that he'd challenge him for the Republican nomination. Now that Campbell's out, O'Bryant has to watch as Colorado Republicans fall all over themselves, trying to find someone to go up against recently declared Democratic candidate Ken Salazar (and, yeah, Mike Miles). Governor Bill Owens was the first to opt out, the better to focus on his own family's values; congressmen Tom Tancredo and Bob Beauprez declined shortly thereafter. Lieutenant Governor Jane Norton said no, thanks, and state treasurer Mike Coffman is staying put. Even Representative Marilyn Musgrave ruled out a run, despite the push a race could have given her Federal Marriage Amendment crusade. Finally, former congressman Bob Schaffer entered the race on March 15, giving the Republican Party a name it could push.

"Right off the start, I was running even when Campbell was still in the race," O'Bryant says. "We needed a choice. He didn't represent conservative Republicans across the state. If Bob Schaffer had been willing to run against Campbell a year and a half ago, I probably wouldn't be in the race. I don't think a lot of people had the courage to run."

The courage of his convictions -- fiscal restraint, conservative values and strong support of the Patriot Act -- inspired the former Air Force judge advocate general and law professor to run. O'Bryant says he's already gathered "thousands of supporters" while speaking to Rotary clubs and women's auxiliaries across the state. "With just rank-and-file people, Campbell was not terribly popular," he says. "The media loved him and the upper echelon loved him, but not those people."

Could the upper echelon learn to love O'Bryant? "I'll probably know a lot more about him after I meet with him this week," says party chairman Ted Halaby. And at this point, there's no love lost between O'Bryant and the state's top GOPs. "The Republican Party isn't exactly open to people trying to run who haven't been part of the system, and that's bad for government," he says. "I don't think the founding fathers wanted professional politicians representing the people.Š But the party can't afford to lose the U.S. Senate seat, so if I win the nomination, which I think I have a good chance of, they become my best friends."

With friend like these, who needs enemies?


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