Son of Stern
Most award-winning radio programs have something in common: respectability. So imagine the surprise of local media pros when the Best Evening Show prize doled out at the 1999 A.I.R. (Achievements In Radio) Awards ceremony held November 16 at the Gothic Theatre went to RoverRadio, arguably one of the least respectable shows heard in our fair city. Yet on a deeper level, the honor makes at least a modicum of sense -- because in a radio environment where creativity is about as rare as raw meat, RoverRadio, which airs Monday through Friday from 7 p.m. to midnight on the Peak, has imagination to spare. And what nasty imagination it is.
Consider the following story.
When teen sensation Britney Spears was on stage at Denver's Paramount Theatre in early August, Rover MacDaniels, RoverRadio's 24-year-old host, claimed he gave $400 to intrepid producer Erik O'Connor (nicknamed Squat, because he doesn't like to urinate standing up) along with instructions to bribe his way into Spears's hotel room and steal a pair of her panties. After doling out just $70 of that total to a corruptible hotel employee, O'Connor was subsequently admitted to the space and came away with a green thong. Days later, Rover cut these dainties into pieces, tossing some of the scraps off the roof of the Tabor Center (the Peak's broadcast home) to a crowd waiting below and allowing willing listeners to eat the rest.
Of course, no bribery or panty-theft ever actually occurred, and many of the other details from this tale are fantasies, too -- but you'll never get either MacDaniels or O'Connor to admit it. So dedicated are they to maintaining this illusion that they produced a faux audio report, credited to the TV show Extra, about the entire incident. The item, which can be downloaded at www.roverradio.com, is an artful bit of mockumentary complete with so many canny touches (for instance, Erik O'Connor is misidentified as "Ed O'Connor," an error the two perpetrators presumably would never have made) that it almost doesn't matter that it's entirely bogus.
MacDaniels has staged plenty of routines like this one since arriving at the Peak this past spring, but his current stunt is arguably his most elaborate. In early November, e-cams were set up in his apartment and in the Peak studio, thereby affording computer users visiting the Peak's Web site (www.thepeak.com) and his own cyber-address the opportunity to watch live-streaming video of what he describes as "99 percent of my life." (His bathroom is off-limits, but that's about it.) He concedes that there have been plenty of moments when the action has lagged -- "I never thought I was that boring, but when you think of people watching you every minute, I guess a lot of the time, I am." However, he's made regular efforts to liven things up. During the experiment, which is scheduled to end December 5 but may be extended by several days to compensate for intermittent server problems, he's enjoyed a couple of visits from a Los Angeles porn starlet who calls herself Raylene and mamboed horizontally with her in view of at least one lens. "We didn't make a big deal of it," he says. "She has sex in front of cameras enough, so it was kind of a normal thing. But she's a little more open about walking around naked than I am. One time I was sitting around in my boxers and noticed my balls were hanging out. That was kind of embarrassing."
Such shtick isn't universally beloved: For every listener who sees Rover (real first name: Shane) as a budding radio wonder, another is certain he's nothing more than a younger version of veteran shock jock Howard Stern, whose nationally syndicated program also airs on the Peak. Those who hold the latter opinion can cite oodles of evidence. In August, MacDaniels hosted "World Pudding Wrestling," in which females apparently untroubled by questions of self-respect (including several bisexual women eager to smooch for the enjoyment of horny dudes) grappled in a jumbo tub of gooey chocolate dessert. And on November 29, he's set to accompany a contest winner and three buddies on the "Ultimate Guys Night Out," consisting of a ride in a limo laden with beer and exotic dancers, a steak dinner, box seats for the taping of W.C.W. Monday Nitro at the Pepsi Center and a visit to a strip joint.
Yet just when it seems plain that MacDaniels is another severe case of arrested development, he comes up with a gag that rises well above crotch level. On October 5, for example, shortly after the announcement that AMFM, the Texas conglomerate that owns the Peak and five other Denver radio stations, had been swallowed up by Clear Channel, another corporate behemoth, MacDaniels declared on the air that the Peak was conducting marketing tests for new sounds. Moments later he introduced "El Peako," a parody of a Spanish-language format complete with Ricky Martin songs and Spanish exchanges between "Roverio" and O'Connor, newly christened "Rechoncho." On successive nights, he shifted to "Peak-ing Duck," a Chinese station, and a rap approach dubbed "96.5 Da Peak." The bit hit close to home, but Peak program director Mike Stern (no relation to Howard) didn't mind. According to him, "That was the tension-breaker in the building -- the first time since the sale that the staff was able to laugh out loud and say, 'It's getting a little weird around here, but we'll ride it out and see what happens.' There was no backlash at all -- just people calling up their friends and going, 'Turn on the radio. You've got to hear this.'"
Although MacDaniels is almost continuously ribald while sitting in front of a microphone, he's rather low-key in person, and his downtown apartment is a model of tidiness and taste, with only a room devoted to a mixing board and other studio gear hinting at his profession. A Chicago native, he began his career at what's known in the trade as X-treme radio, working occasional overnight and weekend shifts at a station in Las Vegas. Mike Stern was the program director there, and it didn't take long for him to notice MacDaniels. "Usually with part-timers, you're happy if they actually show up and don't burn down the studio," he notes. "But Rover would come to me and say things like, 'Can I borrow the van? Because I want to tape a bunch of breaks that make it sound like I'm doing the whole show from the van.' So to find somebody who wanted to do that kind of thing from midnight to five was fantastic."
From there, MacDaniels moved to a position in Knoxville, where he had his first significant run-in with the FCC; a complaint was filed against him in March regarding a live appearance by the band Stabbing Westward, during which a woman caller allegedly described in explicit detail how she was masturbating at that very moment. The matter, which had not been resolved at press time, convinced MacDaniels that Knoxville was no longer the place for him. Luckily, Mike Stern, who joined the Peak that same month, soon offered him a slot there. MacDaniels initially worked afternoon drive time at the station and wound up disturbing a number of advertisers, including the Colorado Rockies: After he'd repeatedly sent an intern to the Rockies' office to volunteer his services as a pitcher, team reps threatened to pull their commercials from all the AMFM stations, only backing off after MacDaniels sent them an apology bouquet. But once he was moved to a later shift, the complaints dwindled and the buzz began.
Thus far, RoverRadio hasn't struck the ratings mother lode, nor has the station as a whole; with the exception of Howard Stern's show (the top-rated Denver morning program among men ages 18-34), the Peak remains what its program director calls "a work in progress" whose future will be determined by whatever operation eventually purchases it from Clear Channel, which is required to divest all the local AMFM properties. But MacDaniels isn't letting uncertainty prevent him from shaking up Denver evening radio. He and O'Connor are pouring much of their energy into a regular segment called "The Hook-Up," an on-the-edge-of-obscene variation on The Dating Game, and he promises another World Pudding Wrestling event in a matter of months. And on a nightly basis, he tries to demonstrate that he's a radio original, not a pale imitation.
"My philosophy is that Howard Stern created a genre of radio, just like 60 Minutes created a genre of newsmagazines," he says. "So just because Howard talks about bisexuals and sticking things up your ass doesn't mean that I'm ripping him off when I do. That's the kind of thing people my age like to talk about. And that's what I'm going to do."
The RoverRadio victory wasn't the only surprise at the A.I.R. awards (emceed by, of all people, actor Gordon Jump, who played the befuddled radio-station owner in the sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati). Insiders say the folks at KOA, the largest and most powerful news and sports organization in Denver radio, were dumbfounded when three major baubles in its area of specialization went to competitors. KJMN, the Spanish-language signal known as "Radio Romantica" (see the Message, October 28), was lauded for its news coverage of the Columbine shootings, which were heard not only locally but all over South America, and was also feted for Rafael Gutierrez's broadcast of a Colorado Rapids game; the Fan, meanwhile, cleaned up for its coverage of this year's Denver Broncos victory parade. To make matters worse, KOA suffered a nearly 10 percent ratings dropoff from spring to summer, probably caused in part by a lack of interest in the underperforming Colorado Rockies, whose games the station covers. Maybe the team should have taken up Rover on his offer to pitch after all.
Followups: As reported in this space last week, the Rocky Mountain News took out enormous ads proclaiming "Look Who's Colorado Now!" in celebration of surpassing the Denver Post in weekly circulation. The Post fired back last week with screaming self-promotion of its own. One ad proclaimed, "Real Leadership. Real Results. Nothing artificial -- just like Colorado," in another reference to its contention that the News puffed up its numbers via ultra-low subscription deals. That was followed by an "open letter to our readers and advertisers" from Post publisher Gerald Grilly (who, in a self-consciously folksy touch, signed his name "Jerry"); in it, he wrote, "We have consistently been Colorado's newspaper of choice, growing while our competitor has shown a steady daily circulation decline over six consecutive years and a Sunday circulation decline over three consecutive years. They have since created an illusion of growth by giving their newspaper away for a penny a day..." Of course, Grilly doesn't mention that for a time the Post did precisely the same thing, and neither does he reveal why advertisers should care about any of this. If more people are reading the News, which is contesting the consecutive-years-of-decline charge with an ad arguing that its circulation fell for just four years and has been rising for the last two, then more people are seeing the advertisements in it, period. But keep spinning, Jerry; we love it when you guys don't get along.
Also not making nice is Donald Sturm, whose deal to buy the Pepsi Center, Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche was on life support at press time -- which takes much of the wind out of a suit by News business columnist Dean Bonham, who wanted Sturm to pay him a finder's fee for helping to quash a previous offer by Bill and Nancy Laurie (the Message, November 11). But even if Sturm doesn't get the teams, Bonham still wants his dough, as he argued in the Post article "Man Who Blew Whistle on Laurie Deal Has No Regrets." Credit the News, which has been trying to avoid any conflict-of-interest charges in regard to Bonham's dealings with Sturm, for not giving him the same platform.
But the News wasn't nearly so smart when it came to an advertisement for "Healthy Thinking," described as a "campaign to raise awareness of mental health in schools." Bannered "'Healthy Thinking' Gets Tipper's Vote," the full-page hype was based on positive comments made about the program by Tipper Gore, wife of presidential candidate Al Gore and the driving force behind the Parents Music Resource Center, an Eighties-era organization whose idea of "healthy thinking" was to promote the censorship of any music it didn't like. Using her latest remarks for its own gain clearly calls into question the News's objectivity in covering the presidential race. Will the publication back anyone who says nice things about it? If so, Mrs. George W. Bush better come up with some compliments -- and fast.
Have comments, tips or complaints about the media? E-mail "The Message" at Michael_Roberts@westword.com.
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