Things have been awfully muddy the past week or two over at KBPI -- but when haven't they been?
Ever since the FM rocker became part of the Jacor kingdom (which transitioned seamlessly into the corporate coffers of Texas-based Clear Channel), the station has courted an outrageous image with the endless lust of a virginal lotto winner in a stadium full of two-dollar whores. Yet after morning-show DJs Willie B. (aka Stephen Meade) and D-Mak (Darren McKee) led a parade of four-wheeling galoots (some of them on-duty National Guardsmen) onto private property near Nederland, thereby transforming a sizable tract into something that looked worse than Grandma's goulash, Clear Channel-Denver exec Don Howe immediately went into his time-honored spinmeister routine. Following the September 23 incident, he put on his sincere face for the local TV cameras, insisting that the so-called mudfest wasn't a KBPI-sponsored event; rather, Willie and D-Mak had merely been casually discussing their weekend plans in front of an open microphone the previous Friday, not realizing that a bunch of mouth-breathers with big-ass SUVs might want to join them. Predictably, he avoided noting that these supposedly offhand remarks featured information about the rendezvous location.
Numerous parties disputed Howe's contentions, including landowner Tom Hendricks, who charged that excursion info had been on the KBPI Web site (Howe said the offending data had nothing to do with KBPI, but was found through a search engine on KBPI's home page), and a caller to Peter Boyles's KHOW talk show who insisted that Willie had publicly pumped the bash over the course of several days. KBPI could have proven these last claims wrong by disseminating tapes of the broadcasts, but conveniently, station spokesmen reported that there weren't any. Denver's Video Monitoring Service, a business that records television and radio broadcasts for resale, didn't have the evidence in question, either; a VMS rep reveals that the company had only started recording the KBPI morning show on September 27, four days after the mud had flown. Interesting timing, hmmm?
Sources inside KBPI (the kind that request anonymity) maintain that the disfigured acreage wasn't the pristine wetland that's been portrayed in the press, but rather a well-known mudding spot; further, they hint that Hendricks is taking advantage of the situation to get the station to pay for the cleanup of destruction that's been years in the making -- assertions Hendricks has vigorously denied. But no matter whose story is accurate, KBPI looks as if it'll dodge any significant legal repercussions. The U.S. Forest Service absolved the outlet of direct responsibility for the damages and fined Willie and D-Mak only $50 apiece -- a punishment that's hardly guaranteed to make them act like good lads from now on. As for Howe, he told Boyles (whose radio home is also owned by Clear Channel) that KBPI would help pay to repair Hendricks's property, then touted environmentally sensitive fundraising in which his firm had previously engaged, and otherwise shed enough tears to satisfy a bayou's worth of crocodiles, not to mention the entire public-relations department. However, the real indication of how seriously Howe takes this matter can be seen in the way he's dealt with personnel under his command. Neither Willie nor D-Mak were disciplined in any substantial way for their actions, and KBPI program director Bob Richards, who's supposedly accountable for what went down, has just been promoted: He's now in charge of both KBPI and the new KISS signal, at 95.7 FM. That'll really teach him a lesson.
Then again, hypocrisy of this sort is par for the course at KBPI. Willie B. has made headlines before, largely as a result of a Freudian jones for shenanigans utilizing creatures a step or two down the evolutionary ladder from him -- technically speaking, anyhow. He's currently awaiting trial on an animal-cruelty beef relating to a February stunt in which he directed an intern to heave a chicken out a three-story window. (The caper evolved from his proposed alteration to Groundhog Day; he wanted to send one of the furry mammals across a busy roadway, with its survival or death determining if there would be six more weeks of winter.) The episode marked Willie's second investigation by animal control officers: In 1997 he aired a tape of what he claimed was a cat in a dishwasher (it was later judged a phony). Nevertheless, Willie has never received substantial chastisement for either of these stunts, nor was he called on the carpet three years ago after telling listeners that he'd give free Marilyn Manson tickets to anyone who brought a golf cart to KBPI's studio, an offer that goaded three impressionable stupes into trying to steal one. Indeed, Willie is so beloved by management that they've got him appearing on both the morning and evening shifts, giving him more airtime than virtually any other jock in the city. Maybe if he shoots a dog, they'll put him on 24 hours a day.
Another example of KBPI's style? In 1996, morning personalities Dean Myers, Rog Beaty and Joey Teehan stirred indignation after Teehan and a listener burst into an Arapahoe County mosque and blared the national anthem -- a jab at ex-Denver Nugget Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, a Muslim who preferred not to stand while the anthem was playing. The three were briefly suspended, then sent packing to Phoenix, where the figurative heat (although not the literal kind) was lower. But in 1999, Teehan, whose behavior KBPI management had pretended to deplore, was brought back to the station as part of a new a.m. team -- and he'd no doubt still be in this prominent time period if his ratings hadn't reeked.
The message such actions send -- that juvenile behavior is not only tolerated but often rewarded -- is underlined by the activities of Clear Channel management, which has its own tradition of lowbrow pranksterism. In 1995, Jacor minions disrupted an auction staged by KBCO (which at that time hadn't yet been purchased by the conglomerate) by parking a truck full of manure outside the venue where it was taking place. When he was asked about the stunt a few days thereafter, then-boss Jack Evans told Westword he'd reprimanded his lackeys only for not using a bigger truck. A few weeks later, on the cusp of Thanksgiving, KBPI lugs tossed a frozen turkey on the lawn of Bryan Schock, program director at now-defunct rival station 92X, and planted a sign beside it reading, "Unlike this bird, your goose is cooked. This will be your last Thanksgiving in Colorado," so freaking out Schock's nine-year-old daughter that her dad filed a trespassing complaint and obtained a restraining order against program director Richards. For his part, Richards never took the matter seriously, jokingly defending himself in the O.J. Simpson manner: "Somebody tried to frame me," he said to Westword. "I was home that night practicing my golf swing. I am spending all my time and energy trying to catch the real perpetrator or perpetrators." Obviously, Richards knew that he was in no danger of being scolded -- and he wasn't.
And if you think the Federal Communications Commission will make KBPI choke on such bravado, think again. KBPI's license doesn't expire until April 2005, and even if the date were sooner, FCC regulations don't really apply to the sort of mischief enumerated above; they focus more on obscene language and unfair contests. Believe it or don't, the Commission granted the station its current license in 1997, mere months after the monkeyshines at the mosque.
So give Howe, Richards and the rest credit for understanding where the line is drawn and how far things can be pushed. But when they apologize, know better than to believe them.
Everything's coming up Rosen: By contrast, KOA talk-show host Mike Rosen really does regret the muddle he stepped into on September 25 -- and his blunder serves as yet another reminder that while there's a lot of nifty information on the Internet, plenty of it just ain't factual.
Prior to his program that day, Rosen's producer passed the show's star a letter he'd found on the Internet purportedly written by Al Gore to his parents in May 1969 to explain his feelings about the Vietnam War. An elephant-blood conservative, Rosen was understandably fired up by the text, in which Gore supposedly described the draft system as "illegitimate" and claimed that he would serve in the military only "to maintain my political viability within the system," adding, "For years I have worked to prepare myself for a Presidential run characterized by both practical and political ability and concern for rapid social progress." Rosen subsequently went on the air and read the letter (which resides at queencity.com/whistleblower/gore-letter.htm), discussing its "revelations" for what he estimates as fifteen or twenty minutes before receiving a call from someone who thought its prose was suspiciously reminiscent of a missive that a young Bill Clinton sent during that same period to Colonel Eugene Holmes, overseer of the University of Arkansas ROTC program, in an effort to evade the draft. Rosen was familiar with the Clinton-Holmes letter, having quoted from it extensively in a 1998 Denver Post column defending now-Colorado governor Bill Owens against draft-dodging accusations, and promised to double-check the Gore document's veracity. In less than the length of the next news block, he discovered that this blockbuster was every bit as bogus as the Hitler diaries.
In retrospect, it's surprising that Rosen fell for the gag. After all, the letter offers numerous clues to its falsity, ranging from its opening salutation ("Dearest Mother and Senator Gore") to Al's declaration that his high regard for his folks "made our family bond somewhat palatable to me." Furthermore, Rosen's antennae should have been up given how much has been made about media types duped by Internet hoaxes, among them the Rocky Mountain News's Bill Johnson, who wrote an entire column based on a similarly fabricated manuscript ("The Man Who Wasn't There," December 9, 1999). But, mercifully, Rosen didn't try to gloss over his error as did Johnson, whose followup to his original column concentrated mainly on the positive responses his inadvertent piece of fiction had received. Following the news, Rosen announced that the letter was a sham, and he spent much of his broadcast the next day reiterating the point, albeit in the context of discussing letters an eighteen-year-old Gore actually did write in 1966 to his girlfriend Tipper; they'd been made public a year ago
A lesson learned? Sure -- but Rosen would have preferred gathering his wisdom another way. "Yes, it's true," he concedes. "I was suckered."
Return to sender: My nomination for 2000's weirdest correction goes to the Denver Post, for a September 16 notice so confusing that it requires translation -- which, as it turns out, is entirely appropriate. Inside a box that at first glance looked like an advertisement was the heading "Correction Notice" and the following statement: "The business reply card in Spanish, offering a free 30 day subscription to the Denver Post to the readers of 'La Solución,' was printed and distributed without previous knowledge or authorization from 'Páginas Amarillas Hispanas La Solución.' 'Páginas Amarillas Hispanas La Solución' and 'Solid Future Publications' had no involvement in the creation and/or translation of the reply card and are not responsible for the spelling and grammar mistakes in the text. The Denver Post apologizes for any confusion this may have caused."
To explain: Páginas Amarillas Hispanas La Solución is what's commonly referred to among members of Denver's Spanish-speaking community as "the Hispanic Yellow Pages" -- but it's not the only service with a similar-sounding name in the city. There's also Páginas Amarillas de Colorado, which its managing partner, Martha Rubí, describes as "a Latino guide. It's not like a phone book. It's more like a resource guide, all in Spanish, about tourism, government, where to register your kids for school, things like that. And we also have a talking guide; you call a local number and you get different information in Spanish."
The circulation department at the Post, hoping to reach people receiving copies of Rubí's baby, agreed to pay for the placement of subscription cards in the publication. But there was a rub. The cards, which the Post printed independently, were addressed to the readers of Páginas Amarillas Hispanas La Solución, not Páginas Amarillas de Colorado -- which, as Rubí points out, would be comparable to inserts in the Post that were addressed to Rocky Mountain News subscribers. Just as embarrassing, the card had numerous boo-boos, including a misspelling of the Spanish word for "free." Rubí says, "It's not the worst that I've seen; it's readable. But when I saw it, I remember thinking, 'Wow. I can't believe a professional spelled it like that.'"
Marketing vice president Tom Botelho, speaking for the Post, concedes that many of the 60,000 books Páginas Amarillas de Colorado assembled for dissemination in August were distributed prior to the discovery of these slip-ups, but the cards were removed from all warehoused stock. "We did everything we could to make it right," he says, "and we apologize for the error."
Rubí accepted the Post's act of contrition, but she does admit that the matter upset her. "I can imagine our readers looking at the cards and wondering, 'What were they thinking?'"
Going...going...gone: Finally, an update about three Denver radio notables -- one who just split, and two others whose recent homecoming turned out not to be a harbinger of things to come.
No one expected that Rover MacDaniels, the imaginatively scatological evening host at the Peak ("Son of Stern," November 25, 1999), would fit into an "'80s and Beyond" format designed for listeners who really, really miss Modern English and Kajagoogoo -- least of all McDaniels himself: The day the musical approach was flipped, he walked. But he's just been hired for a gig that's full of promise, if a bit lacking in nice hours. He recently took over the 2 a.m. to 5 a.m. slot (Pacific time) on the Los Angeles-based Web site Comedy World, at comedyworld.com. There, he and his sometime cohort at the Peak, Mike Crank, join talent such as Ken Ober, onetime host of MTV's Remote Control; Comedy Central alum Allan Harvey; alterna-comic Beth Lapides; and occasional contributors like Eddie Griffin, Sandra Bernhard and the Kids in the Hall troupe.
For folks who have to get up in the morning, all of MacDaniels's shows will be archived for easy access. In addition, Comedy World will soon branch out to standard broadcast stations on the Sirius Satellite Radio network (a spokesman for the site calls it "going terrestrial"), although it's unlikely that any of them will be in Colorado. In the meantime, Rover reassures fans that his show hasn't been radically altered for Internet consumption. "Don't let the 'Comedy World' name fool you," he says. "It's not like we'll be throwing one-liners out all the time. It will be the same type of material we've always done."
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Sounds like fun for the whole family.
Frosty Stillwell and Frank Kramer, former cohorts of Alice's Jamie White who followed her to La La Land only to be replaced by child-star-turned-scary-grownup Danny Bonaduce, are staying in Southern California, too. Despite an Alice-sponsored visit to Denver in August ("Urban Renewal," August 24), the pair just started filling the midday slot at KLSX, an Infinity-owned FM talk station; they're on immediately after Howard Stern and prior to the popular Tom Leykis in a post previously filled by Jonathan Brandmeier, a big deal in Chicago who never quite caught on in L.A. Joining them is Heidi Hamilton, who did traffic updates on the Jamie, Frosty and Frank show for the West Coast audience. Since her segments weren't heard on Alice (we have enough bad traffic without needing to worry about backups on the Pacific Coast Highway), Denverites are unfamiliar with her stylings, but Kramer characterizes them as a big improvement over White's. "Heidi's not so remedial in her humor," he says. "There's a lot more intelligence instead of just going for, like, the fourth-grade jokes and then laughing at herself."
As you can tell, Frosty and Frank are still nursing some animosity toward White; neither of them will even refer to her by name, choosing instead to call her "our old female partner." But they both speak fondly of Denver and say they would have loved to have come back to Alice if the multiple sales of the station hadn't prevented management from making changes during most of this year. Moreover, Kramer is intrigued by the possibility that their show might someday be heard here if one of the three Infinity stations in the market switches to an FM talk format (a prospect local Infinity sources are currently discounting). In the meantime, though, they're not complaining. "I'm doing talk in L.A. at the city's major talk station," Stillwell says, "and I couldn't be happier."
Would it have been even sweeter if he and Kramer had been programmed directly opposite White and Bonaduce? Stillwell laughs. "I'm just glad to have a job. It would have been interesting to have gone head to head and seen what happened...but I guess there's plenty of time for that later."