Taking on the Empire

Page 5 of 10

After Jacor and Clear Channel agreed to unite (the October 1998 deal wasn't approved by the FCC until the second half of 1999), this sort of warfare continued. Arguably Jacor's canniest use of devious strategy during its waning days involved syndicated radio offender Howard Stern, whose entry into the Denver market on the Peak (owned at the time by AMFM, then a Jacor competitor), threatened to undermine the ratings at several Jacor stations, the Fox and KBPI included. In April 1999, the day after the shootings at Columbine High School, Stern referred to some of the terrified teenage girls fleeing the school as awfully "good-looking," and wondered why the killers hadn't tried to have sex with them -- an insensitive gibe, sure, but one that provoked only a bare handful of complaints at the Peak. The controversy probably would have ended there had it not been for a mysterious "reader" who left a recording of the offending routine on the voice mail of Dusty Saunders, broadcasting columnist for the Rocky Mountain News and, at the time, host of a talk show on Jacor's KHOW. Saunders attacked Stern in print at his next opportunity, and Jacor stations such as KOA followed suit, stirring up an anti-Stern backlash that eventually drove him from the airwaves in Denver.

Officially, no one in Jacor management admitted that the company exploited the pain and suffering of an entire community to get rid of a radio rival; in 1999, O'Connor said his employees monitored Stern regularly and had a tape of the show in question, but he swore he'd been "sitting on it" until the news got out another way because, as a competitor, "we thought we'd look like we were grandstanding." But Jacor had long made a habit of leaving recordings on the voice-mail systems of media critics in an effort to harm or embarrass talent at other stations.

The carryings-on persisted after the Jacor-Clear Channel merger was blessed by the FCC. Other hijinks that reliable sources believe were perpetrated by Clear Channel during the past two years include:

• At the "Big Rock Show," a concert sponsored by the Hawk, a classic-rock station that competes directly with the Fox, a truckload of rocks was dumped in front of the ticket windows at Fiddler's Green, complete with a sign that read: "You want a Big Rock Show? Here are some big rocks." The concert was also flooded with counterfeit all-access passes and fliers stating that anyone who went up to a vendor and announced "The Hawk sucks" would receive two beers for the price of one.

• A Peak-sponsored concert at the Fillmore Auditorium (now owned by Clear Channel as part of its purchase of SFX) was disrupted when hundreds of pounds of raw fish were deposited in an area where bands load equipment.

• On a number of occasions, agents, managers or band representatives who've scheduled dates presented by non-Clear Channel stations in Denver have received bogus faxes detailing unauthorized promotions intended to insult or confuse the artists.

• The logo on the side of a Peak van was splashed with chemicals, destroying it and necessitating an expenditure of hundreds of dollars to get it fixed. On another occasion, Peak personnel at an event where several local stations had erected tents for promotional purposes came upon two youths as they were attempting to set fire to a recreational vehicle owned by the station. The youths escaped to a Clear Channel station's tent.

Flames also figure in a previously unreported tale starring Stephen Meade, aka Willie B., morning-show host for KBPI. Meade found himself in the media glare after two highly publicized incidents: He was convicted last year of animal cruelty in relation to a 1999 on-air routine involving the dropping of a chicken from an upper floor at Clear Channel's headquarters, in the Denver Tech Center, and he was one of the parties accused of damaging private property near Nederland via a September 2000 gathering of off-road-vehicle enthusiasts labeled "Mudfest." But he received no ink for a physical attack on Rover MacDaniels, a former DJ at the Peak.

Three sources say that in late 1999, MacDaniels was sitting in an Old Chicago restaurant in downtown Denver when Meade came up behind him and began pummeling him. Police broke it up, but this incident, combined with other examples of harassment by Meade, such as threatening phone calls and at least one highly provocative appearance at the Peak's downtown Denver headquarters, led to a restraining order against the DJ that required him to stay at least a hundred yards away from MacDaniels and his producer, Erik "Squat" O'Connor, for the next year. Meade did so, but at a Limp Bizkit concert where both stations had a promotional presence, he heckled MacDaniels through a bullhorn and had an assistant purchase numerous Peak T-shirts that he then doused with gasoline and lit ablaze.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts