| Getting booted,
coming back, staying on air!
When we first started to think about this comment
it was pretty clear that Don Imus was likely to be
back on air at some time but we were expecting various others
who had pushed too far to remain in other employment including
and DJ Star (Troi Torain) who to our
surprise has been hired for a return to the New York airwaves
Nov 29 ) and Doug "Greaseman" Tracht,
who remains without any significant outlet according to the
Post in a report that listed a number pf people who had
and hadn't succeeded in making a comeback after various offences.
The first factor is obvious - as in most if not all parts
of the world, there's a different law for the rich or powerful
to that for the rest and that there'd be plenty of potential
interest in Imus's show, estimated as worth anything between
USD 15 million and USD 20 million plus a year to WFAN-AM,
his former station, which syndicated it to some 60 other stations.
The same was true for Opie and Anthony and Howard
Stern and they up on satellite radio, the former - who
arer also back on terrestrial - having been fired following
a number of tasteless stunts and the latter having attracted
Stern brings us to the second factor, the kind of "offence",
that is unforgivable. In his case it was a matter of those
fines, American sensibilities, it seems, being more attuned
to preventing embarrassment from a mention of natural bodily
functions than matters of bullying or racist and misogynistic
comments (Torain on a number of occasions) or crude and tasteless
ones (Tract's "they wonder why we drag them behind trucks"
comments about a song's quality with the reference being to
the 1988 murder of James Byrd, who was dragged behind a pickup
truck by two white supremacists).
There are, of course, plenty more examples of talk hosts who
are prone to all or some of the above but who have escaped
with suspensions and moved on to other things - as for instance
Craig Carton formerly with Ray Rossi in the "Jersey Guys"
who is now part of the WFAN team that replaced Imus.
And of course there's the ultimate unforgivable - upsetting
the advertisers, the reason Emmis was supposed to have dropped
Torain before Clear Channel picked him up.
It's all a business decision.
It's hard from the above not to conclude that
in the US at least it's a matter of business: Be as obnoxious
as you like and you're OK so long as you make money for the
owners but cost them money -through fines or losing advertisers
because of a protest - and you're out.
The rules as to what is a good business decision, however,
vary according to many factors including the market, the influence
of any group that may be upset and the size of the advertiser
and broadcaster involved.
For a small advertiser in a particular location - say a GM
dealership in Detroit - a station that has high ratings amongst
the potential customer base may well be attractive even if
it carries bigoted remarks that upset a significant minority
of the area's population, never mind a minority that is sizeable
For GM, however, placing adverts with such a station is much
more problematical since protests over that one station could
lead to loss of business nationwide if a boycott drive ensues.
The same principle applies to station owners. The owner of
a single station or a cluster in Detroit with maybe a few
other stations in Michigan can make a decision based on local
circumstances but a big corporation cannot.
CBS, for example, were it the owner just of
WFAN would have faced a major loss had it dumped
Imus's show but as the owner of a major TV network the balance
shifted dramatically for it risks its business and reputation
all over the country over the issue and WFAN, never mind the
Imus show, is not a major factor for corporate decision making
as a whole.
Who can you afford
From the above we conclude its mainly
a matter of who you offend and how powerful and committed are
the groups behind them.
You can, for example, get away with saying things about Arabs
or Moslems that might raise some protests but that if translated
into similar comments about Israel or Jews would lead to a major
firestorm of protest.
Similarly you can get away more with comments about Asian Americans
and Hispanics than you can with similar comments about African-Americans.
And behind that all is the dollar: Upsetting groups in demand
by advertisers will do you far more damage than upsetting demographics
they don't care about too much.
So Rush Limbaugh can sleep soundly - he is as near invulnerable
as is possible when it comes to making biased and bigoted comments
but were he starting up in a small market the things he does
now might well have ensured he got no further.
And what do you do if there has
been a major row?
Here things are also very much determined by market
considerations since if Limbaugh were to apologize abjectly
for getting something wrong concerning a Democrat he
might well do himself more harm than trying his usual
tactic of attacking the person again..
Imus can't try this and we think he would be best advised
to bring up the issues that led to his firing and apologize
gracefully then move on to other topics.
As for Torain, we can't see him changing his ways although
he might temper his comments and, as he's going to work
for a small company, get away with a fair amount.
What he gets away with, however, would not go down well
with the Imus audience and that brings us to the final
It all comes back ultimately to the audience and obviously
there are a lot of Americans out there who seem to find
it entertaining to listen to abuse and the maligning
of people or institutions, however little that may be
justified. They aren't enough on their own, however
if other groups with commitment and influence push the
broadcaster and advertisers hard.
The host therefore has to work out a balance between
keeping the audience, who may expect the kind of show
that led to the trouble and the advertisers who will
want ratings success but also want to feel confident
they won't be the target of a well organized opposition
What you think? Please