By: Mike Austerman
Scrutiny of the radio business has probably never been higher than in recent weeks, and most of the attention has not been positive.
Shock talkers have been the biggest targets, as one scandal seems to be followed quickly by another, and high-profile personalities are either getting fired or placed on long suspensions as a result of broadcasting offensive material under the guise of being edgy or funny.
Only thing is, there is no humor in racial and ethnic stereotyping, as Don Imus and New York City personalities JV & Elvis have shown, or in references to rape, as satellite radio bad boys Opie & Anthony recently did. You’ve lost your edge when you resort to making fun or taking advantage of others and label it as entertainment.
Twenty- and 30-something men are falling all over themselves across the Internet in protest of the actions being taken against these so-called talents, mostly claiming free-speech violations. The Rev. Al Sharpton, in an appearance in Troy last week, had the perfect answer, correctly explaining that free speech is a two-way street.
I commend those who exert their right of free speech against what essentially has become sanctioned bullying over the airwaves.
Most schools now have strict policies against bullying as a way to address the kinds of issues that may have played a role in the tragedies at Columbine High School in 1999 and at Virginia Tech earlier this spring. Over and over again, we hear questions of what could have been done to prevent these kinds of horrible events.
Maybe society is starting to figure out that one of the most important things we can do is be consistent in our messages. If we’re not going to accept bullying in our schools, it’s time to stop accepting that kind of programming on the radio, too.
For those who get their kicks out of hearing the bits that are now rightly under scrutiny, I invite you to talk to some victims of ethnic hate crimes or rape and see if there is anything funny about their stories. Or maybe just talk to a kid that has been bullied and honestly try to learn how that feels.
Let’s get radio back to a place where true creativity and humor take center stage without all the unnecessary degradation of people who might look or act differently. Let’s let Paul W. Smith, Dick Purtan, John Mason and countless others both locally and nationally give some lessons on how a real radio pro should act on the air.
Radio isn’t dead — it just needs to let the best rise to the top again and minimize the desire to always be in the spotlight for being on the edge. As we’re learning, hanging out on that edge might just mean you’re due to fall off.