Friday, July 25, 2014

"I don't like your 'on-air persona'"

The quote in the title was said to a good friend of mine. He was a DJ at WRUR, the University of Rochester FM station. He had a weekly two-hour rock/metal program that I appeared on regularly as a guest. In between the songs, there would be talking. Most of it was silly - it would occasionally make off-color remarks, but very little of it was truly offensive. I said the smell of a women who worked at residential life displeased me, in poetry form. The host would, at times, reference some of the fine women of Rochester who waitressed without shirts for a living. We were young and immature but generally harmless. There were a couple times I said things I immediately regretted, and was happy to only have the reach of college radio. But when you are talking and you need to fill air, and you are young and immature, sometimes the wrong thing comes out. 

At one point, the time slot for this show was excellent: 10:00pm, prime college radio listening, if such a thing exists. The schedule was adjusted each semester, and the following one was much less desirable. I don't actually remember the details of when the show was moved to, but I remember it was less good. 

My friend, the show's host, asked the programming director about the move. We both knew the director personally, as she was a friend of one of our close friends. She probably could have given a half-hearted answer like "I'm sorry about the move, we are trying to give everyone a chance in the prime slot." She didn't say that though - instead, she was honest, but in a really passive-aggressive sort of way. She told the host that "I don't like your on-air persona."  As the host would say. "So here's the thing, I don't actually have an 'on-air persona,' so I think that was just her was of saying 'I changed your time slot because I don't like you.'"

Why did this story from fourteen years ago suddenly pop into my brain? Because of the recent blow-up at the sports radio station WEEI, where co-host Kirk Minihane said unkind, misogynist things about Fox reporter Erin Andrews. His comments were over the line and unacceptable. His apology for his initial comments was followed by a rant that was even less acceptable. 

I am not going to rehash the entire escapade because most people know about it already and the rest of you all have the google machine. Just type in "Kirk Minihane Erin Andrews" and choose your source. What I wanted to address was the idea that Minihane, as well as hosts John Dennis and Gerry Callahan are simply "playing a role," that their "on-air persona" is meant to be the epitome of the blue-collar sports enthusiast, without a worry about being politically correct or whatever nonsense.

Stop it. Just stop it. Blaming your "on-air persona" for your mistakes is just effing weak.

First off, it's a cop-out. You can't take credit for the intelligent things you say, but laugh off all of the BS by saying "oh, I'm in character." Oh, you're in character are you? Who does your writing? Oh, no one, it's all improv, your "character?" I see. 

Second off, acting like an idiot when you know it's wrong is worse than just accidentally letting some idiocy out. I'm going to use an extreme example here, but stay with me. In the late 1960's George Wallace rose to national prominence for his virulent opposition to desegregation. The racism was overt. In later years, when Wallace's message has been clearly seen as supremely incorrect, he has been defended as not being an actual racist, but rather someone who was a good man away from politics but used (exploited) the racism of others to advance his platform. When asked, Wallace himself said "You know, I tried to talk about good roads and good schools and all these things that have been part of my career, and nobody listened. And then I began talking about n****rs, and they stomped the floor." =

Being a racist, or misogynist, or other form of bigot is bad. Really, really bad. But acting like a bigot when you know it's wrong, just for attention, for ratings or votes or hits on your website? That's inexcusable. 

Being on the radio is hard and having everything you say get recorded makes it easy to screw up. The key is admitting you screwed up. Minihane saying what he said about Andrews is a thing that happens, a forgivable mistake. His not understanding why it was wrong and pathetic excuse-making, is what makes him so deplorable. So, Kirk Minihane? I don't like your on-air persona.