Making (Radio) Waves | Vox Pop | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Making (Radio) Waves

Will the end of Imus mean new rules for radio?

Remember when Clear Channel banned all those songs that had to do with death after 9/11? Songs like John Lennon's "Imagine?" That's when I thought, "I'm screwed." Everybody was incredibly paranoid about everything that was going out over the airwaves. I mean everything.

I was doing a once-a-week commentary on the WDVE morning show, an edgy show. I made a comedic reference (at least I thought it was funny) to the Beverly Hillbillies TV show ... specifically Ellie Mae rubbin' her furry critter down by the CE-ment pond.

OK, it's a cheap masturbation joke. I didn't say it was comedy gold.

Anyway, host Jim Krenn hit the dump button, which makes sure content a station doesn't want to go out over the airwaves doesn't go there. During the break, Jimmy looked at me. "Johnny Mac, whatcha thinkin'?" he queried.

I felt horrible, but I also felt certain that before 9/11, no one would have given a rat's ass about furry critter rubbin'. In fact they would have embraced it, so to speak.

Still, the point is, I was afraid the climate of fear would forever have a chilling effect on edgy radio shows, and we'd all end up with white bread crap coming out of our speakers. You know, like the mind-numbingly boring kind of radio that existed everywhere before some of the more outrageous personalities began doing their thing.

Now, I'm not defending fart jokes. And I'm not defending Don Imus calling the Rutgers women's basketball team nappy-headed hoes. It was racist and it wasn't funny. You can get away with murder as long as you're funny.

Imus is reportedly getting ready to sue CBS because there was a clause in his contract that said he got one warning about specific content before they could shit-can him. But what will radio be like in the future because of Imus-gate?

Michael Harrison, who runs Talkers Magazine, the talk radio industry bible, thinks it won't be a problem in the long run. Terrestrial radio will die, he figures, in favor of the Internet and satellite radio, where censorship won't be a problem. I believe the imminent death of terrestrial radio has been greatly exaggerated. Cable has yet to kill broadcast TV.

But the politically correct police have their panties in a wad and their nooses ready for necks. They want to ban everything that's in bad taste and remotely controversial. And they see Imus-gate as their latest justification.

I am now hosting an edgy radio show on 93.7 FM the Zone. The other day while discussing Imus, I played an old Lenny Bruce clip. It contained the N word, repeatedly. It also contained "kike" and some other choice ethnic slurs. I didn't check with anyone in advance. My managers suggested that next time, perhaps, I should run it by them. But to their credit, I did not get a demerit and they said it was defensible in context and nobody pulled my pants down and gave me swats.

I have regularly called my producer Gabrielle Bonesso a "nappy headed ho." She allows me this liberty for its alleged comedic value. When I tell friends around the country this, they are aghast.

"I hope you know what you're doing," they mutter.

Should I really be afraid? When Dina McGreevy started making the talk-show rounds to promote her new book -- in which she writes about discovering she was married to the gay governor of New Jersey -- I did a phone poll. "How do you know if you're married to a homo?" I asked. Bad taste? Yes. Am I attempting to encourage homophobia? Absolutely not. Will I be hoisted on my own petard if I continue to throw caution to the wind?

As snotty newspaper executives like Chris Potter of the City Paper will tell you, everybody needs an editor. But could we please all get a grip? We've got much bigger problems than edgy radio. Like, you know, the war and stuff.