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Outrage grows; retreat begins

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By MARY JO MELONE

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 11, 2001


When you sufficiently embarrass a big corporation, the corporation cries oink. Sort of.

Clear Channel Communications, the corporation that lets Bubba the Love Sponge pollute Tampa Bay radio air, now says he was being a bad boy when a pig was castrated and killed on his show on 98 Rock, WXTB-FM, on Feb. 27.

To say this pig was killed to be eaten is a sham. This pig was killed to shock and titillate Bubba's listeners -- anything, anything to drive up the size of his audience and move him from second place to first in the race for ratings in the morning.

This is the most lucrative part of the day for a radio station, when the audience is usually biggest. The bigger the audience, the more the station can charge for ads. The more money Bubba makes for his station, the more important he is.

Even the U.S. Humane Society has complained to its members about the stunt in its weekly newsletter.

But that's nothing, next to the advertisers.

CDNow, a Web site that sells CDs to 4.5-million customers worldwide, has pulled its ads from Bubba's show. GameWorks, the Steven Spielberg company with a video arcade and restaurant in Ybor City, pulled its occasional ads as well.

This will come as news to the people who objected, sometimes cursing, sometimes not, about my previous column on what happened on the air:

Other people care, including Clear Channel employees.

The pig killing caused such an uproar that Bubba's boss at WXTB, station general manager Dan DiLoreto, issued a memo apologizing to the staff of the company's eight Tampa stations.

"This was far to(o) graphic to have been performed outside our offices," the memo said. It was distributed the day after the stunt.

But talk is cheap. There is no limit to the coyness of company officials when they speak.

On Friday, I talked to DiLoreto and Dave Reinhart, the executive who oversees all the company's local stations.

They finally admitted the pig was killed during Bubba's show. They even said that Bubba was able to reach somebody in the parking lot by cell phone so he could check on what was going on and relay the information to his listeners.

But they wouldn't answer other questions -- such as whether the audience indeed heard the castration of the pig, on the air live, before it was slaughtered. They did say they don't intend to fire Bubba. They haven't even asked for an apology.

DiLoreto and Reinhart also said that even though they were in the Clear Channel building when the stunt occurred in the parking lot, they didn't know it was happening. "We were busy in here with office duties, and we have eight radio stations to take care of," Reinhart said.

They must have been counting money.

Or reading the news clips from Denver.

A jock for a Clear Channel station in Denver is to be sentenced Monday on misdemeanor animal cruelty charges, according to the Rocky Mountain News. He had an assistant toss a chicken out a window of his station's third floor, injuring it. The jock could get six to 18 months in jail.

You don't have to go far to find a psychiatrist who'll say kids who torture animals frequently end up murderers. Whether they realized it or not, these jocks were making light of homicide when they pulled their stunts.

The people at Clear Channel want you to believe, though, that they share your outrage.

Also on Friday, corporate spokeswoman Pam Taylor called the pig slaughtering "despicable."

"This is not acceptable programming content for Clear Channel stations," she said.

If you think she's sincere, I've got some swamp land for sale.

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