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The turkeys we should throw out the window

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© St. Petersburg Times, published March 15, 2001

Maybe the idea to do bizarre things to animals on the air began with WKRP in Cincinnati.

In one of the first episodes of the classic TV sitcom about a radio station, 20 turkeys were released from a helicopter to promote the station. It was supposed to be a food giveaway.

The turkeys fell on a shopping mall, as a hysterical station reporter described the carnage.

"As God is my witness," the station's hapless manager, Arthur Carlson, said as the show closed, "I thought turkeys could fly."

People thought that was funny 23 years ago.

But 23 years ago, radio was benign. It might have occasionally been silly, but it wasn't cruel.

Today, cruel is cool -- and winked at by Clear Channel Communications, the radio industry giant.

If you were shocked when a pig was castrated and slaughtered on Bubba the Love Sponge Clem's morning show last month, then get this:

It was the third incident of its type on a Clear Channel station.

In my column Sunday, I told you about the Denver jock who had an assistant toss a chicken out a third-story window to see what would happen. The chicken lived, but last Monday, the jock, Stephen Meade, was sentenced to probation. He will have to perform 100 hours of community service at a facility that cares for animals, attend 24 counseling sessions for animal abusers and pay nearly $1,000 in costs and fines.

Meade pulled his stunt a year ago last month. This is how the Associated Press described it: He "encouraged listeners to bring small animals to the radio station last February, saying they would be let loose on a highway. If they survived, it would mean an early spring; if they died, it would mean six more weeks of winter."

Somehow, that morphed into the chicken trick.

Meade's arrest did not make an impression. Nearly a year later, this past January, a rabbit was fed to a python at a Dallas Clear Channel station on the air.

The station manager didn't call me back Wednesday. But animal rights groups say the station apologized on the air and put animal welfare information on its Web site.

When something happens three times in a year at radio stations owned by a company like Clear Channel, it's obvious the front office doesn't mind.

"They are the cutting edge of depravity when it comes to bad boy radio," says Steve Rendall, senior analyst with FAIR, a media watchdog group in New York. FAIR -- the acronym stands for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting -- has made a cause out of Clear Channel because it has such a lock on what much of America hears on the radio.

"They are aiming at immature white male juvenility, if not in age then in attitude," Rendall said. "It shows absolute and utter contempt for the public interest."

Clear Channel not only dominates the national radio audience. It dominates Tampa Bay. It owns the legal limit for any market, eight stations, including two of the three most popular stations.

And it thrives on hypocrisy.

While Bubba is crass, cruel and over-the-top with obscenity in morning drive, Glenn Beck, the afternoon talk show host at sister station WFLA AM, rails against immorality and Planned Parenthood.

There aren't many people around who comprehend the effect this double-speak has on a community. If a kid hears trash in the morning and righteousness in the afternoon, what message does he get?

Not many people even remember when radio and TV stations were required by federal law to do editorials about important local issues. Elections. Schools. Taxes. Or animal cruelty.

Under the circumstances, ol' Bubba deserves a thank you. He shoved a serious public problem, other than himself, right under our noses.

Recent coverage

Outrage grows; retreat begins (March 11, 2001)

Is anyone listening as Bubba fouls the air? (March 8, 2001)

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