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Radio stunts can be fun; others not funny at all

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© St. Petersburg Times, published March 18, 2001

Okay, so Bubba the Love Sponge I ain't.

Bubba, if you have been living in a cave and haven't heard, is on the hot seat and certainly in the limelight for having allegedly done something bad, or for having made it sound a lot like he did.

I qualify this because radio promotion stunts frequently tend toward the bizarre. Although thousands of listeners think they heard a wild boar castrated and slaughtered on live radio, and executives at 98 Rock, WXTB have sort of admitted that the stunt, or parts of it happened on Bubba's show, I like to have a little more corpus in my delicti before I rush to believe all of anything I hear on the radio.

But all indications are that a hog really was slaughtered in the station's parking lot.

That's over the line, and I say this with all due deference to my radio colleagues, most of whom are not in the shock-jock business.

But radio works with the theater of the mind, and the same mental mechanisms that made Orson Welles famous in 1938 still work today.

Welles' broadcast, based on H.G. Wells' War Of The Worlds, reported an invasion of space aliens as if it were a real series of news broadcasts that interrupted regular programming. It caused widespread panic.

My old radio buddy Deanna Dammer and I discovered the same effect in 1993 when we went on the air nude.

Okay, I'll admit for going for the shock value in that statement.

Dammer is the straight-as-an-arrow spokeswoman for the Hernando County Sheriff's Office, and is extremely unlikely to be found nude in the same room or building as I.

But during the first of a series of shows we did on WWJB-AM 1450 during brief lapses in judgment on the part of station and Times management, and probably suffering from a Howard Stern overdose, I slipped right into the "totally nude radio" gag as soon as we went on the air and Dammer, although her eyes widened briefly, went with the joke.

We chatted about how we thought the idea would liven up radio, Brooksville and Hernando County in general (I still think it did that) and how, although we at first felt self-conscious, we were finding ourselves very comfortable with the format and wished we had thought of it sooner.

I remember the station manager getting up and walking down to the studio, just to glance in and make sure we all weren't going to jail. We saw a few more cars than usual outside and a couple of listeners (okay, the show only had a couple of listeners, so they all called in, okay?) called in to say they were praying for our souls.

Many more listeners would find cause to pray for and at us during the ensuing weeks that we did shows dealing with other topics, but never quite with the fervor they did the day they thought we were on the air naked.

Before someone points it out, I'm not above the occasional wild self-promotion stunt myself, especially if I can make a buck or two for a good cause while I am at it. I sat on a telephone pole for three four-day stints during Oktoberfest in New Port Richey in the mid 1980s to raise funds for the speech and hearing impaired, and I paddled a canoe from Dade City to Dunnellon. I walked from Crystal River to Dade City one year and from Dade City to Dunnellon a few years later.

And I've lost track of how many pies I have been hit with, how many times I have been dunked in dunking tanks, and I once wrestled a 90-pound woman in chocolate pudding to raise funds for a swimming pool. I beat Alligator Annie Potter in two out of three falls.

I also won the worm-eating championship of New Port Richey (14, and the record still stands as far as I know) and, during one Scotch whisky-soaked Robert Burns' Birthday night at the Dog & Gun Pub, I even ate haggis. (If you don't know, don't ask.)

But I would draw the line at animal cruelty, certainly real and even pretended as a means of getting attention.

The closest I came was about 10 years ago when I judged a game of cowflop bingo for charity, following a cow around to see where it would, er, make its deposit.

Ask anyone who was there, the cow got the better end of that conflict.

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