Eric Deggans, St. Petersburg Times, Jul. 10
Amid a growing controversy over the use of racial slurs, including a rebuke from St. Petersburg city officials and complaints from a local NAACP president, Clear Channel Radio will remove the shock jock radio team The Monsters from the air next week for sensitivity training.
The training was inspired by complaints over the team’s use of derogatory terms for homosexuals and people of color on air.
And part of the team’s retraining might include an on air talk upon their July 19 return with civil rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
The slurs, revealed in a St. Petersburg Times story Tuesday, prompted a St. Petersburg City Council vote Thursday to send a letter to Clear Channel condemning the language. Darryl Rouson, a lawyer and president of St. Petersburg’s NAACP chapter, called the company Friday to tell them he would bring up the matter next week at the group’s national convention in Philadelphia. “We’ve paid attention (to the complaints) and taken some action,” said David C. Reinhart, regional vice president and Gulf Coast market manager for Clear Channel Radio. “They’re being trained not to use those terms. We’re hoping to leave it at that.”
The Monsters, which originates in Orlando, also airs in Jacksonville and from 6 to 10 a.m. locally on WXTB-FM 97.9 (98 Rock). During the group’s training next week, Clear Channel will air “best of” shows that have been scoured for racially insensitive material, Reinhart said.
Monsters leader Russ Rollins said he feels abandoned by company officials, who often encouraged his team when ratings were good, before receiving public complaints. The show features jokes about white rural culture and a cast who champion the pleasures of sex, partying and pranks.
Popular for years in Orlando, the show came to WXTB in March when shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge Clem was fired after incurring a record $755,000 fine for airing sexually indecent material.
“I’m (thinking) `OK, isn’t this the type of broadcast that was OK’d by the company? You wanted us to be edgy,’” said Rollins. “Now, we’re not just talking about (eliminating) racial slurs, we can’t make fun of stereotypes. It’s irritating, because you don’t know where the line is.”
But Rouson, who called Reinhart Friday morning when a salesperson from WXTB visited him to discuss advertising on the station, said responsible broadcasters should know to avoid using such harmful slurs.
“(Sensitivity training) is not enough if it does not clear up the comments that are offensive and derogatory towards minorities . . . but I’m willing to give it a chance,” said Rouson, who still plans to report Monday on the Monsters controversy to NAACP officials. “With my calling . . . and what City Council did, they knew the snowball effect was taking place. Something had to be done.”
Reinhart couldn’t say why Clear Channel allowed the Monsters to air such epithets, or why they concluded Friday that such conduct was no longer acceptable.
“Of course we monitor what they do,” said Reinhart, who also couldn’t say how many complaints the company received this week. “We’ve just had them on the air (in Tampa) a short time.”
Reinhart and Rollins each said Jackson, who hosts a live, national talk show for Clear Channel from Chicago, might appear on The Monsters show July 19 to discuss racial sensitivity. But representatives for Jackson said they were unaware of any such plans.
Rollins, who always has said his show makes fun of a wide range of people, wasn’t sure how much the Monsters might change after their break.
“We can’t come off like we’re choir boys when we come back . . . we won’t keep our core listeners,” he said. “Once again, Clear Channel is backing down . . . I guess we’ll just start picking on each other and making fun of rednecks. That’s always OK.”