WIYY airs apology after religious slur

Radio: Dealership pulls commercials after comments by comic on Muslim car salesman.

September 01, 2001|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN TELEVISION WRITER

A Baltimore radio station whose morning comic suggested a Muslim car salesman might bomb the station has aired an apology after the man's employer pulled its ads.

But Hamid Kaynama, the target of the slur, said he considers the apology half-hearted because it was a personal appeal by an anchor who didn't make the offending comments rather than a formal statement of contrition by station officials.

According to people who heard Tuesday morning's broadcast of the Kirk, Mark and Lopez show on WIYY (97.9 FM), sports anchor Jerry Coleman mentioned that he was eagerly anticipating picking up his new car from Kaynama, a manager at Antwerpen Automotive Group's Ellicott City Chrysler dealership.

Then Mickey Cucciella, a stand-up comic who often sits in with the morning show hosts, chimed in to warn Coleman that he had better hurry up to buy the car. Otherwise, Cucciella said, Kaynama might blow up the radio station.

"I got a call from my nephew, who was driving to medical school and was listening to the radio," said Kaynama, an Iranian-born Muslim. "He said, `Uncle, this is bad.' "

After calls from Kaynama and the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, Antwerpen's marketing consultant, Barbara Patz, called the station to register her anger. "They make cracks about all groups, but it's never been targeted to a private individual," Patz said yesterday. "When a remark is dedicated to one of yours - meaning one of my friends - I take great exception."

She said she had pulled the company's ads from WIYY, and its sister station, WBAL-AM (1090 AM).

On Wednesday, Coleman read a statement saying he was sorry if Kaynama took offense, according to Kaynama, who listened to the broadcast closely. As a result, Patz said, the commercials will return within a few days.

Efforts to find a telephone number to reach Cucciella proved unsuccessful.

Station officials were quick to point out that Cucciella is not a full-time employee. But he is a regular of the show, as evidenced by his appearance last year at a comedy festival run by the morning show team.

Like much of morning radio, the Kirk, Mark and Lopez show has an intentionally edgy feel. Bob Cecil, the general sales manager for the two Hearst Corp. stations, said Cucciella's remarks were meant to tease Coleman rather than to single out Kaynama on the basis of his heritage.

"They were joking around," Cecil said. The remark "got blown a little bit out of proportion.

"Mickey made a stupid comment," Cecil added. "We love him, but he's out there."

Cecil had agreed to provide The Sun with a copy of the exchange and the subsequent apology, but he did not do so.

Earlier in the week, the station's programming director, Rick Strauss, responded to a reporter's query by saying, "I don't know that anything happened at all. As far as I'm concerned, there's no story here." He did not respond to messages seeking additional explanation of the incident.

Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the American-Islamic council, lauded Antwerpen, a significant local advertiser, for pressing the radio station on the issue.

"Most people don't recognize offensive remarks, particularly about Muslims, when they hear it," Hooper said. "The standard stereotype that we have to combat and challenge is this `Muslim equals terrorist' business."

For his part, Kaynama said he does not blame Coleman, whom he has known for several years. But he is still upset with the station.

"I didn't feel that was an apology from the station, nor the person who made those remarks," said Kaynama. "I told my nephew, `Don't worry about it. What can you do? They make fun of the president.'

"But that doesn't make it right," he said.

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