The bad boys of radioland show that crass means cash

August 24, 2002|By Gregory Kane

THE RAP, hip-hop music, pants-down-over-the-butt generation should take pride in its one contribution to American society: It truly is "all about the Benjamins."

The country is too wrapped up in money, the whippersnappers who invented the phrase are trying to tell us. Exhibit A to back up their claim: shock radio.

Shock radio is loud. It's vulgar. It's disgusting. And it sells because enough cretins listen to it to send ratings sky high. With increased ratings come increased revenues. And what's the bottom line? Listen to the young folks' refrain one more time: It's all about the Benjamins ($100 bills, which feature the face of Benjamin Franklin, for those not up on slang).

So should anyone be surprised at the stunt two shock jocks -- Opie and Anthony -- pulled on a New York City radio station last week? Gregg (Opie) Hughes and Anthony Cumia were doing their afternoon talk show on WNEW nine days ago when they were hit by what was, for them, a stroke of genius: Why not encourage two people to have sex in a public place and broadcast it over the air?

But that idea wasn't quite stupid enough for these dimwits. Figuring they lived in an America that craved the gutter, Opie and Anthony decided to go there. They would have the couple have live sex in St. Patrick's Cathedral on the Feast of the Assumption, which we Catholics call a holy day of obligation. That means devout Catholics know they had better be at Mass sometime on that day.

So Opie and Anthony knew full well that worshippers would be in St. Patrick's when the stunt was pulled. They recruited a Virginia couple who agreed to be part of a contest the dimwits held every year to see who can have sex in risky public places. According to news reports, a comedian named Paul Mercurio acted as lookout and broadcast the couple's sex act over a cell phone -- which Opie and Anthony eagerly played over the air.

What made these two dolts -- who probably trained for their "job" by spending too much time writing dirty words on the restroom walls in school -- think they could get away with something like this? Why, they had a multimillion-dollar contract with Infinity Broadcasting, which owns WNEW. It was that contract, those millions, that said they could get away with it. After all, it's all about the Benjamins here. As long as the ratings stay up, Opie and Anthony figured, they would stay on the air.

They hadn't counted on the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights and other outraged citizens. The League demanded that the station's license be revoked and Infinity Broadcasting fined. Officials at Infinity must have seen the Benjamins sprouting wings and flying away from the company. With no license, WNEW couldn't air anything. There would be no Benjamins from that source for Infinity. The choice for the company was clear.

On Thursday, WNEW announced that the Opie and Anthony show had been given the ax. The station's general manager and program director were suspended for good measure.

So the good news is: Opie and Anthony were fired. The bad news is: They'll be back. Somebody, somewhere out there in radioland will hire them if they can show they can get the ratings. When it's all about the Benjamins, sins are quickly forgiven.

Thursday marked the second time Opie and Anthony had been canned for pulling a stupid stunt. In 1998, the dolts were working for WAAF in Boston. On April Fool's Day of that year, they thought it would be quite witty to tell listeners that Boston Mayor Tom Menino had been killed in a car crash. The problem was, Menino was quite alive, and complained about the false broadcast to the Federal Communications Commission.

The station was fined, and Opie and Anthony were fired. But they were soon swooped up by the management of WNEW and signed to a multi-year contract worth, according to some news reports, $30 million. They weren't the first to pull an outrageous stunt and then land on their feet.

Keith Kramer and Tony Longo were fired from their Dallas jobs after reporting that Britney Spears had met an untimely demise. A Detroit station hired them soon after. Talk-show host Bob Grant expressed near-glee when Labor Secretary Ron Brown was killed in an airplane crash. WABC in New York fired him, but WOR in the same town couldn't wait to get him in the studio.

Troi Torain of WQHT in New York played sound effects of an airplane crashing after singing star Aaliyah was killed and got a mere slap on the fanny for his indiscretion. Even the Greaseman, Doug Tracht, who in 1999 mocked the lynching death of James Byrd in Texas, has recently found another job behind the mike.

It's all about them Benjamins, the youngsters like to say. But here's an even better quote, from one of my own generation:

Money doesn't talk. It swears. -- Bob Dylan

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