-Since I started blogging, about a year-and-a-half ago, It has been at most a daily thing with me...usually 4 or 5 times a week I feel the urge to write about something.
Well, today's a first. Three posts in one day. First Mizzou...My weekly American Idol prediction... and I couldn't be a former "regular-check-getter" in broadcasting without saying something about today's unbelievable happenstance at KTRS.
In case you haven't heard...here are the details in a story by Jake Wagman of the Post-Dispatch and STLToday.
Talk show host fired after on-air racial slur
By Jake Wagman
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
A radio personality at 550 KTRS was fired on the spot this morning after using the word “coon” on the air in a conversation about Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Dave Lenihan was dismissed after what he called an inadvertent slip of the tongue. Within 20 minutes, station CEO Tim Dorsey apologized on the air to listeners and announced that Lenihan, who had been with the station for less than two weeks, had been let go.“I don’t know what was in Mr. Lenihan’s mind,” Dorsey said in an interview. “I know what I heard. I know it was reprehensible.”Lenihan’s comment was made during a discussion about Rice’s credentials to become commissioner of the National Football League, a topic that has been fodder for sports talk radio since the current commissioner announced he would retire later this year.
Lenihan was listing what assets Rice could bring to the league, including her tenure as a top academic officer at Stanford University and the fact that she is African-American. From listening to a tape of the broadcast, it appears Lenihan meant to use the word “coup” but immediately backtracked when instead the racial slur came out of his mouth.“She’s just got a patent resume, of somebody that’s got such serious skill,” Linehan said on the air. “She loves football, she’s African-American, which would kind of be a big coon, a big coon – oh my God, I am totally, totally, totally, totally, totally sorry for that, OK? I didn’t mean that. That was just a slip of the tongue.” Lenihan, who had previously been with radio station WGNU, was part of the recently reshuffled lineup at KTRS since half of the station was acquired by the St. Louis Cardinals. He had a morning talk show.
There's actual audio of the slip...and KTRS GM Tim Dorsey's on-air apology and announcement that Lenihan was being fired on STLToday too...if you want to hear it.
My take? Based on what I heard, the guy actually had a brain fart and committed a slip of the tongue. He seemed instantly aware of how his mistake would be perceived...and apologized profusely. But he only made the problem worse by apologizing and calling attention to what he had said. Back in Broadcasting 101 you are taught that if you make a mistake...you've made a mistake...you can't take it back...you keep going on and DON'T CALL ATTENTION TO IT. By calling attention to it, you only make it worse. That's what Lenihan did. If he had just kept on talking and acted as though nothing had happened, someone may have called him on it...but most of the audience would have realized it was a legitimate error and forgotten about it...and the rest would have thought they must have misheard him. He certainly didn't help himself either when soon after his slip, and resulting apology, he seemed to giggle as he went to a commercial break.
What is really interesting is the management reaction. I think Dorsey's hand was forced. He pretty much had to fire Mr. Lenihan...(who I hear is a real-life brain surgeon...so it's actually Dr. Lenihan..which must mean he doesn't have a degree in mass communications either).
Damage control is the key phrase here. KTRS is trumpeting a new "edgier" and "hipper" direction for it's talk...and, of course, it's new partnership with the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals, or their radio station, can't be drug into any kind of a racial-oriented public relations problem....and moving swiftly to nip any potential controversy in the bud was what had to be done. This is not something that happened in the lunch room...or on a smoke break...it happened on the biggest daytime radio signal in the midwest.
Not firing Lenihan would be perceived by some, especially activisits, as condoning racial jokes, or slips-of-the-tongue, whether they be unintentional or not, on a station that's new hosts are trying to be "out there" and less KMOX-like. Management at the station probably immediately had horrific visions of pickets outside the new ballpark and at the Westport Plaza studios....and television news coverage of the controversy for weeks to come. No matter what KTRS programmers and management thought of Lenihan's potential for the future, business was not going to be enhanced by keeping him on the air.
You can argue all day that Lenihan shouldn't have been dumped for a slip of the tongue...and you might be right in principle. But, I'll bet even Lenihan himself knew what management had to do as soon as he put the N on the end of the word coup. It doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure that one out. Talk about a station that's "snake bit".