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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  LATEST NEW YORK NEWS


By David Lefkowitz
Published April 13 2007

Barry Champlain says a lot of nasty things to his listeners in Talk Radio; the kinds of things that enrage the easily offended, give program directors conniptions - and make affiliates hungry to syndicate his hot-button program across America.

Does he go too far? Absolutely. At least once every ten minutes. But the show rolls on, the callers don't stop, and the sponsors hang in, appalled, fascinated, perhaps thrilled by the free content that is so antithetical to what they're used to in their world of safe, bland branding. At least that was Eric Bogosian's vision 19 years ago when he penned his poison valentine to a type of radio that has only grown wider and wilder since.

Remember that Talk Radio came before Opie and Anthony were fired because two listeners knocked boots in a pew, before Howard Stern ever used the "f" word or promoted something called a Sybian; and before DJ Star threatened to use his rival's four-year-old child as a toilet. It was also before Don Imus said the wrong thing on the wrong day and found himself summarily executed for 30 years worth of similar offenses that his detractors assumedly kept on file but never bothered to pursue.

Not all these deejays fit the label "shock jock," though any talk host who pushes the envelope and unfetters his deepest thoughts (from the shackles of political correctness) risks being slapped with that label. At that point, everything he says becomes suspect, every joke gets extra scrutiny because he's expected to be a bad boy. Such is the nature of context. "Nappy-headed ho's" in the mouth of an Imus is racist, in the mouth of an Ice Cube is gangsta cool, in the mouth of an Eddie Murphy is wickedly hilarious. In the mouth of Barry Champlain, par for the course - and forgotten by the next caller.

That said, Bogosian takes pains to show that for all his vicious and baiting comments, Champlain is no racist. To him, we're all sinking in the same toxic slime-pit, so we might as well be honest about it.

All of this Imus overreaction reminds me of Peter Ackerman's modestly amusing comedy, Things You Shouldn't Say Past Midnight, which played off-Broadway in 1999. In its memorable opening scene, Midnight shows a young couple in the throes of lovemaking as they grunt and make the usual exclamations of passion. That is, until Nancy, near orgasm, begs her boyfriend Ben, "Do me, you hook-nosed Jew!"

As you might expect, an evening's worth of coitus interruptus follows, with non-Jewish Nancy apologizing, backpedaling, and trying to get to the root of what would make her say such a thing. Meanwhile, Ben bristles, argues and attempts to forgive this one tossed-off remark in the light of their otherwise supportive relationship. In her review of Midnight, Elyse Sommer used the phrase, "if it's on your lung, it's on your tongue," to refer to people whose slips of the lip reveal something darker underneath. At the same time, she half-buys the play's explanation that, "saying...outrageous things is a way of being a bad person for one second without having to explain yourself."

Of course, Don Imus, with his stupid remark about the Rutgers basketball team, wound up paying for a litany of poorly-considered seconds. But as someone who currently hosts a weekly radio program and has had his own run-ins with both knee-jerk censorship and legitimate criticism - sometimes simultaneously - I side firmly with those who say forgive but don't forget. I've never been an Imus fan, but compile all the hateful seconds of his career, and they might add up to a couple hours. Weigh those against the hundreds of thousands of hours of material that were harmless, funny, informative and honest, and perhaps the ad-addled cowards at CBS and MSNBC would have chosen a different


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