'Ching-Chong' and 'Flied-Lice' On the Air: Enough Is Enough
Ben gets tired of shock talk and picks up an Emmy.
JV and Elvis , who hosted the raunchy Dog House morning show in the San Francisco area before getting fired, moved their act to New York early last year. Now, after a crank call to a Chinese restaurant generated protests from the OCA (Organization of Chinese Americans) and other groups, theyve been fired again.
Before that happened, I wrote about the incident in my radio column (Radio Waves), which runs every other Sunday in the S.F. Chronicle. To save you a trip to sfgate.com, where all my columns are archived, here it is:
CHINESE TAKEOUT: After JV and Elvis (Jeff Vandergrift and Dan Lay ) got suspended from their station, WFNY in New York, for a prank call to a Chinese restaurant, I got some calls of my own, from local radio and television stations, asking for comment. It was partly because of the timing. The stunt, in which JV harassed several restaurant employees with racist and sexist remarks and taunts, took place right after the Don Imus implosion. It was partly because of the local angle. JV and Elvis did the morning show on KYLD (Wild 94.9) until they were fired in April, 2005; they re-emerged later that year on CBS Radios new talk station KIFR (Free FM), where they held down the morning slot while the station waited for the Adam Carolla show to hit the air. They then took their act to KIFRs sister station in Manhattan, to take the slot following Corollas.
While they were here, they told me theyd matured beyond hip-hop and its audience. We want to expand that, Vandergrift said. This is the type of format thats more meant for us. Its open, and were free to talk about everything.
We all know what everything means these days. From Michael Savage and Tom Leykis to Howard Stern and Imus, from politics to porn, there are no holds barred, except for certain words still verboten to the FCC.
Thats as it should be, in a society built on freedom of speech and expression. But were also a country thats still troubled by racism and sexism, and when entertainers use the public air to foment such ills, those who are offended have the right to express themselves, too.
So I said that I was disappointed in JV and Elvis, that it was clear theyd learned nothing from the outcry over Imus, and that, besides being racist and sexist, theyd been mean and, perhaps worst of all for them, unfunny.
And, come onshlimp flied lice. How hip is THAT?
I said this on CBS5. In the same segment, Ronn Owens , the popular KGO talk show host, had a different point of view. Im worried that political correctness is going too far and it could be the death of terrestrial radio. He also dismissed JV and Elvis as small potatoes, and said their importance was being overblown by the media.
He then invited me onto his show to talk about it. He repeated his points, about the blanding of radio leading to its potential demise, and about giving a couple of morning zoo types too much attention by mounting organized protests.
My response? Since the beginning of radio, personalities have managed to avoid dullness without resorting to offensive humor. Ever heard of double-entendres, or creativity? Ever heard of Don Sherwood? Dan Sorkin? Terry McGovern? Russ the Moose Syracuse? Don Bleu?
Besides, terrestrial radios problems cant be blamed on personalities alone. Young listeners are leaving because of technological alternatives, competing forms of entertainment, from digital players to videogames, limited music playlists, and unbearable blocs of commercials. And older listenersradios most loyalare giving up as broadcasters ditch their favorite formats in their search for younger ears.
As for JV and Elvis being too unimportant to fuss over: Theyre major market talent. They have thousands of listeners. And, these days, on-air material has no limits. Its instantly on You Tube, Myspace and myriad Web sites. JV and Elvis, along with their brethren, set examples by their comments and sketches, and, with bits such as the one that got them fired here and suspended in New York, theyre saying its cool to make fun of people of color, to insult and bait young women. Combine their prank with Rosie ODonnell and Corollas recent ching-chong bits, and its no longer tiny taters.
Owens made a couple of good points: The material is juvenile and its stupid, he says. But thats what they were hired to do. And who did the hiring? CBS, former home toImus.
Its a tough balancing act, supporting free speech while opposing on-air racism. It is heartening, though, to see entertainers who can walk the line. In his recent visit to San Francisco, Conan OBrien visited Chinatown and got laughsat his own expense. For five nights, he announced Sam Wo restaurant as a co-sponsor, along with Intel. He did a mock commercial for Sam Wo, and put a fluorescent light on the venerable noodle houses funkier sides. But without a spoonful of malice. He even brought in Martha Stewart for a cameo. I thought Id lived, she said, standing outside the restaurant, and then I ate at Sam Wo!
Comedy minus cruelty. What a concept!
MY LONELY EMMY: You hear it all the time at award shows. Its an honor just to be nominated. And yet, if that nominee doesnt win, theres no getting around it. Hes not a winner. So what is he?
I was in that situation again in early May. Id been nominated for a Northern California Emmy Award for the fourth time for my work as co-anchor of the San Francisco Chinese New Year Parade broadcast on KTVU-TV. Our team, including Julie Haener , my co-host, has won once and lost twice, and I wasnt going to the awards ceremony this year. Id been booked to co-MC a fundraiser celebrating the 25th anniversary of CAIS (the Chinese American International School) at City Hall, along with former KRON-TV anchor Emerald Yeh . And, frankly, I wasnt much interested in going there to lose again.
One of the parade broadcast team promised that I'd get a call if we won. The award was due to be given between 6:30 and 7, at which time I was in City Hall for the pre-dinner reception. I kept an ear out for the call, but it never came. And so, as I have for the last couple of years, tried to remind myself that getting nominated is a pretty big deal in itself.
And, at least in the case of the Emmys, it actually is. TV stations send in their entries, and theyre judged by industry peers in other markets. They have no idea who you are, and they dont know and couldnt care less that youve not won in two years, and that your only Emmy has gotten pretty lonely.
They look at the video reels and score them. Ifand only ifthe score reaches a certain total, an entry is awarded a nomination. Among the nominees, a similar rule applies. An entry has to gain a minimum number of points to earn an Emmy. Its not rare that no nominees are named in a category. One year, in a major newscasting category, only one nominee was named, but did not score well enough to win. What a letdown it had to be for the newscaster, one of the most prominent news anchors in the market, to sit there, thinking he had it sewn up, only to go home empty-handed. He has never shown up since. Try telling HIM what an honor it is just to be nominated!
This year, the NBC affiliate, KNTV, had the most nominations38and won 14 Emmys, topping the field in both categories. The CBS station had 30 nominations and won ten. A solid performance. KTVUmy stationhad 20 nominations and won only two.
I learned all this the morning after the wait for the call that never came. Wondering which special event had beaten out the Chinese New Year Parade this time, I scanned the results on the television academys site. It turned out that wed be beaten by no one. We won. WE WON! We were one of only two winners for KTVU; the other being a special on your favorite baseball star and mine, Barry Bonds .
And Julie and I did it without drugs. (Well, Julie did, anyway.) What an honor!
IDOLIZED : Congrats to Jordin Sparks . It wasnt the greatest of years, and Melinda Doolittle deserved to go head-to-head with Jordin, but Ms. Sparks is a worthy winner, and Melinda and Blake Lewis (and Sanjaya ) will do just fine. One errant moment: Simon Cowell , the only articulate (and totally honest) judge among the three, took Jordin to task for her amazing performance of I (Who Have Nothing). While she sang it well, he said, he had a hard time with a young woman singing a 60 year-old song. Not only is that a ridiculous notiondoes this mean no younger singer can ever do Amazing Grace?but its wrong on two levels. First, I (Who Have Nothing) was a hit in 1962 by Ben E. King , written by the legendary team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller , with a third writer. So its of that era, meaning its maybe 45 years old, not 60. Second, Fantasia , the 2004 American Idol winner, scored big with her workout on A Fool in Love, a 1960 hit. That means she was doing a 44-year old song. It was a judges choice. So who picked that song for her to sing? Simple: Simon.