Oct
02
2000

Open Letter to Clear Channel

Mr. Lowry MaysChairman & CEO Clear Channel Communications200 Basse RoadSan Antonio, Texas 78209

Dear Mr. Mays:

A recent incident outside Clear Channel radio station KYLD, involving KYLD on-air staff, raises serious questions about Clear Channel Communications' commitment to the public interest and its policy regarding the on-air behavior of its employees.

On the morning of September 22, about 80 people gathered for a peaceful demonstration at the building which houses Clear Channel's San Francisco headquarters as well as Clear Channel-owned radio stations KYLD and KMEL. Activists were calling on broadcasting companies to serve the public interest, and were calling attention to the danger posed by too many radio stations being held in too few hands. (As you know, Clear Channel owns 900 stations across the United States.)

What was the response of Clear Channel employees on the scene? According to several witnesses, two members of KYLD's "Doghouse" morning show crew came out to confront the protesters and attempted to initiate a physical fight. They verbally abused the crowd, shoved at least three the demonstrators and threatened to punch others. Among the taunts shouted by the KYLD crew were "fuck you," "fuck off" and "take a shower, you smell." (In the confusion, one of the glass panes in the door to the building was cracked; it is not clear whether by protesters or station employees.)

Ironically, KYLD's hostile response to concerned members of the public provides a vivid illustration of the problems of the profit-driven, corporate-dominated media system that people had assembled to protest-- and of which Clear Channel, by far the largest radio company in the country, is a prime example.

Identified by witnesses and photographs as KYLD Doghouse personalities Dan "Elvis" Lay, and Joseph "Big Joe" Lopez, the two were apparently on-air as they insulted and shoved the people who had assembled to express their concerns about KYLD's corporate parent, Clear Channel. (KYLD management failed to return repeated inquiries by FAIR to confirm the broadcasters' names.)

The aggressive and offensive behavior of KYLD's Doghouse personalities is not an aberration, but is rather the stock in trade of their show. While some of the Doghouse's most egregious abuses of the public airwaves precede Clear Channel's ownership of KYLD, it is important to note that they include several of the same KYLD on-air employees.

According to Bay Area press accounts, KYLD Doghouse broadcasts regularly ridicule a retarded man called "Hammerin' Hank." The San Francisco Chronicle reported (3/26/98) that members of the Doghouse crew once subjected "Hank" to an episode of sexual humiliation at a live party sponsored by KYLD. The Doghouse show is also the only radio show to broadcast live oral sex "at a time when children were listening," according to the San Jose Mercury-News (1/22/99).

In 1997 Doghouse crew member Joseph Lopez was arrested when he refused to stop inciting listeners to vandalize a Castro Valley city sign (San Francisco Chronicle, 10/28/97). Charges are currently pending against Lopez and fellow Doghouse personality Graham Herbert following an incident in which they created panic by dressing up as escaped convicts wearing prison garb and handcuffs while roaming the streets of nearby Millbrae (San Francisco Chronicle, 9/28/00).

According to The Recorder, the national legal newspaper, an Oregon woman, Judith Harenzo, filed suit against three members of the Doghouse crew after receiving a crank call from a "Dr. Curley from Kaiser Hospital" informing her that her daughter had been taken to the hospital, and accusing her of her daughter's injury. Harenzo says the Doghouse team and KYLD subjected her to "panic and terror" by placing the call. The Doghouse crew do not deny making the call. (12/20/99)

In other words, the September 22 incident in which KYLD's Lay and Lopez verbally and physically abused people did not come out of the blue. They appeared to be doing what Clear Channel pays them for.

As one of the groups that sponsored the September 21 - 23 protests against the NAB, which included the demonstration at KYLD, we request an explanation from Clear Channel of their employees' actions. We also ask that Clear Channel publish its policies and standards for on-air behavior.

Most fundamentally, we are writing to remind Clear Channel that the airwaves belong to the public. A license to use the airwaves is a public trust which carries with it a responsibility to the public interest. By publishing its rules for on-air behavior, Clear Channel might give listeners and other members of the public a better understanding of the company's notion of how its broadcasts are meant to serve the public interest.

Please respond at your earliest convenience.

Sincerely,

Steve Rendall

Senior Analyst, FAIR