This week an Atlanta radio station made headlines for an offensive bit it aired about former New Orleans Saints football player and ALS sufferer Steve Gleason.
I’m not going to recap what the disc jockeys said because the content of the material isn’t worth perpetuating nor is it relevant to the purpose of this article. However, what I do have to say about this story might come off as me defending an indefensible act, which isn’t really my intent. Direct to the point: I know what it is to be these hosts.
Fired show host Steak Shapiro told CNN, “I would have been offended had I been listening to us. In this business, you walk a fine line trying to be somewhat on the edge. We just blew it.”
Yes, you did.
As someone who has been in Shapiro’s seat, as someone who worked at a radio station called The Edge, trust me when I tell you that you’re not only “trying to be somewhat on the edge,” you are constantly and purposefully pushing the boundaries of the edge a little further every day.
Your audience comes to expect it of you. They don’t want you to censor your comments. The truth is they urge you to go further, to not hold back, to never hold back … that is until one of your jokes strikes close to home. And the next thing you know that faithful urging listener has e-mailed your boss demanding you be pulled off the air.
Yes, the boss. He or she plays a role in all of this too. They remind you of the nature of the business you signed up for. “Controversy sells,” you’re told whilst simultaneously being cautioned that there is a line, an invisible barrier of decency, and you better not cross it.
I would imagine Shapiro and crew have made hundreds of comments over the years that either blurred or obliterated the lines of decency and they could have easily been penalized for each violation. But part of the reason the audience tuned into “Mayhem in the AM” was to hear what they couldn’t believe what the jocks were getting away with saying on live radio.
And so, as a host, you push it. You live with the fear of being reprimanded for any given comment, possibly even fired, and everyday you push it a little more.
Sometimes you cross the line.
Sometimes you can’t believe you’re being scolded for something that wasn’t nearly as offensive as the bit you did the day before.
Sometimes you cross the line and want to crawl into a hole until the whole thing blows over.
And occasionally, someone demolishes the line, which Shapiro and the crew did with Gleason, and it cost them their jobs.
Let’s see if I can put this a better way:
Being a shock jock is sort of like being a nitroglycerine truck driver. You accept that the contents you’re working with could explode any moment, on any given day, and in one live-action false move, but you don’t get paid unless you keep delivering the goods.