It’s tough to be a radio guy these days. Back in the early days the DJ was pretty much a celebrity because there was nothing else. You couldn’t really take a record player with you when you went running or driving. So the only way to listen to music on the go was through the radio and the DJ was as much a part of the entertainment as the music. That isn’t the case these days.
How do I know? Well, I used to be in radio. I never made it past part-time but, in a way, that was even more depressing than being one of the regulars. There I would be talking in between Foreigner and Led Zeppelin songs and talking like anyone was really listening. Most of the time everyone out in the world just wanted me to shut the hell up and play the commercials and the Led Zeppelin song.
There is a certain arrogance that goes along with getting into radio. These days most radio stations that play music are going toward satellite broadcasts that don’t use DJs. The station I worked for actually switched to one of those formats about a month after I left the place. You also have to compete with satellite radio and the internet and iPods and a million other things. People have a million ways to listen to not only just music but to the music they want to listen to. You don’t have to put up with commercials and endless songs by Styx or whatever band you don’t like.
The only place where you still have and want people talking are the morning shows and the all-talk stations. Exactly why people seem to want goofy guys doing silly stunts in the morning is not something I understand. However, it has become extremely difficult for these morning shows to do things that try to get listeners. So, the morning shows are doing crazy stunts. Most of these stunts are just stupid. Unfortunately, in Sacramento, the stunt turned deadly.
The contest was called “Hold you Wee for a Wii.” For those of you who don’t know what a Wii is it’s the new Nintendo game system that people are fighting about. This morning team on KDND, The End, in Sacramento came up with a contest to give away one of these things. The idea was to have a group of people in a room and have them start drinking water. They were to keep drinking until they either threw up or reached bladder critical mass and had to go to the bathroom. Once a contestant did that they were out. The last person standing won the Wii.
The thing that became interesting was the number of people who called in and suggested that this was not a good idea. Of course this morning team had to have had approval from the station to do this. I have worked and talked with morning teams from St. Louis to Chicago and back again and they never really do these stunts all on their own. There are lawyers who always look at these things. Apparently none of these geniuses thought about something called “water intoxication.”
You see, if you ingest enough of anything you can become intoxicated. Being intoxicated is, essentially, when there is more of some other liquid in your body than oxygen-carrying blood. Whatever that substance is it can have the same effect as when you down a bunch of shots. If you go past a certain point at any time with any liquid and have more of the liquid in your system then your own blood your body shuts down.
So, people called in including a nurse. She suggested that this might not be a good idea because of the water intoxication. The on-air people said that the people playing the game had signed releases so the station wasn’t liable. The on-air host also said he was certain that if someone reached a serious point they would vomit. The co-host, a woman, said at one point, “maybe we should have done more research on this first.”
The contest came down to two women. One was 28-year-old Jennifer Strange. She was the mother of two and was trying to win the Wii for her kids. They offered her front-row tickets for a Justin Timberlake concert that night. She declined. She said her head hurt and that she felt very bloated. She declined the tickets. The contest went on. They kept drinking water. They offered her the tickets again and this time she took the tickets. She came into the studio and everyone laughed and said she looked three months pregnant. She said again she had a headache.
Apparently, as she drove home, she called into work in tears. She said she was not coming into work. She said she felt terrible. Her mother found her collapsed on her floor in her home hours later. She was pronounced dead at a hospital and the reason was listed as “water intoxication.”
The entire morning show crew has been fired. Whether or not lawsuits are pending is unclear but I am willing to bet people will get sued. Of course, who blames the lawyers? Who blames the management at the station who approved this contest? What happens to them?
The easiest thing to do is to fire the on-air talent. I never witnessed a contest like this but I saw a few that were weird. I remember one that involved the morning guy standing outside at a gas station in his underwear and having stickers ripped off his body with prizes written on them. Now this was not deadly but it was strange.
I have heard of radio stunts where the on-air hosts were buried in the ground and broadcast from within their grave. I had some radio friends who did a fake stunt where they insisted they were dangling one of their on-air people over the highway tied to weather balloons. People called in insisting they could see the guy floating there.
It’s tough in the radio business today. It was always a cutthroat business but these days it may even be more so. This was a senseless tragedy and a stupid way to go. However, it takes more than firing the on-air staff to make this one right. There were more people involved than that morning team and you had better believe they are scrambling to cover their butts right now.