(By Deborah Parenti) Although never one to shy from giving an opinion, I believe it’s important to first know the facts.
For all the ink devoted to San Diego radio personality Kevin Klein, and the highly controversial promotional stunt he used to market his new morning show, we may not know the whole story. Certainly, no one is talking and Klein himself appears to be MIA and in a state of limbo. He’s not on the air – but there has been no announcement of his termination either, at least as of now. That may be because the jury in the court of public and client (both advertising and sports affiliated) opinion is still out.
Whether or not the stunt is considered a savvy stroke of showmanship or utter stupidity depends on the perspective of the commentator. Was it over the line and offensive to potential listeners? Did it irrevocably damage relationships with advertisers and a major baseball team? Should management be more proactive in getting out front with public statements? Or are their interests, and for that matter the greater good, served better by remaining silent and working behind the scenes, something, no doubt, that is going on now. And of course, should Klein be fired?
A lot of our readers have found this a compelling story because they can relate to one side or the other – personality/programming or management. It hit home to me for a couple of reasons.
First, and in the interest of full disclosure, I feel kicked in the stomach at the mention of suicide, especially when incorporated as irreverently as was this – a punch line. I lost a beautiful young brother to suicide. Almost 24 years later, it is still hard to even say the word, much less find humor in it. I have learned over the years, however, that we can’t escape pain – that the world does not revolve around our personal challenges or losses. Sometimes, the best thing we can do is use it as a teaching moment. In today’s world, where everything is instant and viral and nothing is ever erased once it’s out there, that has become more difficult because, unfortunately, our new world of communications tools has also made us seemingly less forgiving. It’s just too tempting to pile it on and let the mob rule.
This is not to condone Klein’s actions. Because the story hit home for me in another way – that of station manager. Some years ago, a local woman in our market was beaten to death by her husband using, of all things, a banjo, to commit the heinous crime. Our morning show decided it would be funny to do a bit the next morning that opened with “Dueling Banjos,” before going into a routine that more or less mimicked the terrible incident. One of the most difficult calls I ever took as a manager was from the son of the deceased. Needless to say, he was highly (and justly) offended by the macabre humor displayed by the morning show. All I could do was apologize profusely and, of course, call the team in on the carpet. A public and sincere mea culpa was issued. A week later, all was, if not forgotten, at least no longer garnering attention or lighting up our phone lines.
Of course, the big difference between then and now was that there was no social media – no viral means of keeping the story alive for days on end. It was much easier to do “damage control” because there were no instant replays, Facebook or Instagram posts, and no tweet storms. Like we tell our children, everything you do today becomes a permanent record that will follow you for life.
I don’t pretend to have the answers on handling these situations. Frankly, I doubt anyone does. But I do know they must be managed and most importantly, with an eye to all constituencies – listeners, clients, and yes, staff. In doing so, there also has to be concern of precedents set today as well as a measure of flexibility that takes into account a future we have yet to dream of or encounter.
And while we’re at it, maybe we could all find a way to encourage a little more tolerance and forgiveness because the next mistake might be ours.
Deborah Parenti is Publisher of Radio Ink. She can be reached at [email protected]