Sunday, April 28, 2013

Human side of shock radio

On September 11, 2001, I was on the train commuting to work when the planes crashed into the Twin Towers.  I didn't have a cell phone then, and most people who carried phones didn't have access to mobile internet.   I didn't learn about the attack in New York City until I arrived at work.  When I walked in the front door to the office, the woman who worked the front desk that day had the radio on.  The station was tuned to "Mancow in the Morning," a shock jock show.  This wasn't the first time I had heard the Mancow show.  As I came into the office, something seemed different about the tone of the show.  The DJ spoke with the same emphasis and inflection that I was used to, but the words seemed different than words he typically used.  It felt like there was some sort of disconnect.  As I listened to the voice on the radio, the woman at the front desk asked, "Did you hear what happened?"  That's when the words on the radio started to make sense.  Unlike a typical day of the show, the DJ wasn't on some rant.  He wasn't making fun of somebody, or some group of people.  He was reporting about the tragedy in New York. 

The day after the Boston Marathon, on April 16, I was reminded of listening to "Mancow in the Morning" back in 2001.  A radio station in Georgia had Juli Windsor as a guest.  The day before, Juli had run in the marathon and witnessed some of the chaos and tragedy.  Juli is also a member of Little People of America, and was one of two little people who ran the Marathon.  The interview with Juli was just over eight minutes long. During the first part of the interview, Juli describes her personal account of what happened when she approached the finish line and the bombs detonated.  After the three minute mark of the interview, the DJ introduces the fact that Juli is a little person.  Just before the halfway point in the interview, the DJ says, "There are words that we have used over the years to describe people who are, shall we say, challenged in terms of stature.  The improper terms we have used may have been midget...." 

I have never listened to this particular station out of Georgia.  I don't know if the DJ is what one would traditionally call a shock jock or if he is a traditional news anchor.  When he mentioned improper terms, I don't know if they were used out of ignorance or used to purposely inflict pain and generate humor.  My guess is that, in the past, the DJ has used the m-word to mach little people, and to incite a laugh. Before identifying Juli as a little person on his show, the DJ's acknowledgement of using improper terms was not an apology for past insensitivity but a recognition that on April 16, because of what happened to Juli and to others in Boston on April 15, the DJ would relate to Juli on a human level.  Who knows what will happen in the future when the subject of dwarfism comes up again on the Georgia radio station, but for one day, the DJ interacted with a person of short stature with dignity and respect. 

Even though, if my hunch is correct, that dignity and respect may not continue in the future, I am encouraged by the Georgia interview. Just like Mancow acknowledged some humanity on September 11, 2001, the Georgia radio station acknowledged humanity on April 16, 2013.  When the DJ connected with humanity, he was able to connect to a person with dwarfism on a human level.  Of course, this doesn't excuse a DJ or anyone who uses a person's physical stature and difference as a vehicle for entertainment.  The negative message sent to listeners does more damage on a daily basis than what good may have come from an objective radio interview.  But the situation indicates the DJs are aware of the inhumanity of what they do.  The task then is to force them to more often connect with the human side of their audience. 


  1. Great post, interesting thoughts on relating on a human level- thanks for the link.