Mac survives faux attack
But a few niggling details remained unsaid, such as the fact that Mac was never actually suspended. He was indeed told not to play the Bee Gees by morning-show man and Program Director Kerry Gray, whom he promptly ignored. From there, the story gets a bit vague. He may or may not have been aware Gray called Wodlinger, who wasn’t even listening to the station at that point. (“Kerry is part of the Axis of Evil,” said Mac.) At Gray’s urging, Wodlinger made the infamous on-air call, which resulted in a heated exchange, punctuated with “screw yous” and culminating in an immediate suspension.
“When Steve called, it caught me off guard,” said Mac. “I was very worried at the time.”
But he couldn’t quite recall if he knew Wodlinger would be calling. He seemed panicked, and lost some of his verbal fluidity, as evidenced by a string of “you knows” and obvious grasping for words. When pressed on this particular point he simply looked miserable.
“The only responsibility we have is to entertain our listeners,” said Gray. “It’s like wrestling, or boobs – who cares if they’re fake or real?”
All parties at KTUN remain united on this point: It entertained, and thus was good. It also snowballed. The original plan was to bring Mac back on Wednesday, but then the Daily sniffed around. So they let it go another day, at which point it mushroomed beyond anybody’s imagination. Channel 9 News in Denver picked up the story, and then national news anchor Connie Chung made Mac the Person of the Day (instead of the fireman who saved David Brinkley from his burning home). It made the papers in Canada and Australia. Both Mac and Wodlinger stuck to their story in their respective TV interviews, which invoked the wrath of Mac’s mother for perpetuating the lie.
“Everybody was rooting for the underdog,” said Gray.
“And I have to tell you, it wasn’t anything that was pre-planned,” said Wodlinger. “It grew arms and legs. Never in my wildest dreams did I think the station had such a loyal group of listeners.”
Do they feel they’ve played those same listeners false with the stunt?
“It wasn’t a stunt,” said Gray. “A stunt is when you serve only yourself. A bit is pure entertainment.”
“I don’t relate it as a stunt,” said Wodlinger. “The creativity that flows through a radio station is not comparable to any other medium.”
“It was a fun thing we decided to do on the air, nothing more and nothing less,” said Mac.
He likened it to a TV show: When somebody dies on “ER,” do you really think he dies? It also was in keeping with his vision for his show – sloppy, irreverent, iconoclastic, loose, sarcastic, relaxed, with little comedy bits thrown in for flavor. Or bigger bits, as the case may be.
“If we had come clean, it wouldn’t have been any fun,” said Mac. “We didn’t call anyone, everyone called us. If you just want to have dull background music, go somewhere else. If you want fun and controversy come to us.”
Wodlinger estimates 90 percent of the responses were strongly in Mac’s favor, and called for the station manager to suspend himself. It’s been an uncomfortable time for the man, who became associated with the worst of condescending, Illogical, power-hungry management.
“We don’t in this business do management by surprise,” said Wodlinger. “We’re very reasonable people. The news blips I was in were in character to see where this would go.”
So adopting a persona makes all forgiven. It’s not the real you, just the you du jour.
“Radio is all about theater of the mind,” he said. “That is a huge benefit, or component, of what makes radio big, emotional and relatable to the constituents that we serve. We’re not unlike politicians that serve across several areas.”
“It was so personal,” added Gray. “Everyone thought it was their radio station. We just saved $40,000 in a market research project. People told us what they wanted, and they got it.”
So how do people on the street feel?
“I think it’s kind of funny,” said Brian Ingoldsby.
“I was appalled at the exchange between the two of them, but in retrospect I should have figured out it was all a scam,” said Julie Papangelis. “It didn’t make me listen to it more. I hate the morning format now, and had quit listening to it.”
“I’m just glad Dennis is back,” said Steve Stoneleigh. “It would have been stupid to fire him.”
To “bring closure” to the spectacle, Wodlinger said they’re planning a party Jan. 31 at 8150. All proceeds from Dennis Mac’s Disco Inferno will benefit First Descents, a kayak camp for youths battling cancer.
In the meantime, the dust is settling. And the Bee Gees will be allowed on the airwaves every once in a while.
“We learned that disco will never, ever die,” said Gray.
Wren Wertin can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com or phone at 949-0555 ext. 618.