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October 30, 2009


Daniel P Mitchell

Obviously, no one wants to die doing any thing but to think a society can wrap us in cotton and deny personal responsibility is on a course for a crash. America was once a country of risk takers, explorers,and dreamers. We are becoming a society of spoiled greedy sicophants. Money is not the measure of everything nor is a judge God. A famous Jew once told us, "Be in the world but not of the world." Wise words for where we find ourselves going. Radio like every thing else is no longer just for fun.

Bruce Maiman

I don't know how many of you are morning show people but as someone who'd spent a long time doing it, I'd would start by saying the idea, regardless of your tastes, was standard fare in morning radio and there was no reason anyone at the station should have put the kibosh on it. You may have a case arguing about the water death in Chico but certainly the DJs made a distinction between hazing and contesting. You still may be able to argue that they should've researched the idea, but surely the extent of their research was the hundreds of times this contest had been done before without a hitch. I'm not saying that's right or wrong, and in hindsight, even a dunderhead can accuse them of being wrong, but it's understandable why they thought the contest was safe.

Where they failed was on the air (as a couple of you have noted) in their reckless dismissal of a warning that came directly from a nurse who called in and warned that "people can die from drinking too much water." The response of one of the co-hosts was that the contestants signed waivers so "we're not responsible." That was not Mr. Field, the PD or the promotions director who said that at 6 in the morning; that was an air talent who went for a punchline rather than stop in his tracks and stop the contest. You can't later testify that you'd never heard of water intoxification. What do you mean you'd never heard of it? You just had a nurse tell you about it. Unless management was monitoring the contest, I'd love to hear how that on-air exchange at that moment was the fault of the PD, the promotions director, or anyone at Entercom HQ right up to the CEO. Is management liable? Is the company liable? I think so because they took a risk in the hirings they made. They hired people on good faith and maybe THEY should've done better research on those employees to ensure they weren't hiring a bunch of cowboys. Maybe that's unfair but that's the deal. If someone calls and says a person can die from a contest you're doing, the first words out of your employee's mouth should be "how?" "How can they die?" At that point, if you don't stop the contest, that presents a problem in a court of law, and these guys didn't even ask the question, suggesting that they weren't interested in the possibility of a death, let alone the inevitability of it happening. They controlled the scenario here.

Here in Sacramento, quite a few people are blaming Jennifer Strange. I don't see how. I'm guessing the jury found it hard to believe that any of those contestants would have participated in the stunt if they knew it could have resulted in their death. Does anyone believe the contestants would've taken such a risk? If you can prove that in court, then you have a case against Jennifer Strange. Otherwise, I think not.

People do dumb things all the time; the question here is who is liable when we (broadcasters, for example) give people an opportunity to be stupid. I don't know if there's a good answer to that question, but here's the bottom line: If broadcasters lament the fact their fellow broadcasters are losing jobs left and right and getting replaced by computers that just play music, it's incidents like this that are part of the reason why. I don't know if $16.6 million is a fair judgment but if it forces draconian cuts at Entercom, guess who's expendable? Every time something like this happens, air talent hurts its cause, which, frankly at this point, is staying employed. You're hired to help your boss solve problems, not create new ones, and every time a jock does something stupid, you create extra work for your boss. That's not a good way to manage your job security.

And beyond that, air talent also must see itself as a collective. Every time an individual jock does something boneheaded, it reinforces a pre-existing notion and a long established precedent held by the majority of those who are not in programming: DJs are a headache (the pre-existing notion); DJs are expendable (the precedent). Today, management doesn't have to hire another jock to replace the one they've fired; they just install another computer. More firings mean less creativity on the air and more bland radio, a canniballistic process that only increases the likelihood of decreasing revenues in the face of continually increasing competition, and we all know what decreasing revenues mean. Air talent forgets (or maybe never realizes) that broadcasting is a profession first and a playground for ego-stroking second --a distant second, in my view-- and this morning show violated one of the most important rules of the profession: They weren't listening.

Sorry for the long post, but if this wasn't enough to read, I'll shamelessly plug this op-ed in the local paper, the Sacramento Bee:



"A buttoned down profrssional" runs stations that ask drive time listeners to "hold their wee for a wii?" I'm not buying it, Eric.

Jim Jacobs

Hind sight makes us all geniuses. Who would have known that drinking water and holding it could cause death? This was not an evil act, it was a silly, crude, and seemingly benign stunt that would have been repeated across the country had it gone well. I am concerned by those who are quick to condemn. The assumption that you couldn’t make such a blunder would be the first thing to not assume if you don’t want to see this happen again.

Cliff Hunter

Eric, I have to disagree. To use a contest risk waiver form which would not hold up under California law is the height of stupidity and David is, I believe, a lawyer. Nevertheless, this is a prime example of a morning show stunt not properly researched and discussed with the corporate legal division by local station management. Lack of corporate training, lack of corporate guidelines ... who knows ... but the buck stops at the top. This was an improper promotion and top corporate management should have rejected it.

Anne James

This was certainly not an unforseeable tragedy. I have to admit if one of my jocks came to me with this idea, my first thought probably would not have been, "gee, this could kill someone." But when a nurse called to warn against it, you can bet I'd have done a lot of research and consultation with a doctor or two before letting it proceed.

That the stunt went terribly wrong is sad.

That the nurse's warning was ignored is inexcusable.

Dale Thomas

To anyone who says that this was unforeseeable, you are 100% wrong and should do a little research. There had been a doccumented case just prior to the contest of a fraternity hazing event resulting in the death of a young man. The so-called DJ's even joked about it on air. A nurse called and warned them, and they joked about it. They should be held personally liable for reckless endangerment at the very least, possibly even involuntary manslaughter. And at some point, someone in authority should have said, "No" to the promotion. But they didn't. Greed and lust for ratings cost a young woman her life, and three children their mother. The only people I feel sorry for at Entercom are the ones who had nothing to do with the promotion and now have to pay because their employer hired morons and gutless managers who didn't have the gumption to stop a dangerous promotion.


Rod Schwartz - Grace Broadcast Sales

The pain and suffering endured by both parties could have been avoided, had someone in authority at the station had the common sense to veto a promotion that was, at best, intrinsically stupid and sophomoric.

The tragic outcome of this debacle ought to be a wake-up call to everyone in our industry, to give a careful second thought to the message we send when we even countenance, let alone promote (glorify) such behavior.

"Hey, let's do a promotion where people have to drink unhealthy quantities of water to see how long they can go without peeing!"

C'mon, it this really consistent with high ethics, the utmost professionalism, or excellence in broadcasting?

From where are we getting our standards these days?


"I am not in a position to judge whether this was the right settlement, too much or too little to compensate them for their pain."

Correction: verdict. There was a jury verdict because, for whatever reason, there was not a settlement with the family a long time ago.

Jim Schlichting

Sorry Eric, there is clearly a line that was crossed.

Any station owner, operator and staff that believes anything to do with bodily functions is acceptable for a radio promotion is irresponsible.

I include eating contests and anything else that includes the consumption or elimination of anything as being irresponsible.

How today's radio owners have gotten to the point that good radio includes promotions related to bodily functions is a sad commentary on radio.

john moore

Long before we were taught Prize,Chance and Consideration we learned that any activity the station was involved in carried a responsibility to protect the well being of all participants(KHJ-case)when a stations management decides a contest requiring listeners not be permitted to maintain bodily funtions in order to qualify and perhaps win a prize it is nothing short than carnival midway behaviour and in this case there was no judgement!

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