T Dog Think Tank: Radio industry blows it again

If you haven’t heard by now, a woman died in a radio stunt in Sacramento earlier this month.

Jennifer Strange, a 28-year old mother of three, participated in a “Hold Your Water For A Wii” contest for local radio station KDND-FM, a Pop/Top 40 station in Sacramento, aka “The End”, as part of the morning show called “The Morning Rave”. This contest was about who can drink the most water without going to the bathroom. The winner would win a Nintendo Wii, one of the new next-generation video-game systems that came out last fall.

Ms. Strange was one of the losers in this contest, and sadly, she paid the ultimate price.

While commuting back home on January 12, she complained of headaches and had to be rushed to a local hospital, where she later died. The Coroner’s office concluded that her death was caused from complications related to “water intoxication”. A few days later, 10 people were fired, including the morning team that conducted the contest.

This tragic story has been talked about all over the place, including CNN, the local news here in Chicago, CNET’s Buzz Out Loud podcast, and even the BBC. Radio message boards have been jumping off the chain with this topic.

And now the fallout has happened. Consider what has happened in the last few days: The Strange Family has obtained an attorney and will file a lawsuit against the radio station and its owner Entercom; a local broadcaster has filed a petition with the FCC to deny Entercom from purchasing several radio stations from CBS (as part of a long-running feud with Entercom); and now the FCC will investigate to see if there was any wrong doing on the part of the radio station. And there be more fallout in the weeks to come.

Here is a 5-minute audio clip of the contest, courtesy of The Sacramento Bee. Listen for yourself.

Sadly, she would never make it to the Justin Timberlake show.

Apparently, the local DJs were making a joke of the whole thing. They were even warned by a nurse who called the station that what the contestants were doing was hazardous to their health. The staff obviously didn’t do research on the issue. They assumed that nobody could die from drinking water. They were wrong. (Even I didn’t even know there was such a thing as water intoxication.)

Well, here we go again. The radio business gets a black eye, the business is bad because of consolidation, radio is cold and heartless, blah, blah, blah.
Well, they’re right. But instead of repeating what has been in the rest of the blogosphere, let’s just say this: It was a disaster waiting to happen. But radio will survive this latest embarrassment. Being a City of Chicago and Cook County resident, we’re used to them, particularly when it comes to politics and race relations. We get a black eye- but we survive. And perhaps learn from our mistakes.

Or not. And that’s why I’m not holding my breath regarding the radio industry. Something like this could happen again, because the people in radio are dolts, ratings are the only goal, the bottom line only matters and these types of outdated stunts will continue to draw attention – good or bad. The industry is like Cook County government when you think about it – cheap, underfunded, and bloated – with a lot of stupid people running stuff behind the scenes and running that stuff into the ground. Just this past week, the county is talking about making cuts to the Sheriff Department – meaning the bad guys will be freer to run rampant in areas where police protection is needed the most – and as a result – a life could be lost. More lives could be lost in cuts to health care at the county hospital. Like the DJs at that Sacramento station, the people running the county think this is one big joke.

In government, we can vote these people out – if we bother to show up at the polls- to be replaced by the same type of people. In radio, we fill out diaries, and if the station doesn’t do well, the management and the DJs gone and the station changes format – only to be replaced by the same type of people. Perhaps the only difference is that taxpayers aren’t paying for radio’s mistakes (and if it did, it would be a huge tab.)

So, you have to consider the alternatives. Music fans flee to Internet radio, CDs, iPods and other MP3 devices, so they don’t have to put up with the bullshit that the radio industry serves on a daily basis– just as much as people are moving to Will and DuPage counties so they don’t have to put up the corruption that is being shoved down our throats in Chicago and Cook County on a daily basis.

But yet they survive. They all will. It’s too bad that mother of three from Sacramento did not.