A new study by Media Mouse has found that local Grand Rapids alternative rock station 97.9 WGRD makes extensive use of sexism and misogyny to generate an appeal to its core demographic of 25 to 34 year old adults. The study, focusing on a month long period of monitoring this winter, found that DJ David Fox repeatedly made reference to prostitutes, strippers, sex, and “hot chicks” in addition to making racist and homophobic statements.
According to new research by Media Mouse local alternative rock radio station 97.9 WGRD (owned by Regent Broadcasting) is promoting sexism and misogyny through its continued airing of David Fox’s 7:00pm to 12:00am weeknight show on the station. This winter, Media Mouse monitored the station for a little over a month, randomly checking in on Fox’s show to determine whether the sexism and misogyny it had previously heard was an isolated occurrence and instead found that Fox’s show—and to a large degree the station’s programming as a whole—makes use of sexism and misogyny as a means of appealing to it’s core audience of 25 to 34 year old adults. According to both its marketing information and recent ratings information, WGRD’s model has proven to be successful and it is currently the fifth highest-rated station in Grand Rapids. As is frequently the case in patriarchal society, the effect that the station’s programming has on women is never taken into account when in the evaluations used to determine how successful the station is in appealing to its target demographic.
Media Mouse first became aware of WGRD’s pervasive sexism and misogyny when it was discovered that the station was promoting Tini Bikini’s “American Hottie” contest. At the time, Media Mouse saw the station’s involvement in the contest within the framework of a study conducted a year earlier by the Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy (GRIID) that surveyed sexualized portrayals of women on the websites of local radio stations, with WGRD joining other stations in linking to objectifying images of women on its website. While the website has changed since the time of the GRIID study and some of the content has been removed, the station still prominently features a link to the “GRD Model of the Moment” where objectifying pictures of women wearing few clothes are found. In addition to sponsorship of events at Tini Bikini’s, the station has also done events at Hooters and has hired dancers from Perfect 10 Entertainment (a Grand Rapids company providing “exotic dancers” for parties and promotions) to appear at events and concerts hosted by the station.
On a whole, the station has directed much of its content towards a male audience; however, DJ David Fox has taken this to an extreme, creating for himself a program where there are almost constant references to sex, strippers, prostitution, and “hot chicks.” Media Mouse first became aware of David Fox on November 1, 2005 when David Fox and co-host Lukas D told a caller who asked a question that in return for the answer they wanted “some hookers” with Fox elaborating that “some whores down on the red light district sound sorta nice” and Lukas D adding that the caller should “send some of those Division girls up to the studio.” Following the discussion of prostitutes, Fox and Lukas D went on to discuss Tini Bikini’s and praised the club for being “the closest you can get to a strip club but it’s nice” as it has “cute girls” unlike strip clubs where the majority of strippers are “skanks” or “barfers.” Content such as this was frequently heard during the period monitored, with Fox making additional references to prostitution in Grand Rapids with Fox referring to female co-hosts as the “girls we got down the street” in reference to the popular notion that prostitutes are found on Division and also telling a caller with relationship problems to “swing over to the red light district on Division” and “pick yourself up one.” Content referencing strip clubs was considerably more common, with Fox referring his attendance at strip clubs and even bragging about how he sent a friend to Parkway Tropics to have his “girl Stacia and all the rest of the chicks treat him like a VIP.” He also frequently talked about the Korn song “Twisted Transistor” and its popularity at strip clubs. On a related note, Fox also seemed to have an intense interest in Paris Hilton, whom he referred to as “high class trash,” a “slut,” and a “whore” while discussing who she has had sex with and referring to pornographic videos of her.
In addition to focusing considerable attention on women in the sex industry, David Fox also repeatedly refers to women as “chicks” a term that gives them both a lower status than males and less power than males. The “chicks” that Fox refers to are also given limited roles both on his program and in society in general, with Fox referring to a female co-host as a “hoe” and calling other female guests his “new slaves.” His inability to refer to women in a respectable way was taken to its most absurd level when Fox referred to a realtor who had bought advertising time on the station as a “little chick” and told listeners that they should contact if they are selling their home. When questioned about how why he refers to women as “chicks,” Fox simply told his audience “maybe this is the wrong station for you if you think chick is a bad word.” David Fox also claimed that men are more important than women are in a ridiculous discussion about who should have been allowed into the lifeboats on the Titanic.
The idea that Fox gives women a subservient role in which they exist exclusively to benefit males is nearly inescapable when listening to his show. This gains further prominence when one looks at who is actually running the station and thus who has the power at WGRD, and it should be no surprise that the on-air staff is predominately male and that the artists played on the station are overwhelmingly male. Women who call into the show are also addressed in a similar manner, with Fox asking a female caller if his comment “excited” her and telling her that she might get tickets if she can “sweet talk” him, but then later determining that “she might actually have to send a photo” before getting tickets. Women are thus given a role that allows them only to be objects of male sexual desire, a fact that is reinforced when Fox praises women who possess qualities that he likes, which aside from the aforementioned physical attributes, include women in bikinis that like Applebees, Arby’s, and Dairy Queen and women that watch watch Girls Gone Wild. Of course, it is important to remember that not only do these roles limit women, but they also give men considerable power to determine not only what is attractive but also what is appropriate behavior for women.
Not only does the show present a patriarchal view where males are dominant, Fox also routinely uses homophobic insults. For example, on November 1 Fox told a caller that did not agree with him “you are probably gay.” Fox also joked about his co-host Lukas D doing “Brokeback Mountain” things, joked about homosexual rape, and joked about how one of his friends has a less than masculine name. Of course, as is frequently the case with men who expose homophobic views yet benefit from patriarchy, Fox has expressed approval of lesbians who “kiss” or “make out” for the pleasure of male audiences. Fox specifically praised Sharon Stone for her “great lesbian scene” in Basic Instinct, which Fox described as “total tongues, man, awesome.”
Throughout his broadcast, David Fox also frequently shared “news” with listeners and occasionally discussed current events. Fox does not pretend to be a news reporter, so the discussion of news items was very much akin to the type of conversation that you might find in a high school locker room, no doubt due in part to his selection of topics. Many of these news items come in the form of short three sentence news updates and a sampling of the updates Fox chose to share with his audience reveal that they are neither worth more sentences or even air play in the first place. Some of the topics included 34% of women saying that if their dog were their boyfriend they would date him, a dentist training prescriptions for sexual favors, another dentist trading Oxycotin prescriptions for sexual favors, an evangelical group of women reaching out to strippers, and a man in Kalamazoo that got caught having sex with a sheep. Occasionally, David Fox did spend more time on news stories, although the topic selection and level of discourse remained juvenile at best. For example, on March 1st, Fox reported on a man who was arrested for drinking the urine of adolescent boys, a story which may have had some news value if it had happened in the Grand Rapids area and was properly contextualized instead of simply being shared “because it is pretty out there.” From time to time Fox also addressed current events and on February 15 discussed the Winter Olympics and reported a rumor about which Olympians are the “slutiest.” On February 9, Fox also addressed teenagers getting in trouble for posting pictures of themselves drinking at parties on MySpace, with Fox and his co-host Lukas D conducting an interview with a former East Grand Rapids High School student about the controversy. Of course, rather than address the topic in a serious way, Fox interrupted the interview to ask if “any hot chicks got busted.”
Moving beyond sexism and heterosexism, David Fox’s show also featured racist content during the study period. In one incident, in February of 2006, Fox discussed a news report read by a co-host that a trend in China was making your eyes rounder, to which Fox responded that he was not surprised because “you go over there and you got some nationalities and it’s hard to even believe that they can see” in reference to a prevalent and offensive stereotype about the shape of Asian peoples’ eyes. On March 1st, Fox aired an incredibly offensive song featuring numerous stereotypes of Arabs and people of Middle Eastern descent. The song, a parody of the Backstreet Boys’ “Backstreet’s Back” was called “Dubai’s Back” and expressed what the song’s composer felt was the excitement terrorists had over President Bush’s proposal to let the United Arab Emirates-based Dubai Ports World run some US seaports. The song equated all Arabs with Al-Qaida and featured the line “Hello Al Qaida we’ll let you in, so bring your guns and bombs,” conveyed the stereotype that Arabs cannot be trusted, referred to Arabs using stereotypical names such as “Punjab,” and suggested that Arabs had limited intelligence. While in this case the offensive language was not said by David Fox, he did chose to air the song and also described it as “pretty funny” with his co-host Lukas D praising it as being “classic.”
According to Regent Broadcasting Grand Rapids’ (the owner of WGRD) mission statement, the radio group aims to value its listeners and the community. Their mission statement has four components—“service to our community,” “service to our audience,” “service to our advertisers,” and “service to our company.” While clearly David Fox’s programming and the station as a whole appeal to the company’s bottom line in terms of continued ratings and serves some of its advertisers (especially sexist businesses in West Michigan such as Tini Bikini’s, Hooters, and various strip clubs discussed on his show), a strong argument can be made that airing David Fox is not providing a “service to the community” or even a “service to our [WGRD’s] audience.” Instead, Fox’s sexism, racism, homophobia, and xenophobia does more to isolate members of our community—women, gay/bisexual/transgendered people, people of color, and people of foreign origin than it does to build any type of “community.” Of course, Fox would likely point to the ratings that he has as proof that the community approves of his programming, but this bypasses the question of what other choices they have. Radio is currently dominated by sexist content and as such, there is really nowhere else for his audience to turn, as the same type of content is found on other stations in Grand Rapids. To that end, people must consider not only the offensive content on David Fox’s show but radio in general, and ask “is this serving the community?”
Unfortunately, while both Regent’s mission statement and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) mandate that radio stations serve the community as radio makes use of public airwaves, community members have limited means to hold broadcasters accountable for their content and their failure to serve the community. Of course, one way to do so is to call or write to the station to complain about objectionable content, but unfortunately, this method will likely do little to actually hold the station accountable and indeed someone called David Fox to tell him that his continued use of “chick” and portrayal of women is “degrading” to which Fox simply told the caller that WGRD is “the wrong station” for him. Still there is value in contacting the station’s management, as they have likely received few objections from the public and have no doubt received very few from people coming from a pro-women position as opposed to objections from an easily marginalized position of religious morality. The public can also hold WGRD accountable when its FCC license comes up for renewal when the FCC evaluates stations to make sure that they serve “the public interest, convenience, and necessity.” During this process people can file a “petition to deny” and provide written testimony outlining how station’s have failed to serve the FCC’s outlined needs, but unfortunately renewal periods last eight years and local radio stations are not up for renewal until 2012. In the case of David Fox on WGRD, members of the community can also file indecency complaints with the FCC if they believe that the FCC’s indecency standards have been violated. To meet the FCC’s indecency standard, obscene content must have aired between 6:00am and 10:00pm and must meet three conditions:
- An average person, applying contemporary community standards, must find the material, as a whole, appeals to prurient interest;
- The material must depict or describe, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by applicable law;
- The material, taken as a whole, must lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value
While the FCC is fairly stringent in defining what is obscene, a large amount of content Media Mouse heard on David Fox’s show appeals to the “prurient interest,” occasionally depicts or describes sexual conduct in a “patently offensive way,” and almost constantly lacks “serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.” Moreover, the complaint process can serve to “formalize” public objections to the station’s content and therefore is useful in increasing public pressure on the station.
When considering how best to register objections to the content on David Fox’s show, it is important to consider that all radio stations are required to keep a “public file” at their offices. While the file contains a number of mundane materials such as the station’s FCC license, its recent license renewal applications, and a copy of the FCC’s publication “The Public and Broadcasting,” it is also required to keep copies of “letters and e-mail from the public” as well as “material relating to any FCC investigation or complaint.” To this end, it seems that contacting WGRD’s General Manager Phil Catlett (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Program Director Jerry Terrants (email@example.com) via email or postal mail (WGRD / 50 Monore NW Ste. 500 / Grand Rapids, MI / 49503) is likely going to be the most effective way of applying pressure on the station.