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THE OUTDOORS DIGEST | RECREATION

Mikes vs. bikes

Cyclists fail to see humor in DJs' calls for assaults.

October 07, 2003|J. Michael Kennedy | Times Staff Writer

Kevin BRAY was, well, shocked, when he heard that shock jocks were urging their listeners to run bicyclists off the road. He was horrified when he found out it had happened at least three times since July, in each case at stations owned by radio behemoth Clear Channel -- first in Cleveland, then Houston and finally at a station in Raleigh, N.C. To Bray, an avid cyclist and veteran North Carolina highway patrolman, there seemed to be an ominous pattern developing.

"All I can say is, 'Who's next?' " said Bray, who has filed a complaint against the Raleigh station with the Federal Communications Commission. "What these people are doing is some sort of sick marketing ploy."

That thought has also occurred to Patrick McCormick, director of communications for the 40,000-member League of American Bicyclists, an organization dedicated to preserving cyclists' rights. He said his group has been deluged with complaints now that three major radio markets have been beset by the same anticyclist comments. "We're still contemplating what we're going to do as a national organization," McCormick said.

The incidents have stirred rage in the cycling world. In each incident, disc jockeys derided cyclists and encouraged listeners to run them down. In the latest example, at Raleigh station WDCG-FM, disc jockeys Bob Dumas and Madison Lane began their rant against cyclists on Sept. 22. In the course of the program, listeners flooded their telephone lines to vent about cyclists, including one woman who boasted that her father intentionally hit one while they were on the way to church. One of the DJs promoted the joys of hitting cyclists with Yoohoo bottles.

When patrolman Bray heard about the program, he wrote an e-mail to the shock jocks, warning them they were instructing the motoring public in how to commit assault with a deadly weapon -- their cars. Bray also informed them that he was reporting them to the FCC.

"I don't know much about radio broadcasting," he wrote. "But I have enough sense to know that these acts are either illegal or contrary to the code of ethics you should be bound by when the FCC allows you to go on the air."

The station's initial response came from station manager Kenneth Spitzer, who referred to the show as "animated banter." But after a demonstration outside the station and the threat by advertisers to pull out, Spitzer issued a public apology on the air Thursday.

The first of the anticyclist diatribe occurred last July in Cleveland, when WMJI-FM disc jockeys suggested cyclists be rammed off the road. One of those who got on the phone to defend cyclists was Lois Cowan, who co-owns four bike shops in the Cleveland area.

"I was repeatedly called a buffoon, an idiot and a PMS sufferer who couldn't take a joke," she said. "Then there were three hours of calls from people saying, 'Yeah, you guys are right.' "

The session left Cowan in tears, but she immediately swung into action, helping engineer a bombardment of calls and e-mails to the station. In the end, the station called a truce and agreed to, among other things, hundreds of public-service announcements about the need to share the road.

The Houston incident also took place in September, and the timing of the show infuriated the city's cycling community. On Aug. 30, a woman driving a pickup truck had lost control and slammed into a 20-bike pace line, killing two riders and injuring eight others. Three days later, the disc jockeys at station KLOL-FM went on their antibiking rampage, setting off another round of protests.

"When you incite people to violence, you've crossed the line," insisted Houston cyclist Frank Karbarz, who helped organize against the station. "They did it almost like a tutorial. It wasn't humorous. It was how to hurt someone."

Cowan doesn't believe that Clear Channel, which owns more than 1,200 radio stations in the U.S., is encouraging the anticycling venom. She said it's more probable that word spread among disc jockeys that knocking cyclists is sure to push emotional buttons with their listeners.

Clear Channel, for its part, said through a spokesperson that each station was "operated and produced independently," and "each station is working to correct the problem in their city."

But noted cycling writer Ed Pavelka said he felt the three incidents have at least the makings of a trend. "First it was Cleveland, then Houston and Raleigh," he said. "Either someone's not getting the message, or someone's doing it with intent."

In 2001, 728 cyclists were killed in accidents involving motor vehicles in the United States. And an additional 45,000 cyclists were injured.

Legally, cyclists are afforded the same rights as motorists. Lawyer Gary Brustin, who specializes in cycling cases, noted that some motorists just don't like sharing the road with bikes. "They just don't like them."

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