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The Bleep That Never Was

Public radio is turning beige as it caves in under the stress of fearful times

March 07, 2004|Sandra Tsing Loh

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with "The Loh Life," no longer on KCRW. So let's get down to brass tacks. What did I say, in my now-infamous three-minute radio commentary last week, that got me fired? I know the news story may have flown by you -- "FCC violation," "Loh fired," "KCRW endangered," "federal statutes on indecent language." "Whatever," you say.

Bottom line, you want to see the breast. You want to see -- Janet Jackson's breast. Even if it's pixilated. So here goes. Below is the text I recorded -- and left a hard copy of -- with my KCRW engineer to edit, which he faithfully remembered to do, except for one small item.

Now I will admit, upfront, that alluding to relations with my husband on the air is unusual for me. At 42, a tired mother of two, I'm the sort of public radio commentator who was, at the time of my being fired for indecency, in the middle of a five-part series not on the joy of sex but on the joy of knitting. However, having just seen Bette Midler's new show, still rollicking from her irrepressible vaudeville joke rhythms, I felt a well-placed comic bleep would be an appropriately bawdy (for public radio) homage.

SHE'S THE BETTE

My husband, my soul mate, my ROOMMATE of 15 years -- he sleeps LATE, doesn't LISTEN, moves my STUFF around. . . But he DOES play guitar for Bette Midler on her MASSIVE new STAGE show -- there are TIMES when he STANDS within five FEET of her!. . . so I guess I have to [the bleep should have gone here] him. Because you know what? It's finally DAWNED on me, this tour, that Bette Midler ....

I go on to say Bette is fabulous, ageless, divine, literally the living godhead who walks among us. (And thin. "Never more gorgeous!" we were kvelling in the Staples bathroom. And that was the women's!)

I imagine Ms. Midler herself might have enjoyed hearing my paean, but now she never will and nor will you because not only is it not archived on the KCRW website, there's no record there that my show ever existed. Not even a vaguely worded "Technical Difficulties/Away on Assignment/Cosmic Gone Fishing" sign. At KCRW.com, it's eerie how quickly the Internet hole has closed over "The Loh Life," its glassy surface scattered with a cheerful potpourri of fresh music picks. And I was on for six years! Isn't it a marvel what they can do with the touch of a computer button nowadays? Sometimes?

Except for my apologetic young engineer who sweetly signs himself "Mario -- 2 kids, asleep at the wheel," no one has contacted me from KCRW to offer condolences or even a parting pledge tote. My only glimpse of the station are the quotes I read in the paper, like: "[General Manager Ruth] Seymour says Loh's firing was a precautionary measure to show the station has distanced itself from Loh in case the FCC investigates the matter."

As of Friday, the FCC had not called -- perhaps because even the feds were sleeping in during my brand-new supposedly plum time slot of 7:25 Sunday morning. (It appears much of Los Angeles was sleeping as well, because two hours later, somehow, horribly, inexplicably, the little expletive that could got gaily aired a second time!) KCRW's implication I'm somehow a loose cannon is perplexing. I'm so scary I have to be locked out? Just in case I were ever again to wildly prerecord a segment four days ahead of time, discuss the edits with the engineer and leave the text with him. There's also that troubling notion of "preemptive distancing." I guess those are the tense times we live in. You have to aggressively protect yourself from the potential threat of possible future harm of a quasi, unspecified nature.

Even as I finish this essay, I hear Seymour's parting words about my work (which I think of as my own little KCRW epitaph): "We really are serious with her, that with such a trivial, self-serving piece, she put us all in danger."

But I am serious too. Quite frankly, I think it's public radio that's in danger, because public-radio-land is riven. On one side you have Joe Frank in the bathtub. (If this means nothing to you, you don't madly love KCRW the way I used to.) On the other is, sadly, more and more frantic breaking news -- Bush! Anthrax! Suicide bombs in Jerusalem! Or hushed-voice cultural temple-building. (I for one am sick of the Booker Prize. See you in the bar if you want to discuss that one.) It's a seeping beigeness, a grim, endless, drumbeat of "responsibility" that all the groovy Argentine trance-hop music in the world can't make up for.

If this is the future of public radio, honey, I say if I'm going to go down saying EXCUSE ME, BETTE MIDLER IS THE LIVING GODHEAD I say why the ... heck ... not!

Sandra Tsing Loh's most recent solo show was "Sugar Plum Fairy" at the Geffen Playhouse.

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