WEUS-AM Orlando is all over TV news and local newspapers after Clear Channel Outdoor pulled down a billboard it had sold to promote afternoon drive host Shannon Burke. The billboard company said it was in bad taste, but WEUS owner Carl Como is suspicious that Burke’s former employer, Clear Channel Radio, had a role – somehting the company denies.
“The playing field isn’t level here,” Como told RBR-TVBR. He said he talked to the Clear Channel Outdoor rep when the billboard campaign was being put together and was assured that the company operated completely independently of its radio sister. The billboard company even gave some advice on the content which it now finds objectionable. Meanwhile, the other big player in the Orlando billboard market, CBS Outdoor, still has up the one billboard it sold to WEUS. Como said he gave over 90% of the campaign budget to Clear Channel Outdoor because it gave him a better deal.
Burke is a well-known, if controversial personality in the Orlando market. He was arrested in 2009 for shooting his wife and dog – a shooting he said was an accident as the couple quarreled. (Both recovered from their injuries.) He was fired from Clear Channel’s WTKS-FM and was off the air for more than a year, including some prison time, before being hired by WEUS.
The new WEUS billboards show Burke holding a smoking microphone. Some local groups advocating for battered women complained to media outlets that it was glamorizing the shooting incident.
As for the claim that it is in bad taste, Burke told one TV interviewer, “People have always said I’m in bad taste.”
“I know all about Shannon Burke’s history and maybe some people would think it’s in bad taste. Certainly it wasn’t designed that way. We’re a hot, smokin’ talk radio and we have to be different than the other guys and that was the reason for the board,” Como told RBR-TVBR. “He’s holding an RE-20 [Electro-Voice] microphone. It looks nothing like a gun – and smoke is coming out of the microphone. And it says ‘listen or else’ – that’s it.”
While WEUS may have gotten a lot more publicity from the billboard being taken down than the campaign itself might have produced, Como is still upset that consolidation has put small operators like himself at the mercy of multi-media competitors like Clear Channel.
Clear Channel corporate headquarters sent this comment to RBR-TVBR:
“Clear Channel Outdoor’s recent decision to remove a billboard image of an Orlando radio personality was made solely on its application of community content standards. There was no input from, nor contact with, Clear Channel Radio regarding this matter. The advertiser was offered the opportunity to modify the image in the display. Clear Channel Outdoor’s contracts make clear that it reserves the right to reject or remove advertising material at its discretion – and as the advertiser did not submit modified copy, we exercised that right.”
If nothing else, WEUS got tons of free local news coverage.
RBR-TVBR observation: America is hyper-sensitive right now about violence, following the recent shooting rampage in Tucson. What is good and bad taste? If you drive along I-95 in Florida you face a constant barrage of billboards declaring “We bare all” for a strip club located at one exit. And then there are the graphic anti-abortion boards. He’s no pretty boy, but how is Shannon Burke any worse?