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July 30, 2014

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Radio disc jockey fired after controversial contest

This is a story that is, in more ways than one, about bad taste. Bad taste commodified as wacky radio fodder for the amusement of males 18-34. Bad taste pushed too far in a medium that recognizes few boundaries. And the bad taste left by a Styrofoam cup that everyone involved now fervently wishes had contained Gatorade but didn't.

Mostly, it's a story about newly unemployed KOMP 92.3-FM disc jockey Greg McFarlane, who station managers say crossed the bad taste frontier by hosting an on-air contest in which a man drank a few ounces of McFarlane's urine.

Mind you, station managers are saying this by virtue of canning McFarlane; as for official statements, they're maintaining radio silence. "Greg McFarlane has been terminated," Lotus Broadcasting Operations Director Richard Reed says. "Otherwise, we have no comment." He declined even to address the station's general guidelines for on-air behavior. This account, then, comes necessarily from McFarlane's perspective; insert numerous "allegedlys" as you read.

It begins with a question: What would people do for Motley Crue tickets? To answer that, McFarlane says, station honchos urged DJs last weekend to devise creative ticket giveaway contests. He understood creative to mean grossly attention-getting. On Saturday, McFarlane, a weekend and fill-in jock, gave tickets to a couple who simulated -- fully clothed -- scenes from one of the notorious Pamela Anderson-Tommy Lee sex videos (Lee is Motley Crue's drummer). "It made for entertaining radio," he says.

"So, Sunday, I was sitting around, scratching my head, wondering how I'm going to top this ..." Then it hit him! "I thought no, this is soooo repulsive and soooo disgusting, I thought not in a million years ..."

A million years? It took half an hour after his announcement of the contest Sunday evening for three contestants to appear at the studio. "Two brought their own shot glasses."

But when McFarlane set the cup in front of them, the three were overcome either by cold feet or common sense; none moved. Enter contestant No. 4. "The fourth guy walks in, pushes everyone out of the way and throws it down like it was Pepsi," the DJ recalls. "I was horrified by what I saw. I couldn't believe what I saw."

Listeners apparently couldn't believe what they heard; the switchboard lit up, McFarlane says. He took it as a sign of support. "I was just doing what a good DJ is supposed to do."

The lucky contest winner wishes to remain anonymous and is declining comment -- which means we'll never know how long before his wife would kiss him -- but McFarlane insists the man wasn't freaked out by his big gulp. "He never hesitated, never questioned whether it was urine, he just drank it. I did a little post-game analysis with the guy, asked him, 'What did it taste like?' He said, "It tasted fine, I have no problem with it.' "

Management, however, definitely had a problem. What if the guy contracted a disease, sued the company? McFarlane says Assistant Program Director John Griffin confronted him: "Tell me it was Gatorade."

"In retrospect, I should have lied and said, 'Yeah, it was Gatorade.' But I told the truth." Twenty minutes later, McFarlane was jobless.

A few days afterward, he sounds at least grudgingly contrite. "I admit it was poor judgment; I should have used some other liquid," he says. At the same time, he is leveraging all the media attention he can from the incident, alerting almost any news outfit able to field a reporter.

McFarlane says the incident should be considered in the highly competitive context of rock radio, in which stations resort to increasingly coarse high jinks to catch and hold young male listeners. "It's one step ahead of puppet theater," he scoffs. "But it's still entertainment."

It's a genre that frequently finds listeners involved in creepy stunts -- putting questionable substances in their mouths, wallowing in unpleasant fluids, submitting to public embarrassment. On Howard Stern's nationally syndicated program on KXTE 107.5-FM, somewhere between the disrobing lesbians, one listener reportedly offered to consume the, shall we say, residue of Stern's nose in exchange for free airtime. Locally, Johnson and Tofte of KKLZ 96.3-FM advertised a St. Patrick's Day celebration in which topless women would rub green gelatin onto each other's breasts. Numerous stations utilize blatant oral sex references in their promos.

McFarlane is obviously no stranger to such silliness. "I had a guy lick a Biore strip that had been on my nose," he says. "There was a guy who was going to lick my feet, but when his lips were a millimeter from my feet, I pulled away." Where's the limit, you ask? "It's not like I asked him to commit a felony or a misdemeanor. Just an unspeakably disgusting act. There's nothing illegal about drinking urine.

"You play to the people who get it and forget the people who don't," McFarlane says.

For now, he's sending audition tapes around the country. "Evidently, I've got too much talent for this market," he says sardonically. "I'll just have to move on to a bigger one." Maybe there he'll finally be No. 1.

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