NEW YORK — Gidget Lohrer is happy The Opie and Anthony Show is off New York airwaves after the “shock jocks” broadcast a live account of a couple having sex in St. Patrick's Cathedral.
“I believe in the Catholic Church. I don't want this to happen in my temple,” the New York area resident said.
But Lohrer said it wasn't only Catholics who were offended.
“I have non-Catholic friends that told me, ‘My gosh, if that happened in my church I'd be upset, too.’”
And the timing of the stunt, which occurred Aug. 15 on the Feast of the Assumption, upset Lohrer even more.
“It's not only that it was in the cathedral, but it was a holy day of obligation. They did it on a busy, busy day for the Church,” she said.
WNEW-FM, which had syndicated The Opie and Anthony Show to 10 million listeners in 19 markets, announced Aug. 23 that it had fired the shock jocks.
“Based on recent events, The Opie and Anthony Show has been canceled and will be replaced by other programming beginning [Aug. 24],” said Dana McClintock, a spokesman for Infinity Broadcasting, which owns the station.
McClintock wouldn't be specific about the number of complaints, however.
“I don't know how to characterize it; certainly there was some,” he said.
In response to the initial wave of outrage over the St. Patrick's incident, WNEW-FM suspended Greg “Opie” Hughes and Anthony Cumia on Aug. 19 along with general manager Ken Stevens and program director Jeremy Coleman. However, the station continued to air reruns of the shock jocks' show.
The couple involved in the incident, Brian Florence and Loretta Lynn Harper, both from Virginia, appeared in Manhattan Supreme Court on Aug. 21 to face criminal charges of obscenity and public lewdness. If convicted, they face up to a year in jail.
Charges are also pending against comedian Paul Mercurio, who described the couple's actions by cell phone for the radio show's listeners.
WNEW-FM announced its decision to axe the show permanently only hours after FCC Chairman Michael Powell announced an investigation.
“I am deeply disturbed about the reports of an incident involving WNEW-FM and a radio contest involving sex in public places, and I have directed the FCC's Enforcement Bureau to proceed immediately with a thorough investigation of the matter,” Powell said.
Infinity and WNEW could still face penalties and have the station's license revoked, but the New York-based Catholic League is satisfied the corporation has made amends.
“This is a refreshing example of corporate responsibility,” said Bill Donohue, who leads the 350,000-member organization.
He added that the Catholic League would drop its petition with the FCC for revocation of WNEW's license.
“The Catholic League is satisfied with the results of this decision,” he said. “There is no reason now to revoke the license of WNEW.”
While Martha Kleder of Concerned Women for America is also relieved that Infinity fired the shock jocks, she wants the FCC to continue its investigation.
“I'm slightly placated,” said Kleder, who in January wrote an exposé of regulatory inaction against broadcasting excesses TITLEd, “The FCC: A Failure of Enforcement.”
“But the FCC needs to look at this,” she said. “This kind of thing has happened before.”
She noted that the incident at St. Patrick's Cathedral was the third time the radio program had broadcast reports of couples having sex in public, which is against the law.
Radio hosts Opie and Anthony encouraged listeners to have sex in public places under a promotion known as “Sex on Sam.” Participants were awarded tickets to a concert series sponsored by Samuel Adams, a beer manufactured by the Boston Brewing Company.
“One couple performed sex in an elevator,” Kleder said. “When the door opened a family with kids saw the whole thing.”
Before the incident at St. Patrick's Cathedral, “The CEO [James Koch] of Samuel Adams came into the studio and joked about the promotion,” Kleder pointed out. “If you sponsor something like that, don't be surprised when you get some heat from it.”
The Boston Brewing Company did not return calls for comment, but press reports said the company had been deluged by protests from customers who intend to boycott its products over its involvement with the WNEW program.
This is not the first time Opie and Anthony have lost their jobs for controversial on-air actions. In 1998, they were fired by a Massachusetts station for falsely reporting on April Fool's Day that Boston Mayor Thomas Menino had been killed in a car crash.
The FCC investigation will continue despite the cancellation of The Opie and Anthony Show, a spokesman said Aug. 23. “We get a complaint, we decide to follow up, and continue with that,” spokesman David Fiske told the New York daily Newsday. “The licensee is responsible for the conduct of the station.”
Kleder, who spent 20 years in the broadcasting industry, is confident that real reform will only occur when the FCC moves beyond stern words and small fines.
Said Kleder: “It's only when we look at the licensure issue that we're going to get anywhere.”
Joshua Mercer writes from Minneapolis.