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MEDIA
A two-week hole in the Ozone layer
BY DAN KENNEDY

Even after learning he had been suspended for telling his morning-drive-time listeners that the Palestinian people should be "eradicated," John Osterlind ó the loud, raspy-voiced "Ozone" half of the Blute & Ozone team on WRKO Radio (AM 680) ó seemed unsure of precisely what it was he had done wrong.

"It was dancing around that line, but never once did the words come out of my mouth that the Palestinians should be eradicated. But the bad ones, definitely," Osterlind told me when I reached him at his home on Tuesday. Several minutes later, he added, "Arafat, sure, you know, him and his people, no doubt."

The suspension was handed down by Michael Elder, the stationís director of operations and programming, after Elder was asked about an anonymous tip the Phoenix had received alleging that Osterlind had advocated "extermination" of the Palestinians. After listening to a partial tape of the show, Elder said, "Your source was pretty close to accurate," but added: "I did not hear Ďexterminate.í ĎEradicateí is what I heard." (Disclosure: I am paid to talk about the media on WRKOís Pat Whitley Show every Friday morning.)

News of the suspension was broken Tuesday afternoon on Media Log, at BostonPhoenix.com.

Elder said that during the offending segment, which took place on Tuesday between 6 and 7:30 a.m., co-host and former Republican congressman Peter Blute sounded aghast at Osterlindís outbursts. "Peter Blute kept trying to reel him out of it," said Elder, adding that, at one point, Blute warned Osterlind that he was advocating "Hitlerian genocide."

Blute concurred with Elderís assessment, saying of his on-air partner: "He probably did go over the line, but we tried to bring him back and say, hey, wait a minute, letís think about this. Heís an emotional guy once he gets going. There were some callers who agreed with him. I didnít."

Elder, in explaining his decision to suspend Osterlind, said, "I canít let that kind of language against a whole race of people go on the airways unpunished. Other people are going to get the idea that itís okay. Itís not okay. That kind of language Iím just not going to let on the radio station." He added: "Quite frankly, I just donít think thatís a good way to run talk radio."

Osterlindís suspension comes about a month after Elder suspended syndicated talk-show host Michael Savageís show for one day, following Savageís homophobic outburst on what turned out to be his final appearance on MSNBC (see "Media," This Just In, July 11).

Neither Elder nor Osterlind could say whether the two-week suspension would be paid or unpaid. Elder said the terms of Osterlindís contract probably require that he be paid.

Osterlind is a former disc jockey at WAAF Radio (107.3 FM), a rock-music station that, like WRKO, is owned by the media conglomerate Entercom. The company also owns two other stations in Boston and one in Worcester. Osterlind was brought to íRKO in May 2001 to replace the late Andy Moes.

Osterlind seemed stunned on Tuesday, describing the events that led to his suspension as a combination of an aggressive approach on his part and outrageous calls from some listeners. He said that when callers suggested eradicating all Palestinians ó and, in one case, the entire "Arab street" ó he replied, "Are you nuts?"

He described his conversation with Elder like this: "He said heíd gotten some calls, and that he had to do something to appease the people who are upset." Asked whether he believed he himself had made a mistake, Osterlind replied, "Maybe baiting the listeners into calling and saying something like that."

He added: "You do a talk show, you talk about controversial things. Iíve been doing this a long time, and itís the first time Iíve ever been suspended. I just donít think he [Elder] liked the whole tone of the segment."

A pause, and then this:

"Iím just a peace-loviní person, Dan."


Issue Date: August 15 - 21, 2003
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