Comedy, or a King-sized misstep? 

Jim Philips aside, Orlando's Real Radio 104.1 FM has distinguished itself as a playpen for playground put-downs and sexual innuendo of the sort that pepper a junior high boys' locker room.

Piggybacked onto the early A.M. broadcasts of Howard Stern, the Monsters of the Midday show helmed by Russ Rollins epitomizes that identity with a schtick loosely borrowed from the shock jocks who anchored themselves on the airwaves during the 1980s. Women, homosexuals, blacks, Hispanics, the handicapped -- all yield stereotypes that become easy targets when there is dead air to fill and dead intellect to fill it.

More often Rollins, Bo Rhodes and sidekicks turn upon themselves. They attempt to legitimize the joke by enlisting the occasional target on their team; past participants included Fluffy the gay DJ and the black intern known as "E.T., The Brother Man from the Other Land."

It's neither smart nor subtle; indeed, it is often so clumsy that it barely registers as offensive. But it is discouraging that -- with the phone lines constantly open -- their show is what passes these days for public discourse.

And the public tunes in. Which perhaps explains the odd alliance between the Monsters of the Midday and the organizers of the Martin Luther King Jr. celebration in the historic African-American town of Eatonville.

Last year, the radio personalities sent E.T. into Eatonville with a bucket of barbecue on the premise that no "brother" could turn down ribs. (They also sent ribs into Winter Park, where there were no takers.) This year, they approached the town and offered themselves as official participants in Saturday's Unity Day, promising to show up with family-style games and a microphone to broadcast live from the event.

Eatonville officials are embracing the monsters with open arms, if warily.

"There have been explicit directions coming from the mayor's office," says J. William Andrews, a special assistant to Eatonville Mayor Anthony Grant. "This is not to be a mockery. It has to be tastefully done. If it's not in the true sense of unity as it was proposed to us, we don't need it."

Adds Grant himself: "I know my staff has had a conversation with the powers-that-be over there [at the radio station]. We take this very seriously. My staff has told me that when you sit down with Russ and Bo, they're real people, they're human, and they understand the significance of what this day is all about, and that's why they wanted to be included and not excluded.

"I don't take it seriously," he says of their affronts. "But the flip side of that is, we have indicated to their producers and their promoters that we would rather not be a part of anything that is degrading to what Dr. King stood for."

Degrading, of course, is decided by the listener. Rollins tried to turn an interview request into radio entertainment and declined to be interviewed for this article off the air. But during Tuesday's show, he told listeners, "We make fun of rednecks, we make fun of black people, we make fun of everybody. But it's all for fun." He later added: "Here is the reason we even thought about doing it. Because normally, Martin Luther King Day, you don't hear anything about it. ...We wanted to make a day where black people and white people got together and did some fun things."

Later still, he said: "Everything we do has some sort of joke to it. ... We're going to goof around and have fun, but Jesus, that's what we do with everything."

"If it was such a bad thing," Rhodes said of the rib schtick, "nobody would have eaten those ribs."

Before the conversation turned to which cartoon characters the radio rogues would like to have sex with, Rollins said the station's involvement in Unity Day included enlisting the participation of Childwatch, a fingerprinting program set up to aid with lost or missing kids. There followed muffled joking about black kids getting their first fingerprint, as if they could expect to be fingerprinted many more times in their lives.

"I don't know if it's insulting or funny," says Mayor Grant. "Those guys do what they have to do for their audience. And I don't think their audience would listen to them if they didn't have controversial issues. I think people like to hear talk shows challenging, whether it's social groups, whether it's religious groups or whether it's politicians -- they like to have somebody stand up and challenge them.

"Whether they were right or wrong, everybody has a different point of view, and that's what makes this country so wonderful."


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