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I Shot a Man in Reno Just to Watch Him Die

The wife and I made the four-hour drive from our San Francisco Bay Area estate to Reno, Nevada, the other day, as part of our post-stock-market-meltdown plan to bolster the ol' 401(k). (Without revealing too much, it involves blackjack, free whiskey sours and always splitting eights and aces.) It was on our way to dinner and a sampling of the finest mass-prepared meats that Reno's $14-per-person buffets have to offer that we came upon a billboard -- an advertisement that cast a dark pall over our otherwise carefree gambol, that forced us to take stock of the state of humanity in this the two thousand and second year of our Lord, that, indeed, caused us to question the very existence of a loving God.

No, not the billboard for the Adventure Inn that informed us we could have stayed in assorted theme rooms -- The Jungle Room! The Space Room! The potentially spartan but nevertheless intriguing Cave Room! -- for just $49.95. The other billboard.

The billboard in question sought to coerce an otherwise dubious public into listening to an FM rock station based in Reno -- specifically, its wacky morning show DJs. The pairing, whom the ad identified only as John and Frank, were there on billboard in wacky caricature form -- John, or possibly Frank, in a football jersey; Frank, though maybe John, in a bowling shirt. Both wore expressions conveying the sort of barely contained hilarity you'd expect from two masters of morning drive-time mayhem. Or perhaps they were just gassy when the sketch artist drew their likeness that day.

Since the radio station doubtlessly realized that bowling shirts and football jerseys and zany expressions probably weren't enough to cinch the deal, the billboard offered one final inducement to get people to tune into John and Frank. It featured a cartoon dog pointing a cartoon gun at our cartoon heroes and the words, "Listen -- Or They Get It."

I don't think I need to explain to regular readers of TeeVee -- folks who laugh at the failure of others and routinely call for the scalps of those whose lack of talent offends our sense of right and wrong -- the folly of an ad campaign that ties an increased listening audience with sparing the lives of the drive-time Morning Zoo Crew. Because if all that's standing between two wacky DJs and their murder at the hands of a ruthless dog assassin is me tuning in on a regular basis, then I'm sorry, fellas, but you'd best phone up your next of kin and make your peace with God.

This is nothing personal against John and Frank, of course. I'm sure they're masters of their craft, whether it's exchanging sexually charged banter with the traffic girl with the sexy voice or making prank phone calls to the local sperm bank or playing "Osama, Yo Mama" song parodies or whatever it is that counts as entertainment on the radio dial these days. But if John and Frank are struck down, surely another pair -- Kenny and Lou, Cap'n Steve and The Dickweed, Skippy O'Hack and Jimmy Hee-Haw -- will rise up to take their place, offering the greater Reno metroplex its fill of innuendo-filled interviews with Hooters waitresses and back-to-back blocks of Journey and Foreigner dedicated to the guys down at the rubber novelties factory.

Let's put this in TV terms. If, some time last fall, ABC would have unveiled a "Watch Bob Patterson or we'll destroy Jason Alexander and wipe his seed off the face of the earth" ad campaign, would you have been any more compelled to tune in? If CBS extolled the virtues of Baby Bob by threatening to shove everyone associated with the program into a trash compactor unless you watched the program, would you have felt a sacred obligation to make that part of your regular viewing schedule?

No -- in fact, you probably would have called up your friends and neighbors to encourage them specifically not to watch, just to try and call the network's bluff.

Instead, if the radio station was really interested in pumping up the volume and attracting a wider audience, it would come up with a catchy slogan for its billboard like "Listen -- Or We're Send These Clowns to Your House." Or "Listen -- Because It Beats that Books-on-Tape Version of 'The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood' You Bought at Borders Last Weekend." Or even "Listen -- Because One of These Days, Clear Channel Is Going to Own All the Radio Stations And Give Them Identical Formats So You'll Wind Up Listening to These Guys Anyhow."

Now, that -- that's a compelling advertising campaign. The radio station wins. The traffic girl with the sexy voice wins. And our nation's highways and byways won't be choked with the bodies of slain morning radio personalities who failed to deliver the required ratings.

Which, actually, would not be an entirely unwelcome development, I'll grant you.


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