By: Joe Nicholson
Paper Is Victim Of ‘Bulldog Marketers’
The Cincinnati Enquirer reported last week that it was the victim
of a deliberate scam by a Cincinnati radio station owned by Clear
Channel, the nation’s largest radio conglomerate with more than
1,120 radio stations and $3.1 billion in radio revenue. An
Enquirer story Nov. 27 referred to a person who was
invented by staffers at WEBN-FM, the Gannett Co. Inc. newspaper
WEBN-FM announced it was giving away more than $10,000 that was
left by a devoted listener who recently died, the Enquirer
reported. The paper subsequently reported the listener “never
existed. WEBN staffers made him up.”
Mike Kinney, market manager for Clear Channel’s eight Cincinnati
radio stations, conceded that the supposed donor “had been
fabricated,” the paper reported. “Many people, including Mr.
Kinney and the Enquirer, were fooled by the scam, which
included a letter from the widow,” said the paper.
Rosemary J. Goudreau, managing editor of the Enquirer,
told E&P Online, “Now [WEBN-FM’s] credibility is shot.”
Randy Palmer, vice president for investor relations at San
Antonio, Tex.-based Clear Channel, responded on Friday: “I’m
going to need to talk to the radio station and the radio group in
Cincinnati before making a comment … Let me talk with them to
see what comments I’m going to be able to make.” Palmer’s
assistant later said he had left town for five days.
In an interview with E&P Online, WEBN-FM’s program director
Michael Walter conceded he and other officials at the station
invented the identify of the listener who wanted to give away
money. He claimed the scheme broke no law and no federal
“We created a story to give away money,” said Walter. “It’s just
a morbid case of Santa Claus in its worst-case scenario.”
Walter said he personally asked a woman staffer to impersonate
the widow as part of the effort to get the Enquirer and
other media to believe the story. He said the staffer viewed the
scheme as “funny.”
Walter estimated that the radio station got upwards of $100,000
in free publicity around the country from the promotion. But he
contended that the scheme was not a “scam” because the money was
truly being given away even though the story of the donor –
which was what prompted the publicity – was false.
Walter said his boss Kinney was among those misled by the scheme.
When Kinney learned the truth, Walter said Kinney had no
complaint and, in fact, congratulated him for garnering so much
free publicity. He said Kinney “was impressed by the fact that we
were able to pull this off within the law. We take a very non-
traditional approach to marketing … We have constantly pushed
the envelope,” explained Walter. “Our listeners think it’s a
Walter complained about the Enquirer story exposing the
scheme, saying the paper was wrong to suggest he lacks
credibility. “If they call my credibility into question, then I
suggest they not cover Santa Claus this year,” he said.
Asked whether he thought other radio stations around the country
would imitate his scheme for getting free publicity, Walter said
it was important to be “careful about how you pull off these
stunts.” WEBN-FM has long stood out in the radio field as “the
in-your-face bulldog marketers,” said Frank Saxe, radio editor at
industry journal Billboard, a VNU corporate sibling of
Joe Nicholson (email@example.com) is an associate editor covering marketing
and advertising for E&P.
Copyright 2000, Editor & Publisher.