BOOM! Shotgun Reaction: The firing of Mayhem
On Monday June 17, Atlanta radio station 790 The Zone fired its morning show hosts, Steak Shapiro, Nick Cellini, and Chris Dimino for an ill-advised impromptu skit about former New Orleans Saints kicker Steve Gleason. Gleason suffers from ALS, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and is unable to walk or speak. The three hosts, seemingly lead by Cellini, engaged in an interview with the fake Gleason, which was voiced by Cellini, and Gleason asked to be put out of his misery. The Zone, which is owned by Lincoln Financial, acted quickly and by mid-afternoon had fired the hosts.
I worked at WGST on the AM talker for nearly nine years and saw the stress and pressure to inform and entertain while keeping sponsors happy. It is no easy task and it takes very talented people to do it for the long haul. With that said, I have also seen hosts make grave errors and be suspended and fired. Most of us have jobs where a pattern of behavior is necessary to cause dismissal by management, but, in radio, or the entertainment industry overall, it is very different. In a single failure, your job, your income, your stability can be devastated. It is a risky business when told to be edgy, but don’t cross the imaginary line. There is no doubt that the guys from Mayhem crossed the line. Not only was their skit ill-advised, but it was painfully stupid. Should they have been fired? No, not for the skit. Radio and television are a businesses. Money must be flowing in for it to grow and be successful. If the result of the skit was sponsors pulling advertising and revenue dropping, then the reason for firing isn’t a shotgun reaction. It would take at least a three months to see the result of the revenue. This would also allow the hosts time to apologize, possibly bringing much-needed attention to Gleason and his illness. It was a missed opportunity by The Zone to use this ugly incident to raise funds and awareness for Gleason and the ALS Foundation. By pulling the trigger, this was a done deal in a matter of days, the hosts were replaced, and sports fans tuned to the FM sports talker 92.9 The Game.
I do not know Steak Shapiro, Nick Cellini, or Chris Dimino personally, however, I have met them and all three were gracious and friendly. After this incident Shapiro and Dimino posted very thoughtful and sincere apologies for the offensive skit. Cellini did post apologies, but I believe they were the minimum required for this incident. He even spoke with Atlanta radio guru Rodney Ho about the situation and basically said his contract was up soon, so his firing was irrelevant. He also said 790 The Zone was a “sinking ship.” Maybe he doesn’t get it, maybe he doesn’t care, but that was about as classless and poorly handled as the skit that started the scrutiny in the first place. Cellini could learn a thing or two about how Dimino and Shapiro handled themselves.
The heartbreaking reality of this story is that terrible illnesses, like ALS, affect thousands of people each year. Fighting these illnesses is futile, as they are terminal and end in death. It takes very strong individuals with a very strong support system to be out in front of the public attempting to raise funds for research that will never help them. How do I know these things? My son, Austin Bailey McCreary, passed away at three years old on April 17, 1999 after a two-year battle with Metachromatic Leukodystrophy MLS. I thank Gleason for his strength to be a public figure for these illnesses. Please take time to learn about these and other devastating illnesses by visiting alsa.org and ulf.org.