Oh, those DJ nightmares. And no, not the “dead air dream.” That's child's play.
I'm talking about that normal-sounding listener who calls in on the studio line, strikes up a friendly provocative conversation, and the next thing you know, you're meeting for a drink.
I always wondered about how often that actually happens in “real radio life.” So, for our very first AQ study, conducted in collaboration with Don Anthony's “Morning Show Boot Camp” back in 2017, we popped the question:
“Have you ever dated a listener?”
Surprised? You shouldn't be. Nearly four in ten personalities in our sample of more than 1,100 across the U.S. (all formats) admitted to dating someone they met over the phone, at an event, or somewhere else. And 7% ended up tying the knot with a member of the listening audience.
And here's the “shocker.” Male air talent – by more than a 2:1 margin – say they've gone out on a date with one of their listeners over female announcers. In fact, nearly half of guy jocks (46%) have dated and/or married a listener. (If that's not a great reason why PDs should be looking to hire more women, I can't think of one. They are obviously smarter.)
But the question we didn't ask in either AQ study was whether an on-air host has ever been stalked by a listener. You don't have to date someone from the cume audience to get bothered or even abused by them. In most cases, I'd wager these fan-obsessed moments happen whether the personality encourages it or not.
Thanks to social media, we know the incidence of being “trolled” or even “harassed” has risen a great deal over the past decade. Celebrity Chrissy Teigen recently bid adieu to her 13 million followers on Twitter. Trolling and abusive fans clearly factored into her decision to bail from a platform where she once thrived.
But a listener showing up at events, writing creepy messages, and behaving in an offensive or even illegal manner is a whole other thing. And I'm wondering whether it's happening more than we know.
There have been many unintended events spurred by the pandemic. Community-wide mental health issues is one of them. We do not know the toll exacted by COVID, but events in Atlanta, Boulder, and other communities would suggest that as restrictions are lifted, some seriously ill folks will be roaming around our cities and towns.
The prevalence of stalking a radio personality is a question we'll address when we launch AQ3. But why am I bringing this up now – months before Morning Show Boot Camp?
Because the “poster girl” for stalking DJs – Evelyn Draper – passed away last week. Actually, that's just the character's name. The actress who played the terrifying listener was Jessica Walter, and she died in her sleep at the age of 80.
Many of you know her as Lucille Bluth on the hit show, Arrested Development. She also was the voice of Malory Archer on the raunchy animated Archer.
But many of us first discovered Jessica Walter when she played the role of Evelyn in Clint Eastwood‘s directorial debut, Play ‘Misty' For Me, released in 1971. The movie is about a late night DJ, Dave Garver (played by Eastwood). He works for KRML in Carmel, California, a jazz station where Dave gets to talk dreamily to his audience after dark, spinning cool tunes and working the phones. The station and the setting are sexy, as is Eastwood – no face for radio with the young Clint.
The relationship starts out innocently enough as Evelyn calls the request line, and asks DJ Dave to “Play ‘Misty' For Me.” And then things rapidly go downhill. Evelyn and Dave hook up, but then she starts appearing everywhere. Unbeknownst to poor Dave, Evelyn is a psychopath, and he's now firmly in her clutches. To my memory, Misty may have been the first in what became a genre – “stalker movies.”
Walters was a damn good actress. She was certainly convincing in a role where a seemingly normal relationship turns toxic – and then some – in a hurry.
Here's a cringeworthy, scary scene where Evelyn barges in on a business lunch, where the ambitious Dave is being interviewed by a female executive interested in putting him on TV (every DJ's dream come true). It is somewhat unsafe for work:
For the first 30 minutes of Misty, being on the air on a cool radio station seems like the perfect profession. I'll bet many senior DJs were inspired by the film in the same way Perry Mason convinced many young kids to pursue a career in law.
Unfortunately, Evelyn's antics likely reversed that, and all of a sudden, a career as an actuary or an engineer started looking pretty good.
It's just a movie. But for many on-air talent, it's a nightmare – and it's very real. How many are stalked in one fashion or another? As a program director, I dealt with this, trying to help protect one of our prominent hosts in every way possible.
Most of the time, there's little that law enforcement will do prior to an actual crime being committed. That's no solace to a personality living in fear the person in question shows up at the next car dealer remote or bar night.
When these situations spin out of control, responsible companies supply security support for events and perhaps even at the station. In some cases, it doesn't matter because the talent is justifiably too flipped out to make appearances anyway.
Radio companies have a responsibility to protect their employees, especially those who are encouraged and required to show up, shake hands, kiss babies, and be a station ambassador.
Post-COVID, talent appearances will return. While video worked well during the pandemic, there will still be no substitute for eye contact – personalities who are present, engaging, and welcoming.
In AQ3, we'll find out just how rampant this danger is, and hopefully provide the radio industry with support data that's actionable.
In the meantime, if there's an Evelyn in your midst, put those request lines on hold, block wherever you can on social media, and above all else, protect your talent.
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