Tuesday, August 12, 2003

WRKO suspends "Ozone" for two weeks. John Osterlind, the loud, raspy-voiced "Ozone" half of the Blute & Ozone team on WRKO Radio (AM 680), has been suspended for two weeks after telling listeners this morning that the Palestinians should be "eradicated," according to Michael Elder, the station's director of operations and programming.

Elder was unaware of Osterlind's alleged remarks when contacted earlier today by the Phoenix, which had received an anonymous tip that Osterlind had advocated "extermination" of the Palestinians. After listening to a partial tape of the show, Elder said, "Your source was pretty close to accurate," but added: "I did not hear exterminate. Eradicate is what I heard." (Disclosure: I am paid to discuss the media on WRKO's Pat Whitley Show every Friday morning.)

Elder said that cohost Peter Blute, a former Republican congressman, sounded aghast at Osterlind's outburst. "Peter Blute kept trying to reel him out of it," said Elder, adding that, at one point, Blute warned Osterlind that he was advocating "Hitlerian genocide." Blute could not immediately be reached for comment.

Osterlind, contacted at home, denied the allegation, saying, "It was dancing around that line, but never once did the words come out of my mouth that the Palestinians should be eradicated. But the bad ones, definitely." Several minutes later, he added, "Arafat, sure, you know, him and his people, no doubt."

This afternoon on the WRKO website, under the heading "Today on Blute & Ozone," is this: "After two more suicide bombings in Israel the other day, a frustrated Ozone wants to rid the world of anti-Israeli Pallestines [sic]. Peter says there is, more violence that occurs on a daily basis, in Massachusetts than Israel [sic! sic! sic!]."

In explaining his decision to suspend Osterlind, Elder said, "I can't let that kind of language against a whole race of people go on the airways unpunished. Other people are going to get the idea that it's okay. It's not okay. That kind of language I'm just not going to let on the radio station." He added: "Quite frankly, I just don't think that's a good way to run talk radio."

Osterlind's suspension comes about a month after Elder suspended syndicated talk-show host Michael Savage's show for one day, following Savage's homophobic outburst on what turned out to be his final appearance on MSNBC.

Neither Elder nor Osterlind could say whether the two-week suspension would be paid or unpaid. Elder said the terms of Osterlind's contract probably require that it be paid.

Osterlind seemed stunned this afternoon, describing the events that led to his suspension as a combination of an aggressive approach on his part and outrageous calls from some listeners. He said that when callers suggested eradicating all Palestinians -- and, in one case, the entire "Arab street" -- he replied, "Are you nuts?"

He described his conversation with Elder like this: "He said he'd gotten some calls, and that he had to do something to appease the people who are upset." Asked whether he believed he himself had made a mistake, Osterlind replied, "Maybe baiting the listeners into calling and saying something like that."

He added: "You do a talk show, you talk about controversial things. I've been doing this a long time, and it's the first time I've ever been suspended. I just don't think he [Elder] liked the whole tone of the segment."

A pause, and then this:

"I'm just a peace-lovin' person, Dan."

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