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Radio Haze

Rick Day says a local radio station reneged on promises for a pro-marijuana program.
Stephen P. Karlisch

Rick Day has dedicated his life to two causes: marijuana and barbecued beef. Although he has smoked both--the latter as an award-winning caterer, the former as a die-hard stoner--it's pot that has ignited his political conscience.

He has shouted down Drug Enforcement Administration agents at local high school drug forums, railing against what he perceives as the hypocrisy of a justice system that makes criminals of those who choose marijuana over alcohol. He has marched on the state Capitol in Austin and taunted former Governor Bush for his role as a drug warrior despite his history of drug use. He has jump-started the Texas chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) as its executive director, turning the organization into an activist entity after years of dormancy.

So in mid-September, when David Becker, a Clear Channel Broadcasting salesman working partly for Dallas radio station KTRA-AM 1190 (now KFXR-Fox Sports Radio), approached Day about broadcasting a pot show, Day was elated but incredulous. "I told him no way this was going to fly with his bosses at Clear Channel," Day says. "But if the mainstream media was willing to embrace an opposing point of view to the war on drugs, I was going to take full advantage of it."

On October 17, Day and Clear Channel entered into a written contract for $300 per show for 52 weeks. Day agreed to purchase 55 minutes of radio time each Sunday at 7 p.m. The station would provide technical help, access to its facilities and four minutes a week of promotional spots for the show, the first to air November 4.

If Day's Club Cannabis had been broadcast as scheduled, it would have been a major coup for the drug reform movement. The idea of a pro-pot program within the corporate media is unprecedented. Media conglomerates have been reluctant to let marijuana reformers advertise, much less provide them a venue that touts the benefits of growing your own. Why risk the ire of the federal government, which controls all broadcast licensing and remains virulent in its marijuana prohibition?

Whether Clear Channel, the largest radio empire in the country, was interested in making a buck or a political statement made no difference to Day. He had a signed contract; he had paid for the first show; he lined up a sponsor, Puffer's Paradise, a smoke accessory store (i.e. head shop). He'd even created the content for the first show.

"It's not like they didn't walk into this thing with their eyes wide-open," Day says. "Still, I knew I had to be careful because I was treading into unknown territory."If Day had his way, he would have opened his first show with the voice of Texas' most popular pothead delivering one of his public service announcements for NORML."Hi, this is Willie Nelson. Alcohol prohibition didn't work in the '20s, and marijuana prohibition isn't working today. It's time we stopped arresting responsible marijuana smokers. It's the fair thing to do."

The board operator would then cue Day. "Howdy, stoners. This is Rick Day presenting a new kind of radio show for and about adults who responsibly use marijuana, in spite of stupid, wasteful laws to the contrary. So if you light up, or even if you just think the laws should be changed, tune in, turn on and be part of something greater than yourself...Club Cannabis."

Then Day would have opened with his regularly featured "Weeditorial"--his first, a "rant" against the Supreme Court's decision banning California cannabis clubs from distributing marijuana for medicinal purposes. Next came a segment titled "Guests Who Inhaled." ("Bill Clinton, by definition, would be disqualified as a guest," says Day, who had lined up an interview with NORML founder Keith Stroup.) Other segments would include "The Libertine Lifestyle" (travel tales from Jamaica, Amsterdam; rating pot paraphernalia), "Mr. Greenbud's Groovy Garden" (a how-to segment on growing "tomatoes" indoors) and the "Drug Czar's Bizarre" (featuring "the latest act of governmental stupidity in the war on drugs"). To add a puff of balance, Day says, he planned on adding a section titled "Spotlight on Stoner Stupidity." "My first would have focused on a teacher who thought he could handle his own pot possession case without a lawyer. He wound up losing his teaching certification."

He recalls faxing this format to Becker and then hearing nothing. But Day proceeded with his plans, lulled by Becker's past assurances and the fact that Becker's sales manager, Mike Scott, had signed off on the project. (Becker refused to comment on the story, and neither Scott nor Clear Channel representatives returned Dallas Observer phone calls.) "I was told the station didn't care about content as long as it didn't violate FCC regulations and came from a paying customer," Day says. But he sensed a stall after his requests to meet the station's soundboard operator were delayed and November 4 came and went without him going on the air.

While no one at the station disclosed why the show didn't go on, it seemed apparent to others close to Day. "When I heard Clear Channel was going to allow a pot-specific show on one of its stations, I rolled my eyes," says Allen St. Pierre, national executive director of the NORML Foundation. "I couldn't conceive of corporate radio bucking the federal government's discernibly prohibitionist stance against marijuana. Businesswise, it makes no sense." Why risk losing millions of dollars in Partnership for A Drug-Free America advertising for Rick Day's $15,000-a-year show? "The corporate environment embracing marijuana reform is a nascent one at best."

The few pro-pot programs that have been broadcast have risen through unconventional media. HempTV in Tucson and Time 4 Hemp in San Francisco gained a modicum of fame, though only as community cable access shows. Pot-TV.com is video-streamed over the Internet out of Vancouver and pedals marijuana news, films and seeds for its viewers' pleasure. The NORML Foundation recently convinced a small, independently owned Tampa, Florida, radio station to air a half-hour talk show featuring marijuana-related issues, but business problems plagued the show, which is no longer running. Day may have been the first person to contract with the mainstream media to air a marijuana reform program. "It would have been a huge advancement," St. Pierre says. "Even when reformers have cold, hard cash, it's often hard for those who disagree with governmental policy to buy into the mass media."

Undaunted, Day spent the next several weeks trying to get Club Cannabis back on track. He says Becker told him there was a battle between sales and programming over the show, but Becker remained optimistic. According to Day, Scott said that corporate higher-ups feared Day might tell his audience where to purchase pot. "I told him if I did that," he says, "you would have the most popular radio show in Dallas."

Although he had no intention of spotlighting himself on his "Stupid Stoner" segment, the line between discourse and conspiracy is a difficult one to draw. "He damn well better be concerned about what he says," explains local attorney Stuart Parker, past president of the Dallas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. "If he tells people where to get marijuana or teaches them how to grow it, he may be aiding and abetting their crime under state law. And that doesn't even begin to broach the federal conspiracy issues."

On November 18, Day received an e-mail from Mike Scott, which finally offered him a reason for all the delay. "Anyway, politics have appeared," Scott wrote. "It is my understanding that someone high up in the programming area of the company has expressed concern over the content of your show." Scott suggested Day provide an overview of the show, which Day says he had already done. "If you are willing to jump through some hoops, I will make sure we fight the good fight."

A month later, Day took that fight directly to Clear Channel, deciding to sue the company for more than $62,000.

What riles Day the most is that Clear Channel approached him with the idea for the show. "They signed a contract; they took my money. I feel like I have been led on for no good reason." If he does manage to win his lawsuit, he plans on using the money to buy airtime to run Willie Nelson public service announcements--that is, if he can find a station in Dallas that will broadcast them.


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