BJ SHEA IS BACK on The Buzz, KQBZ (100.7 FM), after being fired last March for inflammatory remarks about blowing away the Christian Coalition. His offending line: "I'm having a hard time being Christian toward Christians. [I want to] just take them all out Columbine-style. We'll start with the Baptists."
A couple days after the comments, The Buzz's general manager, Dick Carlson, received complaints from Shea's coworkers. Shea was reprimanded, suspended, and, a few days later, dismissed—after just four months on the air. His union, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, filed a grievance for "termination without just cause."
John Sandifer of Seattle's AFTRA office explains the grounds for the contract violation: "BJ was asked to emulate other radio hosts popular for raw content and sexually explicit material." In the union's view, Shea was simply following the mandate of the station's slogan, "Outrageous Talk Radio."
Entercom, the fifth largest radio operator in the country, owns The Buzz and seven other stations in Seattle that run the gamut of formats from the Mountain's adult alternative (KMTT) to news talk KIRO-AM and oldies KSGB. The Buzz is home to Seattle's favorite syndicated talker, Tom Leykis, who caters to a young male demographic.
In testimony at the arbitration hearing resulting from the union's grievance, Carlson stated Shea's offending statement lacked a sense of responsibility and was a matter of moral standards and common sense, but not that the host had been let go in response to the company's nonviolence policy—which Shea had never seen.
Shea's lawyers defended their client by citing excerpts from Leykis' show, on which callers ask Leykis to "take me out Columbine-style" and he provides the sound effect of gunfire. Leykis' schtick also includes sound effects of hammering nails when the subject of Jesus Christ comes up and a crashing plane for JFK Jr. The arbitrator in Shea's case seemed persuaded by this evidence. The arbitrator's opinion paper acknowledged The Buzz created an atmosphere that might easily make it difficult to determine the line between acceptable and unacceptable.
"It was said to make a point, not because BJ meant it," claims one of Shea's regular callers, Linda Robertson, who started an online petition to protest the firing. "He's got a big mouth, and he's proud of it," she laughs.
Shea maintains he didn't intend to advocate opening fire on religious groups and agrees the comment was harsh. "I'm a pacifist, a vegetarian. I remove spiders from my house," he says, insisting his beef is with organized religion and atrocities committed in the name of God. "If put on trial, organized religion would get the death penalty," he states vehemently. Although Shea was formerly a Catholic and a Hare Krishna and remains a "big believer in spirituality," he sees it as his job to attack taboos, to be shocking, grab attention, and entertain.
"The subtext is to get people to think and look at their life, their feelings, and every corner of their soul. Luckily, I'm the kind of guy who searches inside for answers. I'm not into the victim mentality. [After I got fired] I felt like an idiot. I couldn't believe that one statement was defining my situation. But my 8-year-old daughter said it best, 'What were you thinking?' She obviously takes after her mother," he sighs.
The arbitrator ruled in September that Shea's statements didn't justify The Buzz's firing him and that the discipline came without warning. After some complicated negotiations, Shea was awarded back pay and reinstated last month. Coincidentally, Carlson left his position as the station's general manager shortly after the decision over the dispute.
Some of Shea's topics seem tamer now as he dips into tipping habits, his favorite alpha-male role models, and plenty of sex chat. "I can't guarantee I won't say something stupid again—I'm a man, and men are oafs," he warns. His weekday shift from noon to 3pm is now sprinkled with asides about getting in trouble again. When he said recently, "Hey, I'm not advocating doing it with puppies!" He quickly added a disclaimer, asking his producer with a nervous chuckle, "How many days do I have left now?"