Local NAACP demands firing of ‘shock jocks'; Mayor holds parent firm responsible

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

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The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Toledo chapter has called for the firing of two local radio “shock jocks” and a boycott of advertisers on their controversial programs.

“We do not need and will not tolerate the behavior of a few to destroy what we all have built in Toledo, Ohio,” said WilliAnn Moore, president of the NAACP’s local chapter.

Comments by WSPD’s Scott Sloan and WVKS’s Denny Schaffer have put the two stations and their corporate parent, Clear Channel Communications, in the spotlight. Both men have made on-air statements some people consider racially inflammatory.

Ms. Moore said that statements made by both men have spawned dozens of harassing phone calls to NAACP headquarters and made her fear for her life.

“I’ve got a remote starter for my car in case of a bomb. I only go out at night with other people, for protection. It’s scary,” she said.

Ms. Moore’s comments were made hours after Mayor Carty Finkbeiner sent a letter to Clear Channel’s chairman and chief executive officer, demanding that Andy Stuart, the firm’s Toledo market manager, keep a tighter rein on Mr. Sloan’s show, so that “there will be no further transgressions similar to those of the recent past.”

“[Mr. Sloan’s] incendiary comments are a natural result of Mr. Stewart’s [sic] failure to rein in Mr. Sloan,” the mayor writes. “Mr. Stewart’s inaction and lack of responsible oversight, served to encourage Mr. Sloan to become more outrageous and hurtful.”

The mayor’s letter was signed by representatives of seven ethnic and religious organizations who have found the shows offensive, including Jewish, Catholic, Baptist, Arab-American, and Hispanic groups.

ABC News correspondent Cokie Roberts joined the chorus of opposition to Mr. Sloan, saying that his comments were “racist, horrible talk.

“If I were in charge of the station, I would take the guy off [the air],” Ms. Roberts, co-anchor of ABC’s This Week with Sam Donaldson & Cokie Roberts, said. “He has a right to say whatever he wants to say. His boss has a right to take him off the air.”

At a news conference before her speech last night at the Junior League of Toledo’s Town Hall Lecture Series, she said that Mr. Sloan’s remarks, as described to her, go “beyond the locker room talk” used by shock jocks. “It is inciting people.”

Calls to Clear Channel’s corporate headquarters in San Antonio, Tex., were directed to Terri Hunter, vice president for investor relations. Ms. Hunter did not return repeated phone calls seeking comment.

Calls to Clear Channel’s Toledo offices seeking comment were not returned.

The “shock jock” controversy began with comments Mr. Sloan made on Nov. 17. On his afternoon talk show that day, he spoke out against the Rev. Jesse Jackson and his role in the Decatur, Ill., controversy over six boys expelled from a high school in that city for fighting.

Mr. Sloan said that Mr. Jackson wanted to become a martyr like the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and said he wanted to help Mr. Jackson in his cause. He called a hotel with a similar name to the motel where Dr. King was killed, asked about its balconies, and said that once hotel arrangements were made, “all we need now is a shooter.”

Community groups responded angrily, saying that the remarks were hateful and racist. Among the groups responding were the Toledo Diocese Catholic Charities, Metro Toledo Churches United, the Greater Toledo Association of Arab Americans, the Baptist Ministers’ Conference, and the Jewish Federation – all groups who signed on to Mr. Finkbeiner’s letter.

As a result of his comments, Clear Channel officials suspended Mr. Sloan earlier this week for one week without pay.

At a news conference last night, Ms. Moore said that the suspension is insufficient punishment for Mr. Sloan’s comments and that, “at a minimum,” he should be fired.

“I have had, and the people of this community have had, enough of these two,” she said, referring to Mr. Sloan and Mr. Schaffer.

Thus far, Mr. Sloan has not apologized publicly for his comments, and Ms. Moore said making Mr. Sloan apologize would be insufficient.

“That would be a slap on the wrist, business as usual,” she said. “He can no longer persist in insulting the people of this city.”

Mr. Sloan could not be reached for comment last night.

For several months, Ms. Moore has been a regular topic of conversation on Mr. Sloan’s talk show. Ms. Moore said that Mr. Sloan had called her “very hurtful things” on the show, and that as a result, some of his listeners have been calling the organization’s office and leaving threatening messages.

“They say the same things Scott Sloan says on the air,” she said. “They say that the NAACP is a hate group, that I’m a hatemonger. It’s sickening. I’ve been a constant dish for the Scott Sloan show.”

Ms. Moore said she is considering asking a law enforcement agency to tap the organization’s phones to find out who is making the phone calls.

The NAACP chapter also is calling for the dismissal of Mr. Schaffer, who Ms. Moore said has personally harassed her on multiple occasions, calling her early in the morning after she has made it clear that she did not want to appear on his program.

On his show Tuesday, Mr. Schaffer played a tape of two phone calls he made to Ms. Moore in July, including a lengthy message he left on her home answering machine. On the recording, Mr. Schaffer accused Ms. Moore of hating him because he is white and invited her to eat ribs with him. He also invited her to eat lunch with him at Denny’s Restaurant “and see if we all get served.”

In 1994, Denny’s Restaurant agreed to a $54 million settlement of two class-action lawsuits that claimed it systematically discriminated against minorities in service, sometimes refusing to seat black people.

“How dare he call into my home and insult me, humiliate me,” she said. “And he has played it for the entire city to hear. These people have to be stopped.”

Mr. Schaffer could not be reached for comment last night.

Mr. Sloan was involved in controversy during the 1996 Summer Olympics, when he said he was afraid that Muhammad Ali, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease, would drop the Olympic torch on a “greasy Middle Easterner” and start a fire.

Neither Mr. Sloan nor the station’s management ever apologized for the comments, despite considerable pressure from several community groups to do so.

Mr. Schaffer’s latest incident was not the first time his show has featured comments some found offensive. In August, during a discussion of Blade co-publisher and editor-in-chief John Robinson Block, WTOL-TV anchor Jerry Anderson questioned whether”short, small-handed Jewish men” like Mr. Block could be well-endowed.

Mr. Block was baptized and confirmed at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Maumee.

Jim Keelor, president of South Carolina-based Cosmos Broadcasting Co., which owns WTOL, said he had no comment and referred questions to WTOL general manager Mel Stebbins.

Mr. Stebbins said that he has been aware of Mr. Anderson’s comments for several months. “We have had discussions with Jerry Anderson concerning the nature of his comments on the radio,” Mr. Stebbins said.

“Beyond that, it is a confidential matter between employer and employee.”

Mr. Anderson could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Mr. Finkbeiner’s strongly worded letter focuses solely on Mr. Sloan and attacked his comments as divisive.

“Scott Sloan’s statements can only be interpreted as racist, promoting hate, encouraging violence and are clearly outside the scope of public decency,” he writes in the letter to L. Lowery Mays, Clear Channel’s chairman and chief executive officer.

Mr. Finkbeiner’s letter states that “Mr. Stewart needs to impress upon his staff the need to make permanent changes in Mr. Sloan’s culture of attacking ethnic and racial minorities.”

Clear Channel’s receptionist said Mr. Stuart is on vacation, and he could not be reached for comment.

Along with the groups who had spoken out against Mr. Sloan, the letter was signed by representatives of the Hispanic Affairs Commission, and the Board of Community Relations.

The Rev. Tom Quinn, spokesman for the diocese, said that Bishop James Hoffman was out of town, which is why the letter was signed by a representative of the charities group instead.

The mayor’s letter suggests that Mr. Sloan’s comments are not protected by the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech.

“We have heard Mr. Sloan’s tirades, clothed in the concept of Freedom of Speech,” the mayor writes, “which are clearly outside the bounds of ‘entertainment’ and clearly fall within the bounds of ‘a clear and present danger of serious substantive evil that rises above the public inconvenience, annoyance or unrest.'” That language is taken from a Supreme Court case concerning the limits of protected speech.

Ms. Moore said the activities of Mr. Sloan and Mr. Schaffer fall outside the constitutional protections of free speech. “The First Amendment doesn’t extend to someone calling your home and leaving harassing messages.”

The Supreme Court, in several cases, has carved out exceptions to the First Amendment, including obscenity and language designed to incite a riot.

But even racist and violent speech usually has been found to be protected under freedom of speech.

Ms. Moore said that she and her group are considering all their legal alternatives, which she said could include filing suit for harassment against Mr. Schaffer.

She said that NAACP representatives have spoken with Mr. Stuart on several occasions to air their complaints and “there has been no satisfaction.”

She said the radio controversy had helped to bind the city’s diverse ethnic and religious groups closer together. “It’s become a united front against this kind of hate,” she said.

The various groups are planning to meet together to discuss ways to combat media comments like Mr. Sloan’s and Mr. Schaffer’s.

“We’re going to be watchdogs,” she said.

The Rev. Glen Stadler, chairman of Metro Toledo Churches United, said that a meeting of the various groups could help reverse some of the divisions he said the radio personalities had helped create.

“As reasonable people sit down together, things can be worked out,” he said.

He added that he hopes Mr. Sloan, Mr. Schaffer, or some other Clear Channel representative could be included in the group’s discussions.

Blade staff writers Jack Baessler and Jane Schmucker contributed to this report.

Shock jocks ignore taste for ratings, better jobs; In city, some radio hosts keep up their bad jokes

By Joshua Benton and Michael D. Sallah
Blade Staff Writers

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Less than 24 hours after WSPD’s Scott Sloan was suspended for remarks about assassinating the Rev. Jesse Jackson, WVKS colleague Denny Schaffer was on the air offending local black leaders and making Jewish jokes.

In the space of two hours yesterday, Mr. Schaffer defended inviting a prominent black leader in Toledo to eat ribs with him at Denny’s and played a song making fun of Hanukkah.

“Different people get offended by different things,” he said on the air.

Even with Mr. Sloan suspended without pay for a week, Mr. Schaffer showed no sign of altering his outrageous style.

“Everyone in talk radio is aware of what happened (in Toledo to Scott Sloan),” said Michael Harrison, editor of Talkers magazine, a national radio trade publication. “But that’s not shock radio. That’s stupid execution of shock radio.”

Analysts and academics agree that WSPD’s and WVKS’s brand of “shock radio” has been a remarkable success around the country, despite the controversies that always seem to accompany it – in fact, perhaps because of the controversies.

It’s almost a rule in shock radio today: Talk show hosts seek out controversy through outrageous comments, and usually end up profiting from it in one way or another.

Radio stations love the added listeners controversy can bring. And the radio personalities themselves, even if they are disciplined by their employers, often get better jobs in the end.

“It’s good for business, and that seems to be the real trend,” said Dr. Diana Owen, a political science professor at Georgetown University. “It’s not about whether you believe in an issue. It’s how far you can push the envelope.”

The latest radio controversy began on Nov. 17, when Mr. Sloan spoke out against Mr. Jackson for his role in the Decatur, Ill., standoff over six boys expelled from a high school there for fighting.

Mr. Sloan said that Mr. Jackson wanted to become a martyr like the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and said he wanted to help Mr. Jackson in his cause. He called a hotel with a similar name to the motel where Dr. King was killed, asked about its balconies, and said that once hotel arrangements were made, “All we need now is a shooter.”

Community groups responded angrily, saying that the remarks were hateful and racist.

On Sunday, Clear Channel Communications, which owns WSPD, WVKS, and three other Toledo stations, announced that Mr. Sloan was being suspended without pay for one week as a result of his comments.

The decision received national attention yesterday, with stories published in the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, and USA Today, along with daily newspapers in Atlanta, New Orleans, Kansas City, Cincinnati, and Dayton.

“These are people who don’t have writers, who don’t have time to research, who don’t really think about what they are saying. It was clearly a stupid thing to say,” Mr. Harrison said.

It wasn’t the first time that a radio personality has reached the national spotlight for comments others consider racist or off-color. It’s common for shock jocks to be suspended or fired. And it’s common for them to go right back on the air – often with better jobs.

In New York, WABC radio fired Bob Grant in 1996 after he said he was “a pessimist” for believing that Commerce Secretary Ron Brown had survived a plane crash. Secretary Brown, who was black, died in the crash; Mr. Grant had attracted attention for calling blacks “savages.”

Within days, Mr. Grant was hired by rival WOR, and his show became syndicated nationwide.

In Nashville, disc jockey John Ziegler was fired in 1997 after he used a racial epithet to describe boxer Mike Tyson. He went on to be hired by Philadelphia station WWDB.

The most recent high profile shock jock to be fired was Doug “Greaseman” Tracht. Washington’s WARW fired him in February after he played a record by hip-hop artist Lauryn Hill and remarked, “No wonder people drag them behind trucks,” a reference to the murder of a black man in Texas. Three white men were convicted, two receiving the death penalty and one receiving life in prison

Mr. Tracht had drawn fire in 1986 while working at another Washington station. He was talking about the national holiday for Martin Luther King, Jr., and said: “Kill four more and we can take a whole week off.” That remark sparked protests and bomb threats to the station.

Premier shock jock Howard Stern has offended people throughout his career, and yet he has become one of America’s biggest celebrities. And he is still offending some listeners.

In April, he joked about the mass murder at Columbine High School, in Littleton, Colo. “Did [the killers] try to have sex with any of the good-looking girls? They didn’t even do that?” he told his syndicated audience. “At least if you’re going to kill yourself and kill all the kids, why wouldn’t you have some sex?”

But even with the controversy surrounding Mr. Sloan’s comments, that didn’t stop his Clear Channel colleague, Mr. Schaffer, from continuing to push the boundaries of what some people would consider good taste.

Yesterday’s program made fun of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, which begins on Friday night, playing a song set to the tune of “White Christmas.”

“I’m dreaming of a white Hanukkah / When we made dreidels in the snow,” the lyrics go. “The menorah glistened / And we all listened / To Barbra Streisand as it glowed.”

The program also played a fake advertisement for a turbo-charged menorah that could produce enough fire to “melt the polar ice cap.” Candles are lit each night of the eight-night festival.

Local Jewish leaders said they believe the comments were less offensive than some things the Toledo airwaves have carried in the past, but still in poor taste.

“I think it was an attempt at humor,” said Rabbi Edward H. Garsek, of the Orthodox Congregation Etz Chayim. “Some people might find it funny, including some Jewish people, but I think it’s in poor taste.”

“This is a spin-off of bad Jackie Mason humor,” said Rabbi Alan Sokobin, rabbi emeritus of Congregation Shomer Emunim. “I’m not offended if people don’t intend to offend me. I don’t think it’s good humor, but I’ve had people not laugh at some of my jokes before, too.”

Mr. Schaffer was criticized on WSPD this morning by Larry Sykes, the only African-American on the Toledo Public Schools board. Mr. Sykes, appearing on the station, said that Mr. Schaffer had left a harassing message on the answering machine of WilliAnn Moore, president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Mr. Schaffer was inviting Ms. Moore to lunch, he said.

“We’ll go to lunch,” he said. “We’ll go to a rib place. … Where should we go to lunch? … We could go to Denny’s Restaurant and see if we all get served.”

Denny’s Restaurant has been the target of several lawsuits and a federal investigation over complaints that it discriminates against minorities, sometimes refusing service to blacks. In 1994, Denny’s agreed to a $54 million settlement of two class-action discrimination lawsuits.

Mr. Schaffer defended himself on his show yesterday, saying that his references to ribs and Denny’s were not meant to stereotype or attack blacks. “If I offended her, that was not my intention,” he said.

On the air, Mr. Schaffer played a recording of the message he left on Ms. Moore’s answering machine. He said he left the message after calling Ms. Moore for an interview one morning in July. Ms. Moore hung up on Mr. Schaffer after he identified himself. “She hates me because I’m white,” Mr. Schaffer said at the time.

He then called her back and left the message on her machine. “I thought if I was outrageous a little bit, maybe she would pick up the phone,” he said. He said that he knew that “ribs, chicken, and watermelon” were stereotypical items in the diet of African-Americans.

But Mr. Sykes said yesterday that he did not accept Mr. Schaffer’s explanation.

“To me, it’s an insult, and it’s harassment at that point,” Mr. Sykes said. “You’re calling this lady’s home again after it’s been made clear she doesn’t want to talk to you, and talking about Denny’s, which is notorious. I think that goes beyond wanting to talk to someone to disrespecting someone.”

To Mr. Schaffer’s on-air statement that his words had been misinterpreted, Mr. Sykes said: “That station has more misinterpretations than any station I know.

“Mr. Sloan is not the problem, and Mr. Schaffer isn’t the problem. The format is the problem,” Mr. Sykes said. “The atmosphere must be conducive to this sort of development.”

The Clear Channel stations have been the target of criticism in the past. During the 1996 Summer Olympics, Mr. Sloan said that Muhammad Ali, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease, might drop the Olympic torch on “some greasy Middle Easterner.” WSPD and Mr. Sloan refused to apologize for the statement.

Neither Ms. Moore nor Mr. Schaffer could be reached for comment yesterday.

WSPD and its morning host, Mark Standriff, are the target of a lawsuit filed on Sept. 28 by The Blade. The suit accuses WSPD and Mr. Standriff of stealing The Blade’s news content and reading it on the air without attribution. WSPD and Mr. Standriff have denied the charges.

The origin of “shock radio”‘ is sketchy, but some people trace it to California in the 1960s, with radio figures Joe Pyne and Bill Ballance.

While Americans were still tuning into standard news programs and popular music, these two talk radio hosts were often criticized for being irreverent toward guests, and at times, hostile.

Mr. Pyne railed against big government, while Mr. Ballance was known for constantly making sexually explicit remarks over the air. Mr. Pyne died of cancer in 1970 at the age of 44, and Mr. Ballance was ordered by the Federal Communications Commission in 1969 to “cease and desist” from making such comments.

“Ballance was the king of sex,” says Robert West, a retired professor of journalism at Kent State University. “He broke ground on radio with his comments, which drew a lot of criticism from groups.'”

The FCC was much tougher on controversial radio personalities, but by the late 1970s, “you could see that they were backing off,” Dr. West said, and talk about taboo topics was “not as much of an issue anymore.”

During that period, one of the country’s biggest shock jocks emerged: Howard Stern.

Engaging and irreverent, Mr. Stern changed the face of talk radio when he entered the Washington, D.C., radio market in 1980. He could be caustic, and at times, antagonistic, but perhaps his strongest suit was then and remains his penchant for talking about sex. He raised controversy with his on-air antics and irreverent remarks, and raised ratings in the process for his station.

Others began to mimic the “shock jock,”‘ as he was known, and a new radio format began to be popularized.

Michael Marsden, provost and vice president for academic research at Eastern Kentucky University, said the development of shock radio was a response to the rise of television.

As the television market grew, “radio was forced to respond,” he said, “and it had to do it in a bigger way: that is, being outlandish and trying to keep people on pins and needles.”

The topics of sex and race and politics became the staples of the rising genre, but Dr. Marsden cautioned that the new format “was never to be confused with broadcast journalism,” he said. “It is, and always has been, entertainment.”

“You have to understand that they are not there to comfort,” Dr. Marsden said. “They are there to afflict. They are there to keep us on pins and needles. They play with our fears, and in some ways, reinforce the sense that life is out of control.”

In a national study of talk radio hosts titled “The New Media in American Politics,” two professors found that many of the personalities they interviewed admitted to taking on controversial issues just “to get people to listen to their shows,” said Dr. Owen, one of the two authors of the study.

“It was for the ratings, not for what they truly believed,” she said. “Many times, they said they could care less about what they were talking about, but their stations wanted them to carry on, so they did.”

Sometimes radio personalities will fume about problems they are having with their station owners, but that is “staged,” like professional wrestling. “It’s a way to get people to listen,” Dr. Owen said.

1st Thanksgiving celebration not remembered like it was; The Pilgrims had a big meal, but they didn’t eat like we do

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

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Our images of the Pilgrims are straight out of second grade: happy, placid people, sitting around a big table with peaceful Indians, eating turkey with cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie.

It’s a caricature ready-made for 7-year-olds, and almost four centuries after the landing at Plymouth, it’s almost impossible to separate fact from fiction.

But what if the Pilgrims were here in the flesh? Imagine a lost scene from a science-fiction movie: What if the pilgrims were time-warped to the present day? What would they think of the country (and holiday) they played a part in founding?

First, they’d likely be surprised that the volume of religious debate in America has been turned down so low. We’ve got Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, and every other faith from animism to zoroastrianism, but almost everyone manages to get along.

We might find that something to be thankful for, but the Pilgrims would probably think it’s a tragedy.

One of their favorite books – published in 1618 by their religious leader, William Brewster – was a theological critique of the first English Catholic translation of the Bible, written by Puritan Thomas Cartwright.

Its title: A Confutation of the Rhemists’ Translation, Glosses and Annotations on the New Testament, so far as They Contain Manifest Impieties, Heresies, Idolatries, Superstitions, Prophanesse, Treasons, Slanders, Absurdities, Falsehoods, and other Evills.

Hardly the words of someone eager for people of all faiths to get along.

For a window into the force of their faith, look no further than Cartwright’s book. Brewster, the printer, spent a full decade of his life – and lives were often short back then – setting the type for the 800-plus-page tome. Cartwright’s forcefully argued theology is crammed into every available square inch of paper, a dense sea of close to a million tiny words.

Just reading it would take a lifetime. Picture what Brewster did – setting all those words into type by hand, one letter at a time – and the devotion to faith is obvious.

The grade-school version of the Pilgrims’ story says they came to America fleeing religious oppression. And the English authorities had indeed chased them out of their homeland.

But from England, the Pilgrims went to Holland, where they enjoyed freedom to worship however they chose. They lived happily there for more than a decade. They left Holland in 1620 because they didn’t want to be in a pluralistic society where multiple religions were tolerated; they feared that their children might be swayed to other faiths.

Our time-traveling Pilgrims would probably be more than a bit angry that a little feast they had back in the 1620s had led to the creation of a national holiday.

One of the reasons the Pilgrims fled England was the Church of England’s insistence that everyone participate in the church’s holidays, which the Pilgrims considered an abomination. The pilgrims hated the idea of man-made celebrations, and didn’t even celebrate Christmas, Easter, or birthdays.

In his book, Cartwright attacks Catholics for “press[ing] observations of feasts of men’s devising, and to the honor of men.” A Pilgrim dropped in a modern-day America likely would be appalled at the annual rituals, even if they are more likely to involve turkey and stuffing than bread and wine.

What we now celebrate as Thanksgiving dates back to a three-day feast the Pilgrims had in 1621 after their first harvest. About 50 Pilgrims shared the meals with roughly 90 Native Americans. There wasn’t any religious component to the day, or even much of an actual thanksgiving; their faith demanded that the giving of thanks to God be an individual action, not a ceremony.

They did have a few wild turkeys, according to accounts from the time. But no pumpkin pie and no cranberry sauce. And, as far as we know, the Pilgrims didn’t play football.

The Pilgrims certainly weren’t planning on starting an annual tradition. There is no record of them ever having another such feast.

The idea of a Pilgrim Thanksgiving was ignored for two centuries, until writings describing the original feast were rediscovered in the 1840s. Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of what was then America’s most read magazine, Godey’s Lady’s Book, began writing annual editorials calling for the creation of a national holiday. (It was her editorials that made turkey the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving meal.) President Abraham Lincoln answered her wishes in 1863, in the darkest days of the Civil War.

Finally, the Pilgrims would certainly be puzzled at how easy things are for Americans today. Life or death was for them often a daily debate, thanks to meager harvests and wretched winters. Fresh supplies were an ocean away. They were planting crops they had never seen. Their life required enormous reserves of resourcefulness.

They could have been back in England, where life was, if not luxurious, much easier. But by force of will, they clung to the edge of a strange continent.

A Pilgrim seeing the modern Thanksgiving spread probably would be stunned at the bounty, then amazed at learning much of it came from cans instead of the garden out back.

On this day of Thanksgiving, perhaps what we should be most thankful for is that we no longer have to live like the Pilgrims.

Broadcaster for WSPD helped wake Toledoans

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

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FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. — Charles “Chuck” Parmelee, a WSPD-AM radio broadcaster whose dulcet voice helped wake up Toledoans for decades, died of complications from heart disease Saturday in Imperial Point Medical Center, near his home here.

He was less than two hours from his 70th birthday.

For more than 20 years, Mr. Parmelee was the host of the Alarm Clock morning show on WSPD, then the dominant radio station in Toledo, often earning more than half of the area’s total listenership.

“He was the morning man in Toledo,” said Jim Rudes, a former colleague of Mr. Parmelee’s at WSPD who went on to a career in television. “Everybody listened to Chuck Parmelee in the morning.”

He was born and raised in Toledo and graduated from Scott High School before attending Purdue University, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business education.

He began working at WSPD in 1948 and stayed there until 1973. His only break from the station was during the Korean War, when he assisted the war effort by broadcasting on the Far East Network to American and United Nations troops.

When he came back from the war, he hosted the morning show, which featured news, discussion of the day’s events, and Top 40 music.

“What I remember about him is that he was such a pleasant guy on the air,” Mr. Rudes said. “There was no abrasion at all. Just a pleasant guy, nothing like you hear today with these shock jocks. He just had a pleasing personality.”

Every hour, legendary news anchor Jim Uebelhart would read the day’s news, and he would often chat on air with Mr. Parmelee in between segments.

“I remember growing up and listening to him before going to school,” said his nephew Robb Parmelee, now a teacher at Clay High School. “He always had to go to bed early to get up that early.”

Outside the radio studio, Mr. Parmelee was noted for his forever boyish looks. “That man just did not age,” Mr. Rudes said, comparing him to ageless disc jockey Dick Clark.

His young looks ruined his one very brief stint in television in the 1950s. “He was doing a beer commercial on TV,” Robb Parmelee said. “But nobody could believe that this guy doing the commercial was of legal drinking age, and the station got a lot of complaints from concerned citizens. He got pulled back to radio.”

Mr. Parmelee was almost 30 at the time.

In 1956, when Elvis Presley came to Toledo to play at the Sports Arena, Mr. Parmelee scored an interview with the star, fresh out of his army service. Later in life, he liked to give others prints of the photo taken of him and The King.

Mr. Parmelee left WSPD in 1973 when management decided to overhaul its on-air staff. He moved to Florida and worked at several radio stations there, including doing a motivational talk show on a faith-based station, his nephew said. But after a few years, he developed emphysema and was unable to do much talking without tiring.

As his voice weakened, he switched to an FM station that didn’t require much talking between songs and, finally, to doing radio commercials. At around age 64, he couldn’t work any longer. “That may seem like an appropriate retirement age, but he was the kind of guy who liked to keep going all the time,” his nephew said.

Surviving are his mother, Mildred Parmelee; and two nephews, Charles II and Robb Parmelee. The body will be cremated and no services will be held.

City had a part in radio history

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

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Toledo played a role in the invention of modern broadcast radio.

Marconi invented radio in 1895, but his machinery could only produce a faint, tiny signal, making it almost useless for large-scale use.

In 1906, Dr. Lee DeForest invented what he called the Audion, and what is now known as the triode. It was the first functioning vacuum tube, and allowed signals to be amplified and sent over longer distances. It was an invention necessary for long-distance telephone networks, as well as commercial radio and television.

But Dr. DeForest had trouble finding investors for his invention, and needed to have a public display of its powers. Struggling for money, he decided to move from New York to Toledo, where he could stay with one of his top assistants, Toledoan Frank Butler.

Dr. DeForest decided that the annual Put-in-Bay Regatta would be the place to demonstrate the Audion. He put a radio transmitter, equipped with his invention, on board the Thelma, a yacht competing in the regatta. When it came time for the yacht to leave for the regatta, the two men tried transmitting back to a receiver in Toledo.

It was the first ship-to-shore broadcast in history, and gained a measure of excitement for the Audion. The Navy was impressed enough to order Audions to equip the Atlantic fleet with radio phones. Dr. DeForest never worried about finding investors again.

After the regatta, Dr. DeForest and Mr. Butler stayed in Toledo for a while longer for further experiments, setting up a transmitter in the old Nicholas Building downtown and a receiver in the Ohio Building.

Mr. Butler later called those Toledo experiments the first successful radio broadcasting station.

Corporate ownership boosts radio profits, shrinks news staffs

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page A1

It was the most recognized voice on local radio.

Floating through the air to anxious listeners across northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan, it told the news every morning to tens of thousands. And it ended every newscast the same way:

“This is Jim Uebelhart filing Gas Company newscast number …,” followed by a running total of how many broadcasts he made in his long career.

The deep, resonant voice of Mr. Uebelhart (pronounced u-bull-heart) was a familiar one to the area’s older residents. For decades, he reported the news on WSPD-AM. By the time he retired in 1972, he had done 14,269 broadcasts at 8 a.m. sponsored by Columbia Gas Co. – hence his closing line – and was a local legend.

“If Jim Uebelhart said the sky was falling, everybody would have gone outside to watch,” said Jim Rudes, the former Channel 13 anchor who started his career at WSPD-AM in 1951.

“He was the king of broadcasting,” said Frank Venner, who worked at WSPD and Channel 13. “He was the most trusted figure around.”

It wasn’t too long ago that radio stations were a scrappy alternative for Toledoans to get their news. Just two decades ago, more than 20 radio reporters were running around town and gathering local news for four Toledo stations.

Things have changed, radically. Now only two reporters, both at one station, are around and the days when local radio was a major source of original reporting are over.

“Radio was an important news source when I broke in,” Mr. Rudes said. “It’s a big disappointment to see the state it’s in now.”

What’s happened in Toledo has mirrored a national trend toward corporate ownership and cost-cutting, and away from local news. As an industry, radio is doing phenomenally well, with gaudy profit margins and rising listenership. But news content has sometimes been sacrificed along the way.

“Radio’s a minor player now in news, compared to television and newspapers,” said Vernon Stone, a professor emeritus at the University of Missouri school of journalism who has studied radio news operations nationwide.

*

Radio has been a part of Toledo since the turn of the century, when Dr. Lee DeForest did experiments here that led to the beginning of station broadcasting.

At first, Toledo radio meant amateurs erecting unwieldy aerial antennas around their homes in an often vain attempt to hear some distant signal.

Then, on April 21, 1921, the first real radio station arrived in Toledo, when Earl Frank fired up a 10-watt transmitter in the Navarre Hotel at Jackson and St. Clair streets. His station, which he called WTAL, started transmitting less than six months after the first commercial station in the country, Pittsburgh’s KDKA.

WTAL struggled along for six years, with no set programming and little listenership. It was often easier for local listeners to catch programs from out of state than to hear tiny WTAL. Easiest to hear were the two major Detroit stations, WWJ and WJR, then owned by the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press, respectively. The two, which would go on to become Detroit institutions, were broadcasting 5,000-watt signals.

At the time, radio was an exciting novelty. Stations were starting all over the country, many with signals strong enough to reach far and wide. Known now as heritage stations, outfits like WGN Chicago and WJZ New York sent entertainment and news to thousands, and began to organize into networks like National Broadcasting Co.

The largest stations, broadcasting at between 10,000 and 50,000 watts, were known as clear channel stations – because competing stations on their frequencies were not allowed for some distance around them – and could be heard many states away from their source.

Throughout the 1920s, The Blade ran a daily radio page reporting the stray signals local listeners picked up from cities like Houston or St. Louis.

Those clear channel stations were the first time Americans, previously divided by geography, could have the same experience at the same time: listening to jazz from a New Orleans station, hearing the inauguration of a president, or laughing at the jokes of New York vaudevillians. It was one of the first steps toward the creation of a nationwide popular culture.

In 1927, Toledoan George B. Storer was trying to jumpstart his own business, selling gasoline to motorists. In search for more ways to advertise his product, which he called Speedene, he decided to buy WTAL, change its call letters to WSPD, and flag it “the Speedene Station.”

Speedene never made Mr. Storer a fortune, but broadcasting did. He made WSPD the eighth affiliate of the new Columbia Broadcasting System and, over time, added 10 other radio and television stations to his media empire.

For years, radio was king, and its networks were the only national medium.

When major news like the Hindenburg disaster broke, radio got the news out instantaneously.

World War II made celebrities of news reporters like Eric Sevareid and Edward R. Murrow, with his famous introduction – “This is London” – of his newscasts from bomb-battered England.

In was in this era that some of Toledo’s radio news legends were born, men like Mr. Uebelhart, who died last year, and his afternoon colleague on WSPD, the late Edward C. Kutz. To many Toledoans, if one of them didn’t say it, it wasn’t true.

When civil defense officials needed someone to be the “voice of Toledo” on all radio stations in the event of an air raid, they chose Mr. Uebelhart because his was the best-known voice in the city.

Radio was the main source of breaking news for people for probably 30 years, said Dr. Michael Gerhard, a professor of telecommunications at Ball State University and a former radio reporter. “That obviously changed.”

*

The first blow to radio news occurred in the 1950s, according to experts, with the growing mainstream popularity of television. Radio’s ability to get the news out instantaneously was suddenly trumped by the flow of pictures into American homes. The big stars of radio news, like Murrow and Sevareid, moved to the tube, and television men like Walter Cronkite became the trusted voices of news.

“Television pushed radio right to the sidelines,” Dr. Gerhard said.

WSPD-AM got into the television business early, starting WSPD-TV in 1948. It was only the 28th TV station in the United States. The stations shared a news staff until 1954, when the two were split.

WSPD-TV eventually became WTVG, Channel 13, and the two stations are now separately owned.

But even with TV as competition – along with The Blade and the Toledo Times – AM radio news still fared well. As recently as two decades ago, there were four radio stations in Toledo with active reporting staffs: WSPD, WOHO, WCWA, and WMHE.

“At press conferences, we’d usually have reporters from at least two or three radio stations there,” said Harry Kessler, mayor of Toledo from 1971 to 1977. “Radio was a force.

“I remember back when I ran for city council for the first time, back in 1961, and I was losing,” Mr. Kessler remembered. “I was listening to the radio and I knew I was in trouble when Jim Uebelhart said on the air, ‘Harry Kessler, who’s that?'” Not surprisingly, Mr. Kessler lost.

Radio news reporters took pride in working for WSPD and its legendary team.

“It was fantastic working with Jim Uebelhart,” said Jerry Arkebauer, who reported for WSPD from 1961 to 1964, before moving to the company’s television station. “We were the No. 1 news radio station in town, and you were part of a group of people who were very good at what they did.”

Mr. Arkebauer, now a vice president of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, said Mr. Uebelhart’s 8 a.m. newscast was one of, if not, the top-rated radio newscast in the country, because no other station had a full 15-minute newscast at that time. “We had international, national, state, and local news, and we were far ahead of everybody else in town.”

Kent Slocum, general manager of WSPD in the early 1970s, said the station was a key player in the local news market. “The Blade led the community in news, but SPD played an important role,” he said. “We had qualified people and they worked hard. We had a real news ethic, a real commitment to accuracy. We didn’t necessarily aim to beat the newspaper, but sometimes we did that too.”

While WSPD was still the leader in its field, by the 1970s, fewer and fewer people were looking to radio for their news. One of the culprits: the FM band.

FM stereo, quite simply, sounds better than AM. It had been around since the 1940s, but most homes only had AM radio, leaving FM stations out of the mainstream.

But by the 1970s, more FM stations began popping up on the dial, and with the improved sound, more began focusing on music instead of news. As rock ‘n’ roll grew as an economic force, news became a less profitable format.

Not long after, in 1980, the federal government deregulated the radio industry. Until then, stations were required to have news and public service programming.

Before deregulation ended that requirement, many stations had their own staff of reporters, and most of the rest had newsreaders to recite headlines from the major wire services. But given the freedom to cut their budgets by eliminating news, many stations took the opportunity.

One by one, the other news stations in town started dropping their staff, first eliminating reporters, and eventually switching to just reading stories from wire services or other sources on the air.

“Things were competitive at the start of my time there,” remembers Steve Jablonski, who reported under the name Mike Jablonski at WSPD from 1981 to 1989. “SPD had the biggest staff in the market, as it had traditionally, but there was still competition. Over time, though, that went away.”

*

By the mid-1990s, WSPD was the only radio news game left in town.

Several other stations have news readers who give news updates, and some do reporting by phone, but none have reporters who gather news around town.

The final hit occurred three years ago, with the passage of the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996. Among other radical changes, the act removed all limitations on the number of radio stations a company could own nationwide, and doubled the number of stations a company could own in a single market, from four to eight.

Stations that once were owned by small companies were suddenly under the control of large corporations. In 1996, WSPD was purchased by Kentucky radio conglomerate Jacor Communications.

Then last year, Jacor merged with Clear Channel Communications to create an enormous corporation with more than 400 stations. Then, last week, Clear Channel announced it was buying AMFM, Inc., for $23.5 billion, which would result in a company with 830 radio stations nationwide.

With corporate ownership, radio stations began to have a more bottom-line focus, forever searching for ways to cut costs. News was often one of the first things to go.

“You’ve got fewer owners now, and they want a bottom-line, corporate focus,” Dr. Stone of the University of Missouri said. “The dropping of the ownership rules lets one owner have a bunch of stations in one place, and they’re not too keen to compete with themselves by having more than one news operation.”

In August, 1998, WSPD’s corporate parent decided to cut back on the news resources based in Toledo. Because Jacor owns news radio stations in several Ohio cities, the company decided to centralize its resources in one place to save money.

Since then, WSPD has had no anchors to read the news in Toledo. Instead, the news is written in Toledo and sent electronically to Columbus, where an anchor reads it on the air.

At the same time, WSPD’s local staff declined. Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, WSPD employed between eight and 12 news employees, including anchors and reporters. All but a few of the anchors did reporting when not on the air, meaning the station sometimes had up to seven or eight people reporting the news daily.

But with the shift of anchors to Columbus, the staff was cut back. Now, WSPD has two news employees: news director Tom Watkins and reporter Rob Wiercinski. Between the two of them, they are responsible for covering all of Toledo and its suburbs 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Mr. Wiercinski covers the morning shift, Mr. Watkins the afternoon. If news breaks on the weekends or at night, they are on call.

Mr. Wiercinski is quick to point out that the new way of doing things at WSPD has some advantages. For example, the station used to broadcast a network news feed overnight because it didn’t have an anchor to read local news in the wee hours of the morning. But with a news hub in Columbus, an anchor there reads Toledo news every half hour through the night.

“We actually produce more news product than we used to,” he said.

He said having Clear Channel personnel throughout the state allows the station to have stronger coverage of state government and events in Cleveland or Cincinnati. And the anchors in Columbus “now know how to say ‘Peter Ujvagi’ or ‘Wade Kapszukiewicz,'” he said.

But former WSPD reporters think that covering a city Toledo’s size with two people is an impossible task.

“You can’t cover the city like a blanket with a staff that size,” Mr. Rudes said. “Rob Wiercinski is a very good reporter, but how thin can you be? This system of having the anchors sit in Columbus is awful. It’s all bottom-line, say the news as quickly as you can and get done.”

“You don’t see a lot of the original reporting you used to see, the human interest stories and the interesting pieces that the other guy might not find,” said Mr. Jablonski, now director of communications for Columbia Gas in Columbus. “With fewer people, you don’t see as many original pieces, because the reporters don’t have the time. You can only cover the fires, the shootings, and the council meetings.”

Mr. Jablonski also pointed out that when a major story broke in the 1980s, he as news director could mobilize almost a dozen people to work on it. Now, there are only Mr. Wiercinski and Mr. Watkins.

The news gathering abilities of WSPD became part of debate last week when they became the subject of a very public legal battle. On Sept. 28, The Blade filed suit against WSPD and morning-show host Mark Standriff for allegedly stealing the content of its news articles. The station denied the allegations.

Many say the loss of active radio news operations is a loss for the entire community.

Just as only large markets like New York and Chicago have been able to support more than one newspaper, only large cities like Detroit have been able to maintain thriving news radio, some say.

“Our staffing levels have been steady and are growing,” said Steve Stewart, operations manager for WJR, the Detroit news radio giant, and a former news director at WSPD. “In the big markets, news radio has done very well as a format in recent years.”

In smaller markets like Toledo, news is less of a money maker because of the costs of having a staff large enough to do a good job of covering the city.

“It’s a lot tougher to make money doing news in radio than it is in television,” said Dr. Gerhard, the Ball State University professor. “In TV, you have a few stations in each city with large audiences for news, so you can draw in lots of money for advertising. Radio is so fragmented that you’re dealing with tiny audiences in a lot of cases.”

Dr. Gerhard said nationally, local TV stations make about half their revenue from their news operations. For radio, the total is closer to a fifth, he said. News is mostly profitable for very large stations, he said.

“In a lot of ways, radio news is dead outside the major markets,” he said. “Radio has much more of an entertainment role. It’s kind of sad, but that’s what the market has dictated.

“When I was in radio [in Indiana in the 1970s], there was a real excitement when you would compete with the other outfits or beat the newspaper to a story. Even small stations had two or three news people on staff. That’s almost completely gone now.”

The world of radio has changed radically in the 1990s. The shift to corporate radio has led to a programming uniformity that has pushed many, more eclectic formats to the sidelines, while generating massive amounts of money.

Many stations have discovered that local disc jockeys are more expensive than purchasing syndicated programs and, as a result, crude shock-jocks like Howard Stern have moved to the forefront, along with political commentators such as Rush Limbaugh and G. Gordon Liddy.

Many stations have abandoned DJs altogether, deciding instead to pipe in music from satellites.

Several former WSPD employees said they wish their old station would invest more in its news operation, hiring additional reporters and bringing back anchors. But most acknowledged that, with the changing face of radio, it’s unlikely.

“It would be great if you could do more than just the basic news and have a large staff you could put out on the streets to bring back what’s happening today,” Mr. Jablonski said. “But the industry is more automated now, more interested in USA Today headline-type stuff. People might learn more about the community they live in if there were more resources thrown at news, but I doubt it’ll happen.”

Dulcimers add musical charm to Roche de Boeuf festival

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 12

Not far from the carnival music at yesterday’s Roche de Boeuf festival in Waterville was a quieter sound – one that might have been heard 150 years ago.

The Black Swamp Dulcimer Gathering brought their sweet stringed music from the 19th century to the modern day.

“We just love the sound,” said Vickie Halsey, one of the founders of the 20-member group.

Northwest Ohio’s history has always been an important part of the annual Roche de Boeuf festival, sponsored by Waterville’s chamber of commerce.

But festival organizers gave this year’s festival, the last of the 1900s, the theme of “As the Century Turns,” and put a focus on activities from the 1800s.

So yesterday there were soap makers, bobbin lace makers, blacksmiths, and potters, all showing their wares. But probably the most popular was the dulcimer group.

Members play two varieties of the instrument: A mountain dulcimer looks like a small, elongated guitar and sits on the player’s lap, and a hammered dulcimer is a carved box with a series of taut strings stretched across its face. The strings are struck by felt-topped hammers and produce a piano-like sound.

The group, with the female members decked out in bonnets and long dresses, played dozens of selections from its repertoire yesterday, many of them Civil War-era standards and folk favorites.

The titles belied the songs’ age: “Mississippi Sawyer,” “Lincoln and Liberty,” “Gray Cat on a Tennessee Farm.”

The instrument can inspire fanatical devotion in some of its players. Just ask Claire Sniegowski, the sister-in-law of dulcimer player Rosemarie Tokar and a member of the audience yesterday.

“You know how they say some women are golf widows?” Ms. Sniegowski asked. “Well, Rosemarie’s husband is a dulcimer widower.”

Festival organizers called the 19th century activities “lost arts.” But Ms. Halsey said that dulcimer music is no lost art: There are more than a dozen dulcimer groups throughout Ohio and Michigan, many of them formed in the last five years.

“There’s been a resurgence,” she said. “People like the music of a bygone era.”

Hungarian fest undergoes diversification in food, fun

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 13

Pearl Molnar remembers when the Birmingham Ethnic Festival was just a picnic at the St. Stephen’s schoolyard.

“I would never have guessed it would have become all this,” the 82-year-old said while selling Hungarian cookbooks for the St. Stephen’s Catholic Church mothers club.

Yesterday’s Birmingham festival may have been the biggest ever, long-time observers said. Thousands of people took advantage of temperatures in the 70s and a refreshing breeze and headed to the 25th annual festival in East Toledo.

The festival started out in 1974 as a small celebration for the Hungarian population of the Birmingham neighborhood, centered around its churches.

But over the years, it has expanded, in size and audience.

Now, the audience of the festival is racially and ethnically mixed, with as many people from the Toledo suburbs as from the neighborhood itself. That diversity has made the festival less Hungarian and more broadly “ethnic.”

“I wouldn’t have ever guessed back then that you’d be able to get Chinese food here, or gyros, or Italian,” said Ann Mascsak, another lifelong member of St. Stephen’s, who was helping to auction off a traditional Hungarian quilt.

That matches changes in the neighborhood, which has become less homogeneously Hungarian over the last few decades.

But the entertainment is still straight out of the old country. Yesterday’s festival featured the standby of Birmingham festivals past: traditional Hungarian dancing. Along with the Magyar Dancers of Toledo, troupes from Toronto, Detroit, New York, and Hungary performed.

And despite the changes in the neighborhood, the Birmingham festival remains one of the best reminders of Toledo’s ethnic heritage.

“It’s terrific,” said Kay Yard, a former Oregon resident who just moved back to Ohio after 13 years in the South. “We didn’t have things like this in Florida.”

Obituary: Cliff Zakrzewski

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 17

Cliff “Zak” Zakrzewski, a former Toledo police officer who stayed active after his retirement, died Sunday in Toledo Hospital. He was 71.

The cause of death was pancreatic cancer, family members said.

Mr. Zakrzewski was born and raised in Toledo and attended Woodward High School. Immediately after graduating in 1945, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy for the tail end of World War II and was stationed in the Philippines.

After leaving the Navy, he returned to Toledo and started work at the Willys Overland plant, working in the Jeep body shop. He remained at Willys until joining the Toledo police department in the 1950s.

“He had a great way of working with people as a policeman, because everybody respected him,” said Tricia Hines, one of his daughters. At various times, Mr. Zakrzewski was a neighborhood beat cop, a downtown traffic controller, and dispatcher. In one incident she remembered, her father talked a distraught man out of committing suicide.

Throughout his time on the force, he kept up with one of his hobbies: drumming. A former drum major at Woodward, he spent nearly every weekend as an adult performing big band jazz and Polish music at neighborhood weddings, and he played in a local drum-and-bugle corps.

“His father had been a drummer before him, and he gave him lessons and got him started,” Ms. Hines said.

After 30 years on the force, he retired in 1984. He played golf regularly in two police retiree leagues, and he kept playing golf until a week before his death. He did lawn work for elderly neighbors, built model cars for his nephew, and did chauffeur work for Owens-Illinois.

“He loved helping people,” his daughter said. “His life revolved around being active and happy and helping others.”

One of his favorite activities was taking a long drive every Sunday afternoon “if the weather was good,” she said. “We might drive 200 miles on a Sunday, a mini-adventure. We’d go to Indiana or to Michigan. It just relaxed him, the fresh air, looking at new places and learning about them,” she said.

He was a member of the Fraternal Order of Police, Toledo Police Patrolman’s Association, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and American Legion.

Surviving are his wife, Alice; two daughters, Tricia Hines and Pamela Rybka; two brothers, Lucien and Richard Zakrzewski, and a sister, Betty Dossatt.

The body will be at the Walker Funeral Home, Maumee, after 2 p.m. tomorrow. Mass will be held Thursday at St. Hedwig Catholic Church. The time has not been set.

The family requests tributes be made to St. Hedwig Parish.

Rocking in from Canada; Band making inroads with U.S. fans

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 37

It comes about 68 seconds into the song, a new single from Toronto-based Sloan, and it’s a moment that let’s you understand this most remarkable of bands.

The song, “Money City Maniacs,” starts off with sirens and crunchy guitar riffs, then propels into a killer rock backbeat. It’s next to impossible to avoid bobbing your head. The first couple of verses go by, and then it’s time for the chorus:

And the joke is/ when he awoke his/

body was covered in Coke fizz.

Huh?

“We wrote that song on stage in front of 10,000 people,” says guitarist Jay Ferguson. “Patrick [Pentland, the guitarist] started playing the riff and somebody just made up the words to fit the rhythm. You know, when Paul McCartney wrote ‘Yesterday,’ he called it ‘Scrambled Eggs,’ because ‘Scrambled Eggs’ fit the rhythm and it was something to sing until he changed it to something that made sense.

“Unfortunately, we never changed ours.”

There, in a nutshell, is what has made Sloan one of the best pop bands performing today: a Beatles reference, a sense of humor, and a killer song. With those in hand, a band can conquer the world, or at least Canada.

Sloan has spent the 1990s as quite possibly the biggest band in our neighbor to the north. How big? Big enough to sell out 40,000-seat arenas in Toronto. Big enough to start minor riots during in-store appearances in Vancouver. Big enough for the Canadian music magazine Chart to issue four commemorative covers when their latest record, “Navy Blues,” came out. Big enough for “Navy Blues” to go gold in only three weeks.

The band’s attempts at conquering America have turned out about as well as their country’s did in the War of 1812. But that’s, quite frankly, America’s fault: Sloan’s mix of smart songwriting, irresistable hooks, and general sweetness should be a natural.

Some of Sloan’s biggest American successes have come in Ohio, which is essentially Lower Canada for their purposes. The airwaves of Canadian radio extend over Lake Erie; In Toledo, listeners of Windsor station CIMX-FM 88.7 have gotten a pretty steady dose of Sloan for the last five or six years.

The lucky Americans who know about Sloan border on the maniacal in their devotion. “We get fans who drive 20 hours to come to our shows,” Ferguson says. “We see a lot of the same faces at our shows in Detroit, Cleveland, Dayton, Columbus, Toledo.”

At the band’s last Toledo show, in September, the Main Event was packed with fans, and just about every last one knew the words to every last song.

Sloan appears tonight at 9 at the Main Event. Opening acts will be Jr. Electric and the Deadly Snakes. Tickets are $10 in advance.

The band’s mainstream success in Canada has given them something usually reserved for superstars: artistic freedom. “We don’t have to make the same record over and over again to please radio or somebody at a label,” Ferguson says. “We’ve built enough of a following in Canada that our fans will accept the kind of record we give them.”

They’ve certainly been all over the map in their four releases. Their first record was straightforward, although especially good, “alternative” music. Their follow-up, 1994’s breakthrough “Twice Removed,” is as close to pure pop music as they’ve come. “One Chord to Another” (1997) was a blast of 1960s allusions, with Chicago-style trumpets and Beatlesy backbeats.

And “Navy Blues” sounds like it could have been 1972’s Record of the Year, with its crunchy glam guitars and its hard-rock posing.

“To go back to the Beatles, ‘Rubber Soul’ was a very different record from ‘Revolver,’ which was a very different record from ‘Sgt. Pepper,'” Ferguson says. “And the White Album is another left turn. We’re like that in that we don’t want to just keep pumping out B-plus versions of our last C-minus album.”

Sloan’s four members – Ferguson, Pentland, bassist Chris Murphy, and drummer Andrew Scott – all sing and write songs, and the different voices come across clearly on record. Considering how much of an obvious influence The Beatles are on their sound, it was only a matter of time before somebody compared the Fab Four to the Canuck Quartet.

“I’ve heard that Andrew is John, the natural, the genius, the non-methodical thinker,” Ferguson says. “Chris is Paul, the guy who wants everybody to get along. Patrick is the quiet George. And I guess that leaves me with Ringo.”

For the record, Ferguson doesn’t like the Beatles comparisons. But the four personalities have let fans on the Internet and at concerts focus on their favorite Sloan. “I think it’s great. It’s like with Kiss, where some kid could think, ‘Paul Stanley’s lame, but Ace Frehley-he’s cool.”

There won’t be any makeup on stage tonight, but could it be that a Sloan Army isn’t far off? Lesser bands have invaded America successfully.