Like wow? No, not a bit

By Eileen Mcnamara, Globe Staff, 06/21/97

Remember when Wednesday was Prince Spaghetti Day?

Well, it's 1997. In Lowell, the financially troubled Prince pasta factory is up for sale and in Worcester, Wednesdays are in even more trouble than that.

At WAAF-FM radio, midweek now means WOW - Whip 'em Out Wednesdays. The station that bills itself as radio ``that really rocks'' encourages men to place WOW signs in their car windows urging women to show them their breasts.

All over Eastern and Central Massachusetts, boys masquerading as men are spelling out WOW in masking tape on their cars' rear and side windows.

This sophomoric stunt is the brainchild of two witless disk jockeys, Opie and Anthony, who spend the evening drive-time regaling listeners with memories of such developmental milestones as their first erections on the school bus.

Their pubescent preoccupation with bodily functions, from the bathroom to the bedroom, puts them in the mainstream of standard FM radio fare. This is an era, after all, when Howard Stern claims to be the King of All Media, and Time magazine cites Don Imus as one of the 25 most influential Americans.

The First Amendment casts a long shadow; of necessity, it protects the lowest common denominator. And there is much to be said for the argument that women can turn off programs that offend us. But women should not have to turn off the highway to elude the leering pursuit of morons in the adjacent lane.

Certainly, even the giant intellects at WAAF-FM must know they work at a third-rate station in a second-rate market and that not every radio in every car is tuned in to its daily diet of Jimi Hendrix and ZZ Top. One woman thought the letters mistakenly had been inverted and should have read MOM; another speculated that the letters stood for Women of Wisdom. Cockeyed optimists both.

Women, offended by, or unaware of, the meaning of WOW, report being cut off in traffic and nearly driven off the road for failing to comply with the displayed demand. State Police responded to complaints this week by ordering the station to stop promoting WOW, citing the obvious public safety hazard.

But, instead of abandoning their adolescent promotion, Opie and Anthony have spent the last few days polluting the airwaves with attacks on their female critics. All very thoughtful, of course. On the order of the caller who boasted that he has placed a new sign alongside WOW that reads: ``NOW Sucks.''

Dave Douglas is the program manager at WAAF. He says WOW began this spring as a ``lighthearted, fun concept that has grown beyond what we expected.'' He acknowledges that the campaign ``has gotten out of hand and offended some people, but that was not our intention.'' The road to Hell, Mr. Douglas, ...

He attributes the criticism to ``the puritanical nature of this region'' rather than to any debasement of women inherent in the WOW concept. Some women, after all, have chosen to bare their breasts, he notes.

The station is ``concerned'' but will not order Opie and Anthony to stop promoting WOW, says Douglas. That would infringe on the ``creative control'' of the station's two ``artists.'' Really, he said that about two shock jocks who began their program yesterday announcing that, once again, it was ``F You Friday!''

The management of WAAF will ``reduce the visibility'' of WOW, but Douglas acknowledges that ``regardless of what we do, people will continue to do this.''

WAAF ought to give some thought to the ages of those people. One woman reports being shouted at on the Mass. Pike by a school bus full of boys no older than 12 holding handmade WOW signs. Another reports seeing two 10-year-olds holding a WOW sign on an overpass above I-95.

Rock 'n' roll, like adolescence, is about rebellion. That's why Opie and Anthony court parody by calling each other ``Dude'' on the air, as if they were 15-year-old boys instead of middle-aged men.

But rebellion is one thing; misogyny is another. ``The days of neanderthals with big clubs are over,'' Marianne Winters, the director of the Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual Assault, wrote to WAAF this week.

Not so, Ms. Winters. These days, the neanderthals are calling themselves ``artists'' and they have ``creative control.''