For one week now, radio listeners in Akron, Ohio, have been irritated by a pirate-radio broadcast that keeps bleeding into the programming on their favorite stations.
How could a shadowy pirate-radio syndicate manage to keep up this illegal activity against the largest radio network in the country for so long? Well, it couldn't. The fake pirate broadcasts and Web site, RadioFreeOhio.org, are all an elaborate promotional prank from radio giant Clear Channel to hype one of their new radio stations.
With the slogan "Changing Ohio radio," the Web site purports to be a movement of "concerned individuals who are compelled by their overwhelming sense of patriotism and pride to no longer accept what is considered the standard method of operation by a majority of Commercial Broadcasters."
The group claims it has been struggling to acquire the rights to a station in the area to bring "progressive conversation and viewpoints to the American public," which led to the decision to begin its "pirate" broadcasts from an abandoned rubber factory. The site then lists a number of stations in Northeast Ohio that should be forced to give up their licenses, with snarky comments about their programming.
Smart Web surfers, however, have not been duped by the elaborate promotion. They vented on the site's message boards — which, like most of the other content, was abruptly taken down on Thursday and replaced with the warning "The radio revolution begins Tuesday, May 31." Under the heading "@#%$ you Clear Channel," users posted the Web code that appeared to prove the media giant is behind the prank. User inYOURbrain posted the message, "You've got to be kidding me. Clear Channel is everything that is wrong with media distribution these days. I'm not even from Ohio, and I'm offended."
The Web site encouraged listeners to call local radio stations and mention Radio Free Ohio, though it seems like there weren't many takers. A handful of the stations — a mix of Clear Channel, rival Cumulus Broadcasting, NPR and independently owned outlets — reported no calls about the stunt as of Thursday.
Neither independent public radio station WAPS nor Cumulus' WRQK had gotten any calls, but Keith Kennedy, the Operations Manager at WKDD said ours was the first call he'd received, though he added cryptically, "Keep an eye on the Web site."
Did we mention that WKDD is owned by Clear Channel? "I'll be honest and tell you it's not a Clear Channel promotion," Kennedy said. "We heard that they think it's some clever [Web site] registering by someone, but it's not associated with us at all." Riiiight.
A Clear Channel spokesperson finally 'fessed up to the convoluted ruse late Thursday. "It is a promotional site, but we're not disclosing for what Clear Channel station at this time," Jennifer Geary said.