White Stripes Give Radio Station A Case Of The Stupids, In Bigger Than The Sound

Chicago station's decision to play Icky Thump begs the question: What were they thinking?

On The Record: A Brave New World Of Unprofessionalism

Up until last week, I only suspected that rock radio was overpopulated with dumbasses. This was an opinion, one based almost entirely on my disdain for the aging rock dudes who prowl the airwaves … all still reppin’ for the glory days (1994), their hair frosted, their Cons ratty, their cubicles filled with photos of them chilling backstage with the dude from Filter at Wango Tango (a.k.a. this guy).

Then, last Wednesday, something happened that turned my opinion into a cold, hard fact. A DJ at Chicago’s Q101 decided to play the White Stripes’ upcoming Icky Thump album in its entirety, despite the two rather, uh, minor sticking points: 1) the station had apparently not received approval from the band nor its label — Warner Bros. Records — to do so; and 2) the version of Thump the station aired was not a promo copy, but rather a YouSendIt file passed to the station’s music director from a rather overzealous fan.

Needless to say, White Stripes mastermind Jack White was less than pleased with the unauthorized sneak preview, and a few hours after Thump aired, he called the station — from Spain, nonetheless — to rip Electra, the DJ who played the record, for basically bringing about the downfall of the music industry as we know it (lesson: DO NOT MESS WITH JACK WHITE!).

And while pretty much everyone at Q101 treated White’s phone call as a monumental case of rock-star ego gone haywire — particularly Electra, who recapped the incident on her blog — it seems like they’re missing the whole point. The way I see it, they got off easy. White had every right to completely lose his sh–, and probably should’ve done a whole lot more to make everyone’s lives less pleasant.

Let’s re-examine: Both Q101′s music director and a member of its on-air team made the executive decision to broadcast an unofficial copy of Thump, without procuring the permission of anyone involved in its creation or promotion (a move that ranks somewhere between “incredibly” and “pornographically” on the unprofessional scale). Depending on whom you ask, that decision might very well have led to the album showing up on various file-sharing sites later that day (hint: it did). And when confronted about the decision, the people at the station feign indignation and defend it by arguing, “Well, everyone else is doing it” (see “White Stripes Frontman Thumps Radio Station For Playing Leaked LP” ).

It’s a high school caliber excuse — but then, what did you expect, it was uttered by Q101′s program director, a dude who goes by the handle of “Spike.” Of course, Spike didn’t help his cause when he admitted that Q101 had previously played leaked copies of albums by Nine Inch Nails and Linkin Park, maintaining that the station was just trying to remain “relevant” by jumping the gun, and that he failed to see why this was such a big deal, since none of the other artists seemed to mind. (Now that Warner Bros. is involved, with the RIAA presumably not far behind, I’m starting to suspect this might be the first — and last — time Spike is allowed to use this defense.)

And, yeah, I get that we’re living in a brave new world, one where release dates are pretty much arbitrary, where album sales are practically post-apocalyptic (and where there really are no rules). But there’s still something to be said about being a professional, about holding oneself to a higher standard than bloggers and kids on file-sharing sites. And while it’s always a struggle to stay relevant, I’m pretty sure that if your station’s playlist includes Metallica, Korn, Chevelle and, uh, the Squirrel Nut Zippers, then there’s more pressing areas to attend to.

Of course, I realize the inherent irony in writing a column about professionalism and relevance that a) takes personal shots at people I’ve never met; and b) is about a story that went down a week ago. But that doesn’t change the point: Broadcasting Thump was a dumb idea. Refusing to admit as much was equally dumb. And maybe this column was dumb too. The only difference between myself and the people at Q101? If someone called me to point out that fact, I’d listen. And probably admit that he or she was right.

B-Sides: Other Stories I’m Following This Week

True story: During this interview, Josh Homme totally ignored MTV’s “Smoke-Free Workplace” policy and lit up. Dude’s like 7 feet tall, though, so no one told him he wasn’t allowed to. (See “Queens Of The Stone Age Usher In A ‘Positively Dirty’ New Era. )

Bruce Willis is almost as creepy in Second Life as he is in real life. Almost. (See “Bruce Willis Tells Witches And Hillbillies He’s Down For Another ‘Die Hard.’ “ )

The Arctic Monkeys: Just as difficult to understand in the printed medium as they are in the recorded one. (See “Arctic Monkeys Say ‘Fluorescent’ Clip Is Their Favourite Video Yet.” )

Questions? Concerns? Spike? Drop me a line at BTTS@MTVStaff.com.