Offensive Phrase Strikes Again

Student radio hosts at Roger Williams suspended from station for using line that took down Don Imus.
April 26, 2007

The controversy surrounding the infamous three-word phrase that ruined a radio career has moved from media offices in New York to a small university in Rhode Island.

Two hosts at WQRI, Roger Williams University's student-run radio station, find themselves off the air after they disobeyed their program director by uttering "nappy-headed hos" multiple times during a show this week. Station leaders say the former hosts displayed a reckless disregard for station rules, while the two students say they are the victims of a politically motivated decision.

Last week, Mike Martelli, a student who is program director, told his entire radio staff in a meeting that he did not want hosts using the phrase other than on first reference in a news story, and even then only after they had received permission. According to Martelli, the station's Federal Communications Commission license has expired and it is awaiting re-licensing, during which time show hosts need to monitor themselves closely. The station is funded through the university's student affairs budget.

After hearing of the station's new policy, Dana Peloso and his co-host of the self-described right-leaning political talk show used the phrase dozens of times over the 25-minute morning show. As a result, Martelli suspended the co-hosts and grounded the show.

On Wednesday, after listening to the tape for the first time, the program director decided that the students would not return to the show, which is suspended until further notice. Martelli said his decision was based on the repeated use of an offensive phrase, an unwillingness to follow station policies and an indifference to other codes of conduct.

Peloso maintains that during Tuesday's show, the phrase was always mentioned in context while discussing Don Imus, who was fired by CBS for using the same language.

"We never made light of the situation," Peloso said.

But Martelli doesn't agree. "It sounds like they were doing this just to see how many times they could hear the words in the time slot," he said. "I am an advocate of free speech but that isn't the issue. My role as program director is to maintain the longevity of the station and the quality of the product that I offer -- a product that's non-offensive."

Peloso, who is also involved with the College Republicans chapter on campus, believes that Martelli and John King, Roger Williams's vice president of student affairs, conspired to oust him from the program for political reasons. On the Tuesday show, Martelli said he blasted the university and an administrator for being hypocritical by supporting a policy of censorship.

"We thought this was an unfair policy before, and now it's even more of an issue because our free speech has been taken away," Peloso said.

King denies directing the station toward any policy and said he had no knowledge of the situation until Wednesday morning. Martelli backed King's statement.

"Our student leaders go through leadership training. They are the day-to-day operators, even though we hold the license," King said. "If we don't think management is doing well the administration can step in. I have faith in their decision in this case. We are pleased with their leadership and standards."

Peloso said he is planning an appeal. As the next step, administrators who advise the station will listen to the tape.


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