Court Chief Controversy for Profit – Saga Casts Its Lot With Racism

We’ve got a “new” radio station in Champaign-Urbana. New, in that the old Oldies 92 has flipped format to be called “The Chief.” The change mostly means the addition of the 80s to the oldies line up. Oh, and the firing of all airstaff and more automation.

I really haven’t listened much, and have only heard the spots with the deep voice saying, “If you owned a radio station, you’d play what you want. Here, we play what the Chief wants.”

Normally, a minor radio format change wouldn’t merit mediageek coverage. But here in Champaign-Urbana, “The Chief” is a loaded term.

You see, the Chief is shorthand for Chief Illiniwek, the University of Illinois’ racist mascot. The Chief is a big controversy here, since progressive minded folks and native americans would like to see him gone, while the Board of Trustees and others appeal to “tradition” to keep him. Nevermind that the Chief bears no actual similarity to any native american tradition or tribe of any sort — the closest relation to the Chief are the native american stereotypes I saw in old Loony Tunes cartoons as a kid, which I think Warner Brothers pulled from circulation back in the 80s.

See, even the big media conglomerates can be more progressive than the U of I.

So, naming your newly automated station after a controversial university mascot is a ballsy move, and I wonder what’s motivating Saga, the corporate owner based in Michigan.

Frankly, it seems more like a cheap shot to drum up some controversy and publicity than any sort of long lasting station identity. But, to me, that’s like courting controversy by naming your Brooklyn based station, The Heeb.

The station has been dropping in the ratings over the last few books, so I guess Saga felt like it had to do something. However, the thing that most made the station drop was Saga buying it in the first place, and screwing up a station that had a very loyal local following by ditching the personalities and qualities that made people like it in the first place.

So, once again, a big radio owner makes the race to the bottom rather than actually provide quality programming and local service. I’ll be investigating this further when I have more time and the Media Reform conference is over.