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DJ testimonials blurring line between ads and commentary

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More and more testimonials seem to be cropping up on local radio these days -- that is, DJs promoting something in a paid advertisement that they personally use or in which they believe.

I think these were common in the early days of radio, but now there is something of a comeback.For example: Tom Barberi on KALL does it occasionally and so do "Grant and Amanda" on KSL. (In fact, "Grant and Amanda" have a TV commercial promoting a Bountiful restaurant.)

I've even heard "Dain and Peggy" on KSFI doing a testimonial type of ad on their show. Also, a midday DJ at KUMT (alias "The Mountain," FM-105.7) did a personal pitch for a diet pill last week. Some KFNZ hosts switch from sports commentary to advertising in the same breath.

These kinds of ads probably confuse listeners because they can't always be sure what is a paid commercial and what isn't. They blur the line between advertising and news or commentary.

Milton Hollstein, professor of communications at the University of Utah, says he hasn't particularly noticed a trend with more of these radio testimonials, but he said they've been around a long time.

"It's very much with us," he said. "It has always been somewhat of an ethical problem."

Hollstein's biggest concern is that the public may perceive this kind of advertising as a conflict of interest.

While some stations may not perceive their radio personalities as being any more than news readers, Hollstein said these "readers" may actually at times still cover some news events.

He said Paul Harvey's national radio commentaries have always contained one of the most visible examples of these conflicts.

WACKY FRIDAY -- March 12 was one of those wild morning radio days when it seemed like anything goes:

1. Kerry, Bill and Gina on KXRK (alias "X-96") called up sister station KQMB (alias "Star 102.7," FM) and their "Mike, Brad and Marci" morning show live on the air. Both stations then aired the same conversation for the next 10 minutes.

What prompted the call was that Bill wasn't pleased with the driving habits of Marci. He says she makes the same illegal turn on South Temple each morning on the way to work. One day, Marci's vehicle almost ran into Bill's car.

The debate escalated, and finally Mike challenged Bill to a try at his "World's Smartest Man Contest" -- which Bill then won.

2. Kerry, Bill and Gina played a 10-minute dialogue -- A "Chuck Heston Mini-Disaster Movie Marathon" -- to supposedly reward listeners. The thing played like a movie trailer but got tiresome -- especially with its profane language.

Still, the DJs ended up giving themselves "The Boner of the Day" award for airing the tasteless bit -- not once, but twice -- that morning.

3. The syndicated "Bob and Tom" morning show on KBER (FM-101.1) had a pretty explicit conversation about circumcision. But, as usual, the self-serving laughter of the DJs made any vulgar details they aired seem even worse.

GREEN JELL-O JUMP -- KUBL (alias "K-Bull," FM-93.3) staged its own outrageous stunt on St. Patrick's Day by having listeners dive into a hot tub full of a Utah trademark, green Jell-O, for prizes in front of the Wyndham Hotel.

RADIO HAPPENINGS -- KRCL, KSOP and KNRS had entries in last Saturday's annual St. Patrick's Day Parade in Salt Lake City . . . KSOP presents Don Williams in concert March 20 at Weber State University's Dee Events Center . . .

The "Z-Morning Zoo" (Frankie, Danger Boy and Kelli) on KZHT had Paula Abdul and Ron Howard as separate guests on their show this week. Kelli also announced she is pregnant, and the DJs are selecting contestants for their "1999 Breeders Cup," where the first couple to conceive a child wins $1,000 . . .

"Fisher, Todd and Erin" of KISN will host the Utah AIDS Foundation Gala, Sunday, March 21, at the Doubletree Hotel . . . FM-106.5/107.9 will begin a new feature, the "KOZY Event Calendar" March 25. This will air each Thursday and Friday at 3:20 p.m. to provide an overview of upcoming events . . . "Abby and Wren" on KUMT interviewed "Mary Ann" of "Gilligan's Island" Thursday.

Deseret News radio editor Lynn Arave can be reached by e-mail at lynn@desnews.com or by phone at 237-2168.