Fewer shocks from the jocks

Gone are the guests who urinate in public.
Now the city's top morning guys focus on making each other the butts of their jokes

April 16, 2005
Globe and Mail
By Jordan Press

It's 7:16 a.m. and Todd Shapiro is a broken man. He was recently dumped, but believes the relationship was meant to last and is letting his feelings show.

He's telling his friends about how she wanted to talk because she was upset that the two couldn't watch "their" show, how he got jealous on the phone when she told him she was going out for the evening without him, and how he ended up calling his mother for help.

But he's not getting much emotional help from his two pals, who jump on the fact that Mr. Shapiro is showing his sensitive side.

"This is like the retarded Dick Van Dyke Show," Dean Blundell says.

"Ninety per cent of the words you've spoken I've never said," Jason Barr tells Mr. Shapiro after listening to more of the story.

"And 90 per cent of the words you've spoken won't be allowed to be said on this show any more," Mr. Blundell adds.

The morning show he's talking about is No. 1 in Toronto for anyone 18 to 34 years old. And if the ratings to be announced next month are anything like the last batch released in December, The Dean Blundell Show on 102.1 the Edge will again have more listeners than Q107, Z103, CHUM FM and Mix 99.9.

The three who host the show, which attracts nearly one million listeners a day, aren't just tops in ratings. They're also considered Toronto's kings of shock radio, a claim to broadcasting fame they've earned through high-profile stunts that have ranged from discussing fellatio on air to inviting Steve-O, a star of MTV's gut-wrenching Jackass series, into the Edge's glass-front Yonge Street studio and watching while he urinated in front of pedestrians.

But unlike U.S. shock jock Howard Stern and former CHOI-FM host Jean-Fran├žois Fillion (the Quebec City radio host who lost a $340,000 lawsuit this week for statements about a TV weather presenter's breasts, love life and demeanour), the Edge's morning show men appear to have toned down their act lately. During the year that has passed since Steve-O's infamous appearance on the show, the three hosts have been making themselves the targets of more of their jokes -- and inviting others to laugh along with them.

Don't ask them to admit it though. "We talk about all kinds of stuff," says Mr. Blundell, the 32-year-old headliner. "We just don't feel the need to be incredibly graphic." And don't expect them to go on and on about all the charity work they do, especially for children. Who knows what news like that could do to a guy's ratings?

It was just over a year ago that the three hosts were suspended after ignoring orders from program director Allan Cross to end the Steve-O interview. Because the station acted quickly to issue the suspension, it avoided being disciplined by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, Mr. Cross says. The CBSC had already written up the show for one on-air incident in 2002 for a conversation the hosts had about a woman who fellated Mr. Shapiro. And shortly after the Steve-O flap, it rapped the Edge's knuckles for airing a comment by guest David Carradine, who said his interview with the hosts would be fine as long as he didn't mention one of the seven words you can't say on air -- and then proceeded to name one.

The incidents drew complaints from listeners as well. One woman asked police to arrest Mr. Blundell for the Steve-O appearance because the host said the stunts, which she said violated indecency laws, were "funny and compelling."

Since then, however, the trio has escaped the CBSC's censure. So how bad are Toronto's reigning arbiters of bad taste these days?

"I don't know if . . . the Dean Blundell show is so much shocking as it is in contrast to the other conservative programs we have in the market," Mr. Cross says. "If you were to take our morning show and place it in a city like Philadelphia or even Los Angeles or any of the other big American markets where the whole shock-jock thing is happening, they would be considered to be mild and tame and conservative.

"Sometimes when you're a step or a step-and-a-half ahead of the rest of the crowd you may find yourself in sticky situations. But that's the risks we're prepared to take."

Their collective image is also gaining a softer side, mainly because of the charity work the three do. Mr. Blundell, who, like Mr. Barr, is a father of two, started a charity golf tournament last summer that raised more than $300,000 for Ronald McDonald House Charities. Jonathan Sinden, the station's promotions director, says the hosts ran the event personally, booking celebrity guests, making sure food was delivered, even counting money. They're planning to do it again, Mr. Sinden says, as one of many charity drives the show runs.

"We've always been doing this charity work," he says. "It's just been overshadowed by all this other stuff."

The "other stuff" is the hosts' shock-jock reputation.

"Yeah, maybe we've gone into areas we shouldn't have . . . but I can't do what everybody else in this city does," Mr. Blundell says. "We're not shock jocks and we're not assholes. . . . We don't set out to get in trouble. We just set out to be unique."

One regular segment that still attracts criticism is "What's wrong with you?" Like the 1940s radio show Queen for a Day, the feature pits contestants against each other, with the most pitiful person winning. Mr. Blundell likens the segment to group therapy.

The morning of Mr. Shapiro's crisis, a woman named Star calls in and talks about falling off a jungle gym while trying to help her friend's child. On her way down, she straddled a bar and got a gash on her groin that required stitches and put a hold on her sex life, she says on the air. As she was lying on the ground bleeding, little boys were screaming that she "hurt her balls," Star says, laughing with the hosts.

She beats the guy whose drugged-up ex-wife took all his money.

Then it's back to Mr. Shapiro.

"Our phone lines are pumped, either with guys who want to kill you, or women that want to have sex with you," Mr. Blundell tells Mr. Shapiro on-air. "So either way you win. . . . Unless there's a guy out there that wants to have sex with you and then kill you."

"If there is a guy who wants to have sex with me, please kill me first," Mr. Shapiro says.

Mr. Barr gets the last word: "Oh no, that guy just hung up."