Ever heard of Jennifer Strange?
STRANGE DEATH: Jennifer Strange and her family (top), and the DJs who hosted the “Hold You Wee for a Wii” contest (bottom).
If you live in Boston and get your news from the local media, probably not. On January 12, Strange — a 28-year-old Californian — died of water poisoning after participating in an on-air contest staged by KDND Radio (107.9 FM), a/k/a “The End,” a Sacramento station owned by Entercom Communications. The contest involved drinking as much water as possible over three hours without going to the bathroom; the prize was a free Nintendo Wii game console — hence the contest’s name: “Hold Your Wee for a Wii.”
What makes the story especially horrifying is the fact that the contest’s organizers knew somebody could die. At one point during the contest, a listener who identified herself as a nurse issued an on-air warning that drinking too much water could be fatal, only to have the station’s DJs laugh off her objections. “Yeah, we’re aware of that,” said one. “Yeah, they signed releases,” said another. “So we’re not responsible. We’re okay.”
Strange’s family has since filed a wrongful-death suit, and asked the Federal Communications Commission to pull KDND off the air. The station has fired 10 employees. And Strange’s death has garnered loads of national publicity.
But not here. There’s an obvious local hook: in Boston, Entercom Communications — KDND’s parent company — owns radio stations WRKO (680 AM), WEEI (850 AM), MIKE (93.7 FM), and WAAF (97.7/107.3 FM). Even so, neither the Globe nor the Herald has assigned any reporters to cover the fallout from Strange’s death or consider the implications for Entercom. Local TV hasn’t been impressed either: while WHDH-TV ran a brief segment on Strange’s death, for example, it didn’t note that the station in question was Entercom-owned.
Maybe Boston’s editors and news directors just didn’t think the story merited much coverage. After all, it’s not explicitly local. But it’s hard not to wonder if the incestuous nature of Boston’s media landscape may have played a role, too. The Globe, for example, is owned by the New York Times Company, which has an ownership stake in the Red Sox, whose games will be broadcast on WRKO and WEEI this season. Meanwhile, local PR bigwig George Regan handles PR for the Herald as well as for WRKO and WEEI. And Regan’s firm, Regan Communications Group, is loaded with local media vets from the Herald, WHDH, WBZ, and WCVB.
Whatever’s to blame, it’s unfortunate that Boston’s press has kept quiet. There’s a host of stories to be done here, from Entercom’s corporate culture to what Strange’s death says about the state of radio today. (In an article titled “Deregulating Radio to Death,” Wired reporter Randy Dotinga said lax FCC oversight and industry-wide job cutbacks paved the way for Strange’s death.) For now, though, we’ll have to look for those stories elsewhere.