Radio Rigid

Those ads placed by spiritualists in the back pages of supermarket tabloids promise to restore “lost nature.”

WGN radio would have accepted a reference to “sexual dysfunction.”

But after three months of research, much of it soulful conversations with men and women who have suffered greatly, adman Alyn Darnay decided to meet his subject head on. “Sweetheart . . .” says a come-hither female voice at the top of one commercial. And a man’s voice tells us, “I used to cringe when she said that. I was impotent. And it meant something I didn’t want to face . . .”

Darnay wrote two of these dramatic 60-second spots. A man speaks to us in one, a woman in the other–and each is desperately relieved, each telling a tale of life resurrected by a visit to the Center for Male Health at Thorek Hospital. The spots have run on radio stations WNIB, WNUA, WJJD, WJMK, and WLIT. As you very likely know by now, WGN radio turned them down.

“We feel it is our responsibility to cover sensitive or controversial topics, not as commercials, but as full-length feature programs,” Lori Brayer, manager of broadcast services, wrote the hospital.

The reason you probably know that WGN wouldn’t run the ads is that Thorek has been making hay of the fact. A letter asking about the rules of broadcasting served as the basis for a press release announcing that Thorek “has protested to the Federal Communications Commission.” The release and a phone call from publicist Morene Dunn wangled a paragraph from Bob Feder in the Sun-Times. Dunn sent the paragraph to Jim Warren, and Warren eventually gave the matter seven paragraphs in the Tribune. Dunn sent Warren’s column to WBEZ–and Thorek Hospital wound up with 25 minutes on One Flight Up.

“Well, you’re probably getting more play now that ‘GN has turned down your ad than you would have if they had decided to run it,” Carolyn Grisko observed lightly to Yale Wolk, president of Thorek, and urologist Charles Feinstein, who were in the studio. They didn’t dispute it.

And now here’s Hot Type wading in . . .

And it’s all because Alyn Darnay does not suffer rejection lightly. “This is 1990,” Darnay told us fiercely, “and they’re living in 1940.”

Darnay’s proud of his ads, which are distillations of the interviews he’d conducted. “If anything, I soft-pedaled their emotions,” he said. “The people who had been through this were very emotional about it.” He said, “Most males are embarrassed by it, and immediately they feel it’s incurable–they’d rather feel that way for some reason than seek help.”

Darnay wanted to cut through this isolation. “I wanted, in the context of the spots, to make males and females out there know we were an organization that understood this problem and make them feel comfortable enough to call us.”

The Impotence Information Center in Minnetonka, Minnesota, estimates that one man in ten past the age of puberty suffers from chronic impotence. As men get older, impotence becomes more common. And about 480,000 men 35 and older listen to WGN every week.

This is the audience WGN would not let Darnay reach.

Darnay let off steam with his old friend Deborah Gordon–their sons belong to the same Cub Scout den in Highland Park–and Gordon sympathized completely. Gordon happens to run a Michigan Avenue PR firm, which gave Darnay an idea. He introduced Gordon to some of the marketing people at Thorek Hospital. They all talked it over, and Thorek signed Gordon’s agency to a short-term contract. The assignment: squeeze WGN’s rebuff for every drop of publicity in it.

Morene Dunn works for Deborah Gordon. “I’m a bulldog,” Dunn told us.

Playing both ends against the middle, Dunn has taken Lori Brayer at her word. While feeding reporters a story that makes WGN look antediluvian, she’s been rattling the phones of various WGN announcers, attempting to stir up the 60-minute discussion that the station apparently prefers to a 60-second ad. But the most obvious candidates were out: Judy Markey reminded Dunn that she and Kathy O’Malley did a long interview a year ago with a doctor who treats impotence. Markey pointed out that WGN management didn’t make a peep.

So what got into the station this time to make it so hidebound? The explanation is that WGN, like many great institutions, goes by the book. The book is WGN’s manual of advertising standards, which station manager Dan Fabian opened for us, turning to the category of “reproduction/sexuality,” and then to the heading “psychosexual,” and reading:

“Included in this category is any illness, treatment, service involving sexual dysfunction of any kind or any illness that may have a psychological as well as physiological component. Because of the sensitive nature of this category, WGN radio chooses at this time not to accept any specificity in this category beyond the phrase ‘sexual dysfunction.'”

Fabian told us that the book also forbids any sort of dramatization of illnesses.

He said, “We were not saying no to Thorek or even saying no to the specific service, and that it was perceived that way was unfortunate.” He said Thorek is welcome to run an ad that goes like this: “We have a very good male clinic that among other things provides help with sexual dysfunction.”

We pondered this excellent 1890s example of the state of the advertising art. Then we asked Fabian how long it’s been since WGN dusted off its policy book. “The basics have been in place as long as I can recall,” he said. “When I was selling time 15 years ago, I had a perfectly viable incontinence service rejected on the same guidelines. About a year ago, a spot for penile implants due to prostate cancer was rejected. And it was a comprehensive, really reputable deal.”

We supposed that it must be quite a challenge to advertise penile implants without ever saying “penile implants.”

Fabian agreed. “We weren’t able to work it out,” he said.

The Best Defense

What if we abolished the Department of Defense?

Don’t laugh. Think about it for a moment from the point of view of George Bush, appreciating the kind of president he wants to be and the kind of America he wants to have.

A good example of George Bush’s philosophy of government is his new transportation policy, which the states will have to pay for since he won’t put up a dime. Education and the environment also are close to his heart, and again he stands ready to supply the inspirational leadership if someone else will supply the money. It is clear that George Bush wishes his government didn’t have to pay for anything. He wants to turn it into a kind of think tank that dreams up enlightened policies for the states to follow whenever they can afford to.

Should defense be an exception?

By shifting the defense burden entirely to the state and local levels, Washington could slash the federal tax of every man, woman, and child by almost $1,000. What is more, a growing constitutional crisis could be resolved.

We speak of the debate over the Second Amendment of our Bill of Rights. This amendment divides the nation down the middle: the gun-control lobby dismisses it as an empty relic, yet it’s hailed by patriots who take the Constitution at its word and stock their hearths with pistols, semiautomatic rifles, and used pieces of field artillery.

The difficulty posed by the Second Amendment, which declares that “a well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed,” is that however obsolete its purpose, its language remains plain as day. Desperate end runs by liberals merely erode our respect for law and pit brother against brother.

For a kinder, gentler America, this divide must be breached. And as the Second Amendment cannot be swept away, let us restore it to its youthful vigor. When the Pentagon is abolished, state militias will once again come into their own. Washington’s contribution to the common defense will be to let us all know periodically who our enemy is; the rest of the burden will be shouldered by vigilant citizen-soldiers who need apologize no longer for the M16s they order from the corner store.

States and municipalities concerned for their economies could take over and maintain the military bases and arms plants that are now threatened by peace. Crucial decisions would no longer be made by faceless bureaucrats on the distant Potomac: a state such as Iowa, for example, might gamble that invasion is unlikely and forgo a militia; a frontier state like Montana might choose to fortify.

President Bush just sent Congress a 1991 budget containing a defense allocation of $291 billion. But you know as well as we do that he’s only asking for all that money because he thinks he’s supposed to. If he could skim $291 billion off the 1991 budget, there’d be no more talk of runaway deficits; there’d be no more talk of raising federal taxes.

We think that abolishing the Pentagon is what George Bush really wants to do, but he doesn’t know how to ask. We should try to read his heart as well as his lips.

Some Professor Down in Hyde Park

RIP Bruno Bettelheim, who apparently was understood to be a great Chicagoan everywhere but in Chicago. We appreciated the thoughtful page-one obit in the next morning’s New York Times; from the play the local papers gave his death, he might as well have been a waiter at the Berghoff.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jon Randolph.