Radio hosts will go to great lengths to attract an audience — but when do publicity stunts cross the line?
This week, Danish radio personality Asger Juhl, 34, might have answered that question when he killed a rabbit live on air. According to Sky News, Juhl was hosting a program about animal welfare on station Radio24syv, when he bashed a nine-week-old rabbit with a bicycle pump, before wringing its neck.
Officials from the radio station defended Juhl’s actions, arguing it was meant to “demonstrate the hypocrisy of animal rights campaigners who eat meat from supermarkets.”
Juhl’s deed — while cruel, perhaps — has succeeded in generating conversation and attention for his radio station, which is often the ultimate goal of an on-air stunt. Listed below are some of the most shocking radio stunts ever pulled.
"Howard Stern Show" staffer gets probed by Perez Hilton
Who better than Howard Stern to lead off a list of shocking radio stunts. The legendary host aired one of his most cringe-inducing segments in June 2014, when staffer Benjy Bronk underwent an informal prostate exam live on Stern’s show. Celebrity blogger Perez Hilton performed the “exam” in a New York City hotel room, after Bronk lost a weight-loss bet.
Australian DJs’ prank call leads to woman’s suicide
In December 2012, the world was buzzing about rumors of British royal Kate Middleton’s pregnancy. Mel Greig and Michael Christian, a pair of Australian radio hosts, called the hospital where Middleton was being treated morning sickness and were able to get information about her status by claiming to be Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles.
The attending nurse, 46-year-old Jacintha Saldanha, was fooled by the DJs and gave them information over the phone, which was aired on their show. After facing public ridicule when the call made global news, Saldanha was found dead of an apparent suicide three days after the prank. Greig and Christian’s show was promptly cancelled.
Mancow shuts down the Bay Bridge
Popular Chicago-based radio personality Erich “Mancow” Muller made waves in 2009 after allegedly being waterboarded by a U.S. military member on his show, but the host caused a traffic nightmare during a 1993 publicity stunt. While working for San Francisco radio station KSOL, Muller and his staff used radio station vehicles to block traffic on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge during rush hour, while his sidekick got a haircut on the spot.
The stunt was meant to mock reports that President Bill Clinton had delayed air traffic at Los Angeles International Airport while he got a haircut aboard Air Force One. The stunt resulted in heavy fines against KSOL, including $500,000 to cover three days of toll fees on the bridge.
Portland DJs mock American beheaded by Islamist militants
In 2004, much of the American public was shocked by a grisly underground video that depicted the beheading of 26-year-old Nick Berg at the hands of terrorists in Iraq. A pair of radio hosts in Portland, Oregon decided to use the video for comedic purposes on their morning show.
The DJs, known as Marconi and Tiny, aired the tape, edited to include a laugh track and musical accompaniment under Berg’s terrified screams as he was killed. The pair of hosts were quickly fired, according to the Associated Press.
Opie and Anthony fans have sex inside St. Patrick’s Cathedral
For several years, controversial New York radio hosts Greg “Opie” Hughes and Anthony Cumia ran a promotional stunt contest called “Sex for Sam,” in which fans of the show could win prizes for having documented sex in public places. That contest, and the duo’s show, came to an abrupt end in 2002 when the on-air copulation took place inside the landmark St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
A fine of $357,000 was levied against the broadcasting company that carried the “Opie and Anthony Show” and the popular program was cancelled, according to CBS News. Today, the show airs on SiriusXM satellite radio but Cumia was fired in 2014 following a racist rant on Twitter.
Bubba the Love Sponge mutilates, slaughters wild hog on air
National radio personality Bubba the Love Sponge (born Todd Clem) was taken to jail and charged with animal cruelty for an on-air stunt he pulled in February 2001. While hosting the morning show at WXTB in Tampa, Clem “tormented and castrated” a wild boar on his show, “for entertainment purposes,” according to reports.
The stunt happened in the radio station’s parking lot, with the event dubbed a “road kill barbeque.” The pig’s throat was slit, leading to its death, all while listeners were given a graphic description of the slaughter.
Sports host mocks ALS-afflicted NFL player
In 2013, Atlanta sports radio veteran Steak Shapiro aired a short but shocking bit that would end his career at his home station. Shapiro and his staff produced a segment making light of New Orleans Saints icon Steve Gleason, who suffers from Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
The bit made light of the fact that Gleason has lost control of many physical functions, including speaking, which he now does with a synthetic voice. According to CNN, one part of the segment had Gleason asking someone to, “Smother me, do me a favor.” Shapiro has since apologized for the routine, saying, “We blew it in a huge way.”
U.K. couple marries on air, minutes after first meeting
In January 1999, British radio station BRMB held a contest that would unite two listeners in holy matrimony moments after they were introduced. “Two Strangers and a Wedding” is a radio stunt that has since been organized and aired by stations across the world. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the winning couple decided to split less than three months after the on-air wedding.
Clint Davis is a writer for the E.W. Scripps National Desk. Follow him on Twitter @MrClintDavis.