Television evangelists Jim and Tammy Bakker are still making headlines around the country for their involvement in the Pearly Gate sex scandal and hush-money payments imbroglio. But the uproar over Jim Bakker’s affair with Jessica Hahn hasn’t tarnished religion’s image, especially in the South and the Midwest.
Just ask the top execs at Geffen Records, who are so high on XTC’s controversial single, “Dear God,” that they broadcast the record over the company’s phone system when callers are put on hold. But you can bet the label is getting a lot of angry long-distance hang-ups these days.
The song, which blasts the deity for tolerating religious wars, famine and disease, is too hot to handle at most radio stations in the Bible Belt and other areas of the country. This despite the fact that the “Dear God” video was MTV’s Hip Clip last week and XTC’s album has sold 25,000 copies in the past 10 days, pushing it over the 150,000-sales mark.
“In cities like New York, Boston and Philly, radio plays ‘Dear God’ like it was the National Anthem,” said Geffen promotion chief Al Coury. “But down South and in much of the Midwest, we couldn’t get it on the air if we gave away front-row tickets to the Lakers’ playoff games.
“We’ve had stations test the record in the evening and it’ll be the No. 1 most-requested song for seven or eight nights in a row--and it still can’t (get into regular air-play rotation). And at a lot of stations, even after we’ve worked like crazy and they have added the record, then some Bible cuckoo or a local minister or a sponsor or the owner of the station hears it and complains, and they take it off again!”
According to Marko Babineau, Geffen’s national director of album-rock promotion, one station in Florida received a bomb threat immediately after airing the song. “No sooner had they put the record on than a caller phoned in and said they were going to blow up the station if they didn’t take the song off right away. And they did--they took the needle off the record before the song was even over.
“They’ve really socked it to us in the Bible Belt. If this wasn’t such a religiously oriented song, we might’ve had a No. 1 record.”
Is it possible the Geffen execs are exaggerating a wee bit? “Not at all,” said Jeff Davis, program director at WPFM-FM, the local rock station in Panama City, Fla., a town that recently made news when police officials arrested a record store clerk in the area for selling a teen-ager a rap record.
“Personally, I really loved the song,” Davis said. “But there was no way I could play it down here. We’ve had this arrest at the record store and book bannings and. . . . Let me put it this way. Ninety percent of our listeners have been Southern Baptists at least once in their lives. I just couldn’t see going on the air with a record where you’d have to go into a detailed explanation of what its significance was before you could play it.”
It’s symbolic of how nervous radio has been about airing the song that in the same week that “Dear God” was rated the country’s No. 3 most-requested album-rock track in Radio & Records magazine, it only reached No. 44 in the publication’s album-rock airplay chart.
“There’s a lot of fear out there,” Babineau said. “I had a Nashville radio programmer tell me that I must be crazy if I thought he was going to play that song. He said they like hit records, but they don’t like the KKK burning crosses on their station’s front lawn.
“He said, ‘Normally, the rednecks just drive by and shout. But this is the kind of song that pulls them out of their cars and into our station.’ ”