ST. LOUIS – A St. Louis radio station wasted no time firing a talk show host for using a racial epithet to describe Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on his morning show Wednesday.
KTRS president and general manager Tim Dorsey came on the air to announce the firing shortly after talk show host Dave Lenihan used the word "coon," a racial slur, instead of "coup" in describing her attributes for the post of NFL commissioner.
Dorsey and Lenihan both called the use of the word a "slip of the tongue," but Dorsey said the utterance was nonetheless "unacceptable, reprehensible and unforgivable."
Prior to the utterance, Lenihan was heaping praise on Rice, a big football fan, who has frequently said she aspires to run the league one day. But as recently as Wednesday, Rice ruled out applying for the job of NFL commissioner after Paul Tagliabue retires.
After taking several calls from listeners, Lenihan offered this on the air:
"She's been chancellor of Stanford. She's got the patent resume of somebody that has serious skill. She loves football. She's African-American, which would kind of be a big coon. A big coon. Oh my God. I am totally, totally, totally, totally, totally sorry for that.
"I didn't mean that. It was just a slip of the tongue. She's definitely got all the attributes to be commissioner. I'm really sorry about that."
Within minutes, KTRS listeners began calling the station. Twenty minutes after the utterance, Dorsey went on the air to apologize to Rice and KTRS listeners.
"It was a most unfortunate racial slur," Dorsey said on the air. "There can be no excuse for what was said. Dave Lenihan has been let go. ... There is enough hate. We certainly are not going to fan those flames. That is not what we're about."
NAACP chapter president Harold Crumpton called Dorsey at the station for an explanation and learned Lenihan had been fired. He said he accepted Dorsey's apology and commended him for his swift action.
Crumpton said the word "coon" is a derogatory term referring to blacks in the South, and "intended to inflame passions ... like the "n word."
He said he was disturbed that the word could be uttered "at a first-class news outlet, and home of the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals don't act like that. They're a first-class operation."
He said Dorsey took the right action, adding it should send a message to other stations to do a better job of judging the character of on-air personalities.
Lenihan arrived at KTRS, his "dream job," less than two weeks ago from WGNU radio in St. Louis where he was drive-time host for three years.
Reached at home, Lenihan said he was still trying to figure out what happened, and was drafting a letter of apology to Rice.
"I was trying to say 'quite a coup' but it came out 'coon,"' he said. "I caught myself and apologized. It wasn't anything I was meaning to say. I never use that word.
"I think she's a fantastic woman. I was even talking about if she ran for president, I'd work on her campaign."
He said his biggest fear is that his choice of words tarnished the image of St. Louis and the baseball team, which is a part-owner of the station.
"It was my dream job," he said. "Ratings were going well. It kind of stinks."