Larry Mantle |

Quick-response radio and the risk of gaffes

On Monday morning's "AirTalk" I ran smack on into one of the challenges of getting listener comments on air quickly from our "AirTalk" page at

After years of reading copy on the radio, I'm used to mentally reading ahead, while speaking what's written just behind that mental reading. Typically, that avoids being surprised by what's coming. However, that only works as well as my ability to process what I'm silently reading.

I was put to the test on Monday's show by a listener comment regarding San Francisco's proposed ban on selling dogs, cats, hamsters, and birds in pet stores. The listener used the reference "city of fruits and nuts" when writing incredulously of San Francisco's proposal.

Though I saw the reference as I was reading ahead, I'd always thought of it as a statewide joking insult related to our agricultural heritage and historic wackiness. I'd never thought of it in terms of an anti-gay reference. As naive (or clueless) as that might sound, it wasn't until I processed the comment as related to San Francisco that this other meaning hit me.

Just as I was reading it aloud I started thinking, "was the "fruits" reference an anti-gay slur, given San Francisco's significant gay population?" You may be laughing to yourself as you read this, thinking "duh." However, it was only in juxtaposition to SF that I'd ever thought of that.

We immediately went to a scheduled break and I decided to address what I'd just read when I came back. I apologized for what was probably posted as a line of ridicule for gay men.

Of course it's possible the reference was benign and didn't have the context I slowly came to conclude. Regardless, I'd rather bring it up head-on so that a likely hurtful line wasn't left unaddressed.

I love live radio and the spontaneity of getting listener comments on the air quickly. However, that may mean I have to clean up an unintentional mess. Sometimes I might miss the intent of a comment altogether. That's where you can come in to set me straight. I appreciate your understanding and vigilance.

The passion of listener comments is a vital part of our program, but I'm well aware of our obligation to be responsible and sensitive in how we share them.