Friday, March 31, 2017

DJ Freedom Fries

In France they're pommes frites.  The same taters in Spanish are patatas bravas. Italians call them patate fritte. In Poland they are placki kartoflane.  In England they call them chips, and the rest of their former colonies call them hot chips, finger chips, steak fries, french fries, and potato wedges to name a few. ...Except in the USA in 2003. That year, freedom fries was a political euphemism for French fries in the United States. For that particular lexicographical misdemeanor we can thank DJ Jerry Agar.

On March 11, 2003 Republican U.S. Representatives Bob Ney and Walter B. Jones directed the three cafeterias serving the House of Representatives to change all references to "French fries" and "French toast" on menus, and replace them with "Freedom fries" and "Freedom toast."  I am sure the head fry cook thought they were kidding the first time they asked.
Our key man here, Jerry Agar isn't even American. He's Canadian and was born in Gilbert Plains, Manitoba actually. Unsurprisingly, he spent his early radio career in Canada. His first gig was in 1973 fresh out of high school at at 730 CKDM-AM. In 1976 he went to 980 CJME-AM in Regina, Saskatchewan to do morning traffic and a midday two hour show. Just a couple years later he went to 880 CKLQ-AM in Brandon, MB for the PD slot at the long-time country music station. More here.

Then his career changed. He married an American woman and was able to emigrate to the USA and begin working in radio stateside. His first US gig was at 1480 WFXW-AM in Geneva, IL (now WSPY) In the mid 1980s he moved over to his first FM station, 96.7 KKSR  (now KZRV) in St. Cloud, MN. In his own recounting, he got fired a lot. So he relocated again for a morning slot in Toledo at soft rock 1470 WLQR-AM. He was fired again and ended up part-time at 107.9 KQQL in Minneapolis. He relocated all the way to Tucson, AZ for a full-time gig at 94.9 KMXZ in 1996, and was fired again.  From there he went to 102.1 WMYU-FM in Sevierville, TN (they did a call swap with 93.1 WWST in 2001)... anyway he was fired again.

It was in January of 2000 that he was hired by 680 WPTF-AM in Raleigh, NC for an afternoon slot. This is where the sliced fried root vegetable hit the fan. It started with a small, local, right-wing publicity stunt. Innocently enough, a Prof. Crystall at UNC-Chapel Hill warned her studnet, Tim Mertes, in an email for  harshly criticizing homosexuals in class. The Professor rightly stated she would not tolerate "racist, sexist and/or hetero sexist comments in class."  Unknown parties shared that email.  Mike Adam, a Heritage Foundation alum, and UNC Wilmington professor and his pal Rep Walter Jones, began milking a politically correct professor for political capital. It became a meme in the war against political correctness.

While it can be excessive, political correctness is just another word for courtesy and politeness. It's the heart of the golden rule, reciprocity, the foundation of civilization. But in a culture war right and wrong are just ideas used to exploit the politically ignorant. Jerry Agar jumped on the story like a hungry DJ with a bad resume. He interviewed student Tim Mertes on air. Rep Jones heard the interview and sent a bitchy press release and a letter to UNC's chancellor.  Agar milked the story from every angle. He even interviewed Neal Rowland, the owner of Cubbies restaurant in Beaufort, NC because he changed his menu to read "Freedom Fries" as well.  Cubbies fared worse than Agar, they are listed as closed on Yelp. More here.

In response most Americans yawned. A 2005 Gallup poll 66% of respondents called it "silly." By 2006 Rep Jones was regretting his escapade, he commented in one interview "I wish it had never happened." The House cafeteria menu was quietly changed back. Nonetheless Jones remains in his 3rd district seat today. In 2004 Agar left for 980 KMBZ-AM in Kansas City, and in 2006 he relocated to Chicago for a morning slot at 890 WLS-AM in Chicago. There he managed to also do an evening show for WABC in New York from studios in Chicago. He did a stint at WGN-AM around then as well.

But Agar tired of our American way of life and the unending French Fry jokes. He moved back to Canada in February 2010. There Agar joined 1010 CFRB-AM in Toronto to host The Jerry Agar Show on weekday mornings. He remains there today, but the Toronto Sun quietly took down his nutty blog in 2014.

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