“For a station that’s a mass-appeal brand, like an at-work radio station, that’s a lot, and it raises a massive red flag,” Figula told CNN on Thursday.
The lyrics to “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” have for years been viewed by some as problematic when seen through a modern lens. In a culture that emphasizes the importance of sexual consent, lyrics like “I ought to say no, no, no, sir (Mind if move in closer?)” and “Say, what’s in this drink?” don’t fly with some.
In the year-plus since #MeToo and Time’s Up have become common references to the movement that seeks fair treatment of women in the workplace and an end to sexual violence, more attention than ever is being paid to the messages contained in popular media of the present and past, especially those that seem to run counter to those groups’ core values.
When the hearings regarding then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh were taking place, an entire genre of film — particularly the products of the so-called “Animal House” era — was revisited, seen by some as glorifiers of rape culture.
The question for Figula, who works at what he says is the most listened to radio station in San Francisco, was do his listeners believe the same applies to “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” ‘
The answer is important to Figula and his station because counter to the resolution-less screaming matches that take place on social media, radio is firmly still about the power of the people.
Dee Garcia, a radio personality at Hot 97.5/103.9 in Phoenix, agrees.
She has multiple versions of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” on her specially curated Christmas playlist, and once got mad at her friend who described it as “rapey” for “trying to ruin one of my favorite songs.”
“I think if we start to really look at the music that we play in contemporary radio, you’re gonna find that there’s much worse, especially if you get into the top 40 or even hip-hop,” she told CNN. “You’re gonna get a lot more of that kind of naughty stuff.”
The difference, however, is that those songs don’t brew the amount of viral outrage or thousands of angry emails that have brought so much attention to “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” They’re just, she said, “accepted as the new hit.”
If that changed — if modern hits with overtly problematic messages began to stir up debate or controversy — it would prompt a closer examination of said songs by radio stations.
“Let’s say ‘Blurred Lines’ came out and people didn’t want to hear it then because they thought it was an inappropriate message, then we would have to make that decision to serve our audience [and] our listeners,” she said of the Robin Thicke tune that features a lyric stating, “I know you want it.”
That, she said, is “the power of local radio.”
In his 25 years in radio, Figula had never had a song elicit a reaction like the one he was receiving prior to pulling “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” off the air.
He never shared with his listeners the station’s decision, and it was never talked about on air. But when a local TV station got wind of it and ran a story, the response was massive.
Within 24 hours, Figula estimates they received thousands of complaints, some threatening boycotts, protests and threats. Yes, threats. Over a song.
Figula’s theory on this is that Christmas music is a little more personal to people — both a warm, comforting blanket through which stress can’t permeate and a happy reminder of opening up your first bicycle.
On Tuesday afternoon, he decided to leave the song’s fate up to a poll.
There are more than 10,000 votes so far, with 91% of respondents in favor of putting the song back on the air as of Friday evening.
Nationwide, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” has benefited little from the controversy, according to Figula.
In a period of seven days, the song received just 89 additional plays across about 180 radio stations nationwide monitored by metrics services MediaBase and BDS, according to Figula.
The biggest Christmas station in the US — WLTW in New York City — decreased its play of the song from 22 to 8 over that same seven day period, Figula says.
KOIT’s poll closes December 10, but Figula has a feeling the results will stick.
“At the end of the day, what I learned is that some people feel that their freedoms are being stripped in various different situations in the US,” he said. “Whether it’s a monument in their city or legalization of something or whatever it is. You know, the border — people have opinions. And the reality is the one thing that we all have that we utilize to escape all these crazy things in our life is Christmas music.”
He’s gathered this conclusion from interactions with people who reached out to the station. He responded to every email — to the detriment of his sleep — and called some of the people, too.
“Most of them are shocked when I respond and are shocked when I called them and their dialect is completely different from their initial email tone or their initial comments from social or email,” he said. “People are shocked that I’m using the station account to join the conversation.”
He was motivated by a desire to learn something — and he has.
“We’ve learned is that it’s important to have these conversations, but we just wish that people would make the conversations constructive and think before they speak.”
That would be a snowball effect many could probably get behind.