Editorial: Riding wild side at Boston Beer

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Radio shock jocks "Opie and Anthony" got fired. New York's WNEW-FM, owned by Viacom's Infinity Broadcasting Corp., is in serious hot water with the Federal Communications Commission. Boston Beer Co. Chairman Jim Koch, who chose to link himself and his Samuel Adams beer to the "Opie and Anthony" wild side, shouldn't escape responsibility, either.

He sure tried, though. After the arrest last month of a couple who allegedly engaged in sexual intercourse in St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York, little was initially made of the fact that WNEW's "Sex for Sam" contest, which gave prizes to couples having sex in public places, was "sponsored." Boston Beer, which at the very least cooperated with the stunt, no doubt liked it that way-until the whole thing blew up in its face.

There's no getting past Boston Beer's complicity in lowering the decency bar in the marketing and media arena another big notch. Not when Mr. Koch is in the "Opie and Anthony" radio studio handing out cold Samuel Adams beers to presumably overheated contestants fresh from daring public trysts around town. Not when Mr. Koch is there as live reports of the escapade, and arrest, at St. Pat's are phoned in and aired. That makes it hard to say it was all the station's idea and walk away.

Last week, faced with a boycott of Samuel Adams by some bar owners in his company's home market of Boston, Mr. Koch formally apologized. But he insisted "we were not in control of the program, and it was never our intention to be part of a radio station promotion that crossed the line."

That begs the question of just where "the line" is drawn and who is responsible for drawing it. Mr. Koch and other marketers cannot excuse themselves from that discussion. "I can't believe they did that" programming has its audience, on TV as well as radio, and Boston Beer and other advertisers go along for the ride. But tawdry outrageousness is a poor excuse for creativity, and "risky business" can be, as Mr. Koch now knows, risky indeed for those responsible for brand stewardship.

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