Disc jockey Marcel Thornton's refusal to play what he believes are sexist, racist lyrics over the air has won him a legion of admirers -- and a spot in the unemployment line.
The 29-year-old was fired from urban station WERQ-FM last week after he refused last month to play songs that he believes demean women, glorify violence or are sexually explicit. He took up his cause the day after the Oct. 16 Million Man March, during which hundreds of thousands of black men pledged to show "respect for themselves and respect for their people."
Today, a City Council committee, headed by Councilman Carl Stokes, will meet with managers from WERQ and V103, WXYV-FM, another urban station, to push for restrictions on lyrics. If restrictions are not imposed, Mr. Stokes promises to organize a community protest until they are.
"I'm no square," said Mr. Thornton, a Baltimore native who worked at the station for almost four years. "I'm still the down brother I used to be. All I'm doing is challenging others."
It may look as if Mr. Thornton, armed with a good idea, has shot himself in the foot.
Without the paychecks from his $35,000-a-year job, Mr. Thornton plans to leave his $490 Woodlawn apartment to move in with his parents in Baltimore. How he will continue to afford car insurance and monthly payments on his 1993 Audi 100 is a big concern, he said.
The management at the station, also known as 92Q, has not allowed him to retrieve demonstration tapes, sound bites and personal items that would prove to prospective employers his talent as a disc jockey, so finding another job has been difficult, he said.
He recounts his story to anyone who will listen. His story is hand-printed on sheets of worn yellow legal paper curled at the ends. And through it all, the same music is playing -- albeit with a guest DJ -- in what used to be his 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekday slot.
But Mr. Thornton, a former Marine, focuses on the positive.
"I don't feel like I have lost anything. I feel like I have gained a lot," he said. "When you're poisoning the community, and you're making money off of it, you get to a point when you realize that's wrong."
Mr. Thornton began circulating this week a petition calling for 92Q "to be more responsible in uplifting the community by committing to broadcast positive music." The petition also asks for his reinstatement without penalty.
WERQ owner Cathy Hughes has not returned repeated telephone calls. Attorneys at the Washington law firm Arter & Hadden, which represents the station, also have not returned repeated calls.
Nationally, radio stations and record companies have been feeling the ire of some who say that lyrics have gone too far.
C. Delores Tucker, founder and chairwoman of the National Political Congress of Black Women, has launched an assault on what she sees as hate and sexism in rap and rock music, as well as on its corporate sponsors. She says the lyrics are dangerous to children because they degrade women and promote violence.
Mr. Stokes took up the issue last month after discovering that his young daughters were listening to explicit lyrics. With the full backing of the council, he created a task force to encourage radio stations to stop playing explicit songs.
Mr. Stokes said he will push 92Q to reinstate Mr. Thornton.
His firing "is obscene," Mr. Stokes said. "Here is a guy who came back from the Million Man March and took a stand on behalf of the community. And now the station won't give a reason why he must play profane songs. I think the station must answer for that."
Members of the local chapter of the Nation of Islam, whose leader Louis Farrakhan sponsored the Million Man March, also have lent support.
Mr. Thornton said that no matter what happens, he will not return to any radio format that plays explicit lyrics.
" 'Sex me,' 'I want to freak you,' you'd be surprised to hear some of the lyrics. You can't even print them," he said. "The kids really listen to this, and adults don't realize it. It's not a matter of censorship, it's adult responsibility. And it should be treated as pornography."