Radio Talk Show Host Fired After On-Air Racial Slur

By Jake Wagman
Updated: March 23, 2006

ST. LOUIS — A radio personality at 550 KTRS was fired on the spot Wednesday morning after using the word “coon” on the air in a conversation about Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Dave Lenihan was dismissed after what he called an inadvertent slip of the tongue. Within 20 minutes, station CEO Tim Dorsey apologized on the air to listeners and announced that Lenihan, who had been with the station for less than two weeks, had been let go.

“I don’t know what was in Mr. Lenihan’s mind,” Dorsey said in an interview. “I know what I heard. I know it was reprehensible.” Lenihan’s comment was made during a discussion about Rice’s credentials to become commissioner of the National Football League, a topic that has been fodder for sports talk radio since the current commissioner announced he would retire later this year.

Lenihan was listing what assets Rice could bring to the league, including her tenure as a top academic officer at Stanford University and the fact that she is African-American.

“She’s just got a patent resume, of somebody that’s got such serious skill,” Linehan said on the air. “She loves football, she’s African-American, which would kind of be a big coon, a big coon – oh my God, I am totally, totally, totally, totally, totally sorry for that, OK? I didn’t mean that. That was just a slip of the tongue.” Lenihan later said he meant to use the word “coup.”

Reached at home, Lenihan said he was still trying to figure out what happened, and was drafting a letter of apology to Rice.

“I was trying to say ‘quite a coup’ but it came out ‘coon,”‘ he said. “I caught myself and apologized. It wasn’t anything I was meaning to say. I never use that word.

“I think she’s a fantastic woman. I was even talking about if she ran for president, I’d work on her campaign.”

He said his biggest fear is that his choice of words tarnished the image of St. Louis and the baseball team, which is a part-owner of the station.

“It was my dream job,” he said. “Ratings were going well. It kind of stinks.”

Lenihan, who had previously been with radio station WGNU, was part of the recently reshuffled lineup at KTRS since half of the station was acquired by the St. Louis Cardinals. He had a morning talk show.

NOTE: The Associated Press contributed information for this story.