Franco-Americans Call Radio Character Demeaning
Jan. 26, 1993
Undated (AP) _ A Maine radio station that features a weak-minded character named ''Frenchie'' with a strong French accent has angered northern New England's Franco-American leaders, who want to see the comic routine banned.
At a news conference Tuesday in Manchester, N.H., the Association Canado- Americaine threatened to go to the Federal Communications Commission if WBLM in Portland, Maine, doesn't take Frenchie off the air.
''It seems the most effective weapon the community has is the licensing process,'' spokesman Paul Pare said.
Pare said that if a station carried a ''Sambo'' character parodying blacks it ''wouldn't last more than a day.''
''If they haven't crossed the line, they have come awfully close,'' Maine state Rep. Patrick Paradis said Monday of WBLM's character.
The station has an estimated 188,000 listeners in most of Maine, central New Hampshire and parts of Massachusetts.
Frenchie fans say few of the region's estimated 2.8 million French Canadians are complaining, so he should stay on the air.
''The point of Frenchie is not to belittle French Americans at all,'' said Herb Ivy, WBLM's program director. He said the station is sensitive to complaints about the character.
''True discrimination is about exploiting differences,'' Ivy said, whereas the character is about finding humor in ''what makes us all the same.''
Eugene Lemieux, president of Association Canado-Americaine, which has 40,000 members in the United States and Canada, said it's possible the character could hurt tourism.
''You have 6 million people a half a day's drive away,'' he said. ''You want to make them feel welcome.''
Ivy wouldn't identify the person who plays Frenchie but said he is French Canadian.
The character has been on the air for 7 1/2 years, without controversy until last week, when news reports cited complaints to the station and the Maine Human Rights Commission by lawyer Jeb Davis of Augusta, Maine. Davis said he filed his original complaint with the commission on Dec. 16.
Davis is a director of the Holocaust Human Rights Center of Maine.
''I guess the real question is, would they use the spot if he was named something else?'' Davis said.
Since Davis' complaint, the character hasn't been used. But Ivy said that was only a coincidence and that character will be back.
Paradis acknowledges he has not heard the character on the air, ''but that doesn't mean I have no right to be concerned about it.''
Ivy is aware of possible complaints to the FCC, which licenses radio and television stations, and said the station has consulted a lawyer about its right of free speech under the First Amendment.
Last week, New Hampshire's largest newspaper - The Union Leader of Manchester - commented on the flap in a two-paragraph editorial.
The editorial said Franco-Americans ''thoroughly enjoy 'Frenchie,' have an expansive sense of humor, an ability to laugh at themselves, that derives from quiet self-confidence.''
Davis said the editorial was wrong. He said Franco-Americans are angry, but keep it to themselves, ''and it saddens me.''
Editorial page director Jim Finnegan said the editorial was meant to be complimentary, and he has not received any complaints about it.
''Most of the Franco-American jokes I've heard were told by Franco- Americans,'' he said. ''I just hope we haven't gotten to that era of hypersensitivity.''