May 9, 1995 in City

Radio Huckster Will Sink Low For High Rating

By The Spokesman-Review
 

If there’s anything Mike Ellis loves more than causing a three-mile traffic jam, it’s a young woman who’ll have her breast tattooed in a crowded parking lot.

Hiding Doobie Brothers concert tickets in a funeral home. Paying Elvis impersonators to show up at a doughnut shop. A giant in a pink bunny costume handing out cash.

No radio station promotion is too shameless or bizarre for this whoopy cushion man. Wacky Mike knows the gullible, greedy public always will play the fool to his madness.

“From my perspective, there’s nothing better than people grappling for free stuff,” says Ellis, a bear-sized guy with an explosive laugh.

“Sometimes it makes me so excited I just want to pee.”

After five years working out of town, the huckster is back at Spokane’s KZZU, a top-40 FM station.

Ellis, 34, is just a big kid who never outgrew rubber vomit. He would have been at home in the 1950s, when theater owners spiced up their horror flicks with electrically charged seats and guys roaming the aisles in rubber monster suits.

But Ellis’ irreverent stunts work today. He helped make the KZZU call letters a household name in the late-1980s.

Whenever people mentioned “The Zoo,” you knew they meant the station and not the dismal Walk in the Wild animal prison east of town.

Ellis’ zany presence already is being appreciated. The Zoo recently hit No. 1 in the Arbitron ratings for the first time since 1993.

A typical Ellis promotion is like watching a train wreck in slow motion. You know you should turn away, but you just can’t help but gawk.

His “What Would You Do For Melissa Etheridge Tickets?” promotion in the KZZU parking lot was a classic.

Ellis conned me into helping judge the Friday contest that attracted the kind of leering mob you’d expect at a cockfight or public hanging.

The first contestant was a young woman with a tongue the size of a moray eel. She folded it in various amazing ways.

The evening oozed downhill from there.

“I went to college for this?” moaned KHQ-TV weekend anchor Bev Carr, who also was suckered by Ellis into being a judge.

“Where’s the militia people when you need them?” echoed KXLY sports anchor Dennis Patchin.

Unable to leave, we watched a woman wrestle a collie in a wading pool filled with lime Jell-O.

Two young women popped live goldfish in their mouths. They swapped the critters with their tongues and then swallowed the poor things.

Think that’s bad?

Thanks to the four Milkshake Girls, I may never eat ice cream again. That grim act involved three of the girls, each spitting an ingredient (milk, sugar and ice cream) into a glass.

I’ll let you guess what the fourth girl did with the stuff. Bon appetit.

Rebecca Forney brought a tattooist to the parking lot and had her left breast monogrammed with a Melissa Etheridge slogan.

Once again, Ellis did his job. Like lemmings, every TV station sent a camera crew and gave the unabashed weirdness some airplay.

At Ellis’ urging, the Milkshake Girls were only too glad to reprise their act for the cameras.

“This was the kind of contest for people who think the ‘Dukes of Hazzard’ should have won an Emmy,” says Ellis, erupting in laughter.

On Saturday he was at it again, giving out cash at a bank on Wellesley and Division. A half-hour after a Zoo DJ announced the location, traffic was backed up all the way to Riverside.

Spokane police had no choice but to ask Ellis to knock it off.

A setback? Not hardly. To a whoopy cushion radio guy there is no bad news.

“I pray the cops show up and shut us down,” says Ellis. “My job is not to get people listening to us. My job is to get them talking about us.”


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