A radio promo causes an uncivil war of words.

On Monday at 7 a.m., the two toughest-looking women near the Washington Monument were members of the U.S. Park Police. It wasn’t exactly the atmosphere that Becky Froman, the “HOT Morning Freak” at WIHT (99.5 FM), expected to find at the station’s latest promotional stunt—a contest dubbed “The Running of the Bull Dykes.”

Froman had put on her running shoes and stuffed her hair into a ponytail in the hope that she’d be chased by a crowd of eager butch lesbians seeking a pair of Melissa Etheridge concert tickets.

Only one contestant showed up: Kathy Kruczek, a 28-year-old from Alexandria, Va., with spiky, bleached-blond hair and grass-green eyes who goes by the nickname “Phoey” (pronounced FU-ee).

“I thought it would be something fun,” said Kruczek, an account manager for a furniture delivery company, who also plays rugby with Washington’s all-female team, the D.C. Furies. “A lot of people are doing it.”

Well, not quite. Twelve other women came to the event, but they weren’t dashing for free tix. They were members of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and the National Organization for Women (NOW), protesting what they deemed an offensive use of the term “dyke” and a demeaning perpetuation of dated stereotypes about lesbians.

“The contest is defamatory on two levels. The first level is on the use of the term ‘bull dyke,’ which has for many years been a term used in a derogatory manner toward lesbians,” said Romaine Patterson, a spokesperson for GLAAD. The second is the “rules that really stereotype lesbians, especially Melissa Etheridge fans.”

“The Running of the Bull Dykes” featured rules that required contest participants to wear at least one piece of plaid flannel and boots or running shoes, and have short hair.

The Pamplona-flavored stunt was only the latest ratings ploy for WIHT’s morning show, The HOT Morning Mess With Mark & Kris, which features Froman, along with hosts Mark Kaye and Kris Gamble. The station has already changed format this year, leaping from a “jammin” oldies playlist to a short-lived “Survivor Radio” that served as a prelude to its present Top 40 format.

“I don’t understand why they’re protesting,” said a bemused Kruczek, who was handed the tickets without having to run for them and wore no visible flannel. “It was all in good fun.”

The word “dyke” is routinely used in lesbian circles. It’s printed on skinny T-shirts with a Nikelike swoosh. Alison Bechdel calls her 18-year-old cartoon series about lesbian life Dykes to Watch Out For. And the popularity of baseball caps from Hoboken, N.J.-based Dyke’s Lumber owes nothing to a yen for home improvement among the sisterhood.

Locally, the “DCDykes” e-mail forum encouraged several self-proclaimed D.C. dykes to haul themselves to the Mall bright and early Monday morning to protest WIHT’s use of the word “dyke.”

“I’m a homo, not a promo,” read one purple-haired agitator’s sign.

“When the alarm went off at 6 a.m., I thought I was going to die,” moaned her tired companion.

Patterson says that the propriety of the word “dyke” is a matter of who’s doing the talking. “GLAAD is not without a sense of humor, but in this particular case, we need to look at who’s using the word ‘dyke,’” she says. “While there are some lesbians who can use the word and really like the word, there are some who will be really offended and don’t see any humor in the word. If some people want to see their sexual orientation as the butt of a joke, that’s their prerogative.”

NOW objected on slightly different grounds. Latifa Lyles, co-president of Washington D.C. NOW, argues that “it would be equally offensive if it were a gay event and highlighting a gay artist and with a gay audience….Having a stereotypical group of lesbians chasing after anybody is offensive in our society.”

WIHT received 600 e-mails and 100 phone calls about the contest, says show host Kaye. Most were negative, and the station did remove the contest rules from its Web site as soon as GLAAD objected. Kaye says that the station has done similar events with no negative feedback.

“We did just do another contest two weeks ago with people running after tickets,” he observes. “We taped 99 envelopes to one of our gentlemen, a hairy assistant producer.” That contest—dubbed “Rip-a-Ticket”—required men and women to chase after the producer and rip the envelopes off his body to find one envelope containing prize tickets.

“He enjoyed himself and got a free wax,” adds morning show co-host Gamble. “He’s not so hairy anymore.” CP