It's been five years since Michael Jackson's chart-busting "Thriller" album was released, subsequently selling more than 38 million copies, so radio stations and fans across the country have been frothing at the mouth waiting for his new "Bad" album. The Epic record was originally set for release last spring, and then postponed to yesterday.

But eager disc jockeys around the nation jumped the gun, playing "Bad" on Thursday, and the record spun out of control. As a result, Larry Davis, Epic Records' man here, had to run station to station to deliver the "Bad" stuff so everyone could play it. Urban hits WDJY-FM (100.3) was the first local station to hit the airwaves with the album, broadcasting several cuts just before noon. And by 2 p.m. cross-town competitor WKYS-FM (93.9) had also gotten the okay from Epic's parent company CBS Records to play it, with WAVA-FM (105.1) and WPGC-AM/FM (1580/95.5) following suit.

"We scooped the market," bragged "DJ-100" program director Brute Bailey. "That's fun radio."

Yeah, but does anyone really care about the new Michael Jackson album?

"Michael Jackson is like Moses and the response has been fantastic," said Bailey that afternoon. "Our switchboard is locked up!"

"We're banging the hell out of it," said WPGC program director and afternoon man Mike Beach on Friday. "We got it Thursday at 5 p.m. The response hasn't been as hot as I thought it would be, but personally I like the album. I think he {Jackson} has matured an awful lot. I played 'Bad' twice and then set up a schedule to play a cut an hour."

Wake-Up Service

Traffic man Bruce Alan, who has developed a comfortable relationship with WWRC-AM's (980) Ed Walker, has become Walker's in-studio partner on the "WRC Morning Show." Alan will continue reporting traffic but will now also participate in schtick. The pair has launched a "wake-up service" in which they wake listeners with a phone call. However, listeners will have to drop WRC a postcard requesting the call.

"We'll be selective and use a seven-second delay in case anyone gets dirty," promises mild-mannered Walker. "We'll be a little more adult than the 'Morning Zoo.' "

Behind the Hot Mike

He's been in the job for less than three weeks and some listeners are already dialing the "Mike Cuthbert Show" to say the host is anti-Catholic. The charge follows the appearance on WAMU-FM (88.5) of "two guests who were rather spirited in their criticism of certain practices of the Catholic Church," admitted Cuthbert to listeners on Thursday.

The hornet's nest was stirred up the night before when author Lawrence Lader discussed his controversial book "Politics, Power, and the Church." Cuthbert, who took over the three-hour weeknight talk show after Fred Fiske retired, later described the event as "a very, very small storm" but was obviously concerned by the criticism. Former nun Frances Kissling had been a guest on Aug. 17.

Thursday's show began with Cuthbert citing "the accident of availability" as the reason that the two guests were on so close together. And Cuthbert told the audience that a pro-Catholic group would soon be scheduled for his show. Another pro-Catholic guest is Peter Occhiogrosso, author of "Once a Catholic," next Tuesday. Occhiogrosso's appearance is "also the accident of a book tour," says Cuthbert.

"I have looked deep down into my soul to see if I am anti-Catholic, and I come up with the same kind of questions that I do when people call me anti-Semitic because I differ with some of the policies of Israel," Cuthbert said. "And it seems to me that there might be something akin to that happening here." He denied that he was anti anything other than "anti-political impingement."

Around the Dial

WMZQ-AM/FM (1390/98.7) cited failure to agree to contract terms for program director Gary Balaban's hitting the road last Tuesday -- though insiders say it was bad blood with staffers. Bob McNeill, who was the contemporary country station's operations manager in 1983, returns as program director. Meanwhile, announcer Chris Connors has moved his part-time shift up the dial to oldies-oriented WXTR-FM (104.1) from WMZQ ... Doug Gondek, who as program director and midday jock gets much of the credit for WCXR-FM (105.9) rising from the country KIX-106 ratings rubble to a popular classic rock station, leaves Thursday to become an off-air program director at a major market station in another area code. He's being secretive because the guy he's replacing doesn't know about it yet.