By midmorning Thursday, phones were ringing all over Baltimore and the message was the same:

Get the Baltimore Sun. Turn to Page 9F. Look closely at the carousel.

Reactions differed from there.

Some thought it was pornographic and some thought it was outrageous and others wondered what it was doing in the newspaper.

"Suddenly it's all fun and games under the JFX!" read the headline on the full-page ad for Baltimore's annual City Fair, held under the Jones Fall Expressway that cuts through downtown. And in the drawing underneath, amid hundreds of tiny pen-and-ink figures crowding the fairgrounds, was a couple engaged in fun and games of the most primordial nature on the carousel.

As of yesterday, the ad was gone; the advertising agency was told it could keep its $900,000 contract with Baltimore's Transportation Department but must publish an apology in three Baltimore papers; and the artist had tendered his resignation, effective immediately.

But Donald Schnably, art director and founding partner of the Baltimore advertising firm of Schnably, Evans & McLaughlin, was not going without proclaiming his innocence.

"That was a lion," Schnably said when initially contacted about the curly-haired female figure.

"It's the first lion I've ever seen that has obvious bosoms," said Lester Kinsolving, a Baltimore radio talk show host.

Not to mention that the male figure appears to be wearing a striped shirt and his trousers around his ankles.

Kinsolving and his listeners had quite a chat Thursday about the "JFX-rated" ad.

"Oh my God, did we have fun with that," the talk show host said, adding that only one "religious" listener called to complain.

This may be, in fact, one of those situations that is fun for everyone except the principals involved.

Stephen Kaiser, vice president of the advertising agency, said he and coworkers have apologized to the city and to the newspapers -- the ad ran in all 223,334 copies of The Sun distributed Thursday and about 60,000 copies of The Evening Sun before the couple was pointed out. The female figure was then erased.

Agency officials have been busy calming other clients, and Kaiser said no one has canceled a contract. The agency has received a steady stream of calls from the public, and the reaction, he said diplomatically, is "mixed."

Kaiser didn't attempt to play down the controversy. Kaiser said that if Schnably claimed the female figure is a lion, well, then it's a lion, but he and others in the agency "could see how {the drawing} could be interpreted as lewd and obscene."

He also denied one theory circulating that this was a publicity stunt. "We never intended it as a joke or stunt to draw attention to our agency," he said.

At the city's transportation department, a secretary was polling callers. Most of the callers Thursday objected to the ad, she said, but Friday's callers thought the agency shouldn't be treated too harshly.

"People in Baltimore have a marvelous sense of humor," Kinsolving said. "And sex, of course, is always interesting."