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Clip: Forget the Seven Dirty Words: Radio's newest obscenity is "FCC."

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  • Carl Zimring
    Three Dirty Letters Forget the Seven Dirty Words: Radio s newest obscenity is FCC. BY DAN
    Message 1 of 4 , Jul 7, 2004
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      <http://www.eastbayexpress.com/issues/2004-07-07/music.html>

      Three Dirty Letters
      Forget the Seven Dirty Words: Radio's newest obscenity is "FCC."
      BY DAN STRACHOTA
      feedback@...

      Who would've thought that Janet Jackson's boob could bring about the end of
      broadcasting as we know it? It seems one Super Bowl halftime show nipple is
      catastrophic enough to intimidate media giants, cow stations into altering
      broadcasting processes, and toss the suffocating cloak of censorship upon
      us all.

      Okay, so Ms. Nasty had some help. The new age of media McCarthyism can also
      be laid at the feet of Bono, guilty of calling the Golden Globes "fucking
      brilliant" during a live January 2003 telecast. But these two incidents
      were enough to inspire the House of Representatives to pass the Broadcast
      Decency Enforcement Act in April: This frightening piece of legislation
      gives the FCC the power to decimate the broadcast world, fining the small
      fry out of existence and sanitizing the big companies beyond belief. (In
      case you needed another reason to slap a "Barbara Lee Speaks for Me" bumper
      sticker on your car, she was one of only 22 representatives to vote against
      the bill, along with San Jose's Zoe Lofgren and Mike Honda. Minority leader
      Nancy Pelosi voted for it.)

      Two weeks ago, the Senate voted 99-1 in favor of a similar measure,
      although the politicians hadn't bothered to debate its merits for even one
      minute -- the item had quietly sneaked into a huge military spending bill.
      According to the Associated Press, the lone dissenter (Senator John Breaux,
      D-LA) voted against the bill because "It deals with communications and
      media issues, and should not have been attached to a national security and
      defense bill." Apparently his peers had no such qualms.

      Is this legislation really so bad? Well, consider this: The House act would
      raise the maximum penalty from $27,500 to $500,000 per obscenity,
      profanity, or indecent remark, while the Senate bill would boost the fine
      to $275,000 per instance, with a max of $3 million dollars. (An obscenity
      is defined as patently offensive and sexual, such as comedian George
      Carlin's notorious seven dirty words (fuck, shit, piss, cunt, cocksucker,
      motherfucker, and tits); an indecency depicts sex or excretory functions
      that aren't quite obscene; and a profanity is -- or until recently was --
      blasphemous. Obscenities are forbidden, while profanities and indecencies
      are allowed only between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.)

      As Lisa Yimm, program director for KUSF-FM, points out, "One fine could
      wipe out our entire station." Unfortunately, it gets worse. In the past,
      one song with twelve "fucks" in it was equal to one offense; now, that tune
      can be considered twelve infractions, and twelve would be nine too many,
      since, according to the bill, the FCC would follow a new three-strikes
      system, in which it could revoke a station's license after three
      violations. So if KFJC-FM bleeped only twelve of the fifteen obscenities in
      Snoop Dogg's "Gin and Juice," the station could get fined $1.5 million and
      be shut down. (The ultimate irony here is that the FCC's early-'90s
      deregulation policies created huge companies that could afford to pay these
      smaller fines, therefore necessitating the larger penalties.)

      The FCC, under pressure to act as though it is cleaning up the airwaves,
      has increased its watchfulness, announcing that it will no longer look the
      other way if a DJ removes an obscene song midway through, partially bleeps
      a bad word, or unsuccessfully cautions a guest against uttering profanity.
      And following Bono's Golden Globes utterance, the FCC decided to change its
      view of the word "fuck," making all uses -- even adverbial ones -- profane
      and therefore actionable. (While some may view the Golden Globes as
      blasphemous, most wouldn't view the singer's outburst as such.) The FCC
      also stepped up its aggressiveness, issuing a far larger number of fines:
      $755,000 for a slew of stations that aired an episode of Bubba the Love
      Sponge's radio show in which Scooby Doo and George Jetson discussed sexual
      activities, and $4,000 to WXDJ-FM in Miami for talking to Fidel Castro
      without revealing he was being recorded.

      Then there are the two large fines for Howard Stern: one featuring a
      discussion of anal sex and a new back-door-cleaning product, and another
      including vivid definitions of colloquial sex terms like "blumpkin." (The
      latter fine caused the most brouhaha, especially when Stern pointed out
      that Oprah Winfrey discussed similar terms on her show the very same day.)

      "It's just so nebulous," says Harrison Chastang, news director for SF
      community station KPOO-FM. "Almost anything can be considered objectionable
      or obscene by someone."

      One recent case shows that even the FCC isn't sure where it stands on
      indecency. Back in 2001, Portland's tiny KBOO-FM was fined by the agency
      for playing Sarah Jones' "Your Revolution," a feminist reworking of rap
      lyrics that features a large amount of graphic sexual language. Then, in
      early 2003, the FCC overturned its ruling, noting that "the sexual
      descriptions in the song are not sufficiently graphic." The singer also had
      been asked to perform the song at high school assemblies. But if KBOO had
      played the tune a week after Bono's utterance, it wouldn't have mattered if
      Jones had been asked to play Bush's Texas ranch -- timing is twice as
      important as context, it seems.

      "With the last administration, the laws were so amorphous that they
      couldn't make anything stick," KUSF's Yimm says. "With this administration,
      it's so amorphous they can make it stick no matter what."

      How has the industry reacted to this hullabaloo? With more fear than a
      Broncos fan at a Raiders game. KCRW-FM in Santa Monica fired bland yuppie
      commentator Sandra Tsing Loh following an unbleeped utterance of "fuck"
      during one of her monologues. WRUR-FM in Rochester deep-sixed all its live
      programming. Some stations stopped playing Prince's "Erotic City," even
      though he sings I want to funk you up; others have reportedly edited
      long-tolerated classic rock nuggets such as Steve Miller's "Jet Airliner."
      Elsewhere, an Indianapolis station has started self-censoring broadcasts,
      beeping seemingly innocuous words like "urinate," "damn," and "orgy."

      Meanwhile, Clear Channel, which has strong ties to the Bush administration,
      dropped Stern and Bubba from its affiliates. Then the company agreed to pay
      the FCC a record $1.75 million in fees and admit it aired indecent
      material. The latter admission could do the most damage, as other companies
      have used the defense that such language isn't indecent at all.

      Last month, Stern's boss and champion at Infinity Broadcasting, Mel
      Karmazin, resigned, causing speculation that Stern would be next to get the
      axe, even though he has a weekly audience of eight million. (Salon.com's
      Eric Boehlert suggested recently that Stern's followers could have a larger
      impact on the presidential election than Ralph Nader's, as Stern has taken
      to publicly slamming Bush at every opportunity.)

      When asked about the current radio environment, Steve Dinardo -- general
      manager for Live 105, which broadcasts Stern locally -- declined to
      comment, pointing instead to Karen Mateo, New York-based spokesperson for
      Infinity. She also refused to speak about the FCC, the legislation, or
      Stern, instead referencing Karmazin's February congressional testimony, in
      which he said that Infinity employees would be harshly chastised for
      allowing indecencies on the air.

      Other local nonchain stations were more forthcoming. KPOO's Chastang
      pointed to the "Your Revolution" incident as a way the FCC is financially
      censoring radio, pointing out that small stations don't have the money to
      fight fines. He also suggests that the rulings will cut down on the amount
      of community awareness: KPOO, for instance, is considering giving up live
      broadcasts of city meetings, as the station would rather not take a chance
      that Joe O'Donohue or some excitable petitioner will start cursing at the
      top of his or her lungs.

      "The climate we're in is so wacky that nothing fazes me anymore," Yimm
      says. "It just blows my mind."

      So if everything is potentially prurient and actionable now, artists might
      as well make it really prurient and actionable if they're screwed anyway.
      As for Congress, instead of raising the fines to intimidate huge
      conglomerates, perhaps legislators ought to toughen the monopoly laws so
      companies can't calculate huge fines into their budgets.

      In the end, though, perhaps we should leave it to Monty Python alum Eric
      Idle to put this mess into perspective. Here's a few lines from a song he
      wrote recently, available at PythOnline.com: Fuck you very much, the
      FCC/Fuck you very much for fining me/5,000 [sic] bucks a fuck/So I'm really
      out of luck/That's more than Heidi Fleiss was charging me/So fuck you very
      much, the FCC/For proving that free speech just isn't free.
    • David Atteberry
      But, apparently it s perfectly acceptable for the vice president to tell senators to go fuck themselves and then brag about it on television. David hoping Carl
      Message 2 of 4 , Jul 8, 2004
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        But, apparently it's perfectly acceptable for the vice president to tell senators to go fuck themselves and then brag about it on television.

        David
        hoping Carl Z. won't fine him for profanity

        Carl Zimring <cz28@...> wrote:
        <http://www.eastbayexpress.com/issues/2004-07-07/music.html>

        Three Dirty Letters
        Forget the Seven Dirty Words: Radio's newest obscenity is "FCC."
        BY DAN STRACHOTA
        feedback@...

        Who would've thought that Janet Jackson's boob could bring about the end of
        broadcasting as we know it? It seems one Super Bowl halftime show nipple is
        catastrophic enough to intimidate media giants, cow stations into altering
        broadcasting processes, and toss the suffocating cloak of censorship upon
        us all.



        ---------------------------------
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        [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
      • Rob Jefferson
        ... Hearing more and more about what the FCC and Congress are doing these days makes me glad my metal show will be coming to a close soon. Somehow I don t
        Message 3 of 4 , Jul 8, 2004
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          On Wed, 7 Jul 2004, Carl Zimring wrote:

          > <http://www.eastbayexpress.com/issues/2004-07-07/music.html>

          Hearing more and more about what the FCC and Congress are doing these days
          makes me glad my metal show will be coming to a close soon. Somehow I
          don't think "if you're able to understand what these guys are saying, you
          aren't the type to be offended" would be a viable defense anymore.

          rob
        • Carl Zimring
          --On Thursday, July 8, 2004 4:16 PM -0400 Rob Jefferson ... These things tend to get worse in election years; I ve heard that -- even if Bush wins the election
          Message 4 of 4 , Jul 8, 2004
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            --On Thursday, July 8, 2004 4:16 PM -0400 Rob Jefferson
            <jeffer@...> wrote:

            >> <http://www.eastbayexpress.com/issues/2004-07-07/music.html>
            >
            > Hearing more and more about what the FCC and Congress are doing these
            > days makes me glad my metal show will be coming to a close soon.
            > Somehow I don't think "if you're able to understand what these guys are
            > saying, you aren't the type to be offended" would be a viable defense
            > anymore.

            These things tend to get worse in election years; I've heard that -- even
            if Bush wins the election -- Michael Powell will leave the FCC. It's
            possible someone more arbitrary might replace him, but that would take some
            doing.

            I wouldn't be surprised if the new rules became the subject of a 1st
            amendment suit by the likes of Howard Stern. It would probably have to be
            someone employed by CBS/Infinity, Clear Channel or another giant...although
            perhaps a college station would find the fines so steep that they'd produce
            an incentive to hire attorneys and sue instead? I have a feeling we'll see
            a test sooner rather than later.

            Loved Cheney's obscenity on the day this passed. Ah, public discourse!

            Carl Z.
            NPIMH: Ice T, "Freedom of Speech: Just Watch What You Say"
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