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The Daily Whim

The Daily Whim

Mon. Mar 08, 2004

Dead Man Talking, And Talking, And Talking

Dead Man Talking, And Talking, And Talking – Allegedly coming this week: ”Regulators are proposing fines against major radio companies for carrying well-known ’shock jocks’ in a widening effort to clean up U.S. airwaves. The Federal Communications Commission says about a dozen cases are being completed and one major target is Howard Stern, the popular and controversial radio show host.

Those fines allegedly will be announced in the coming week, and Howard Stern claims he is certain it will be ”The End” for him. And recently, Stern’s syndicated show was dumped from six stations owned by MegaConglomerate Clear Channel. There are people, like Jeff Jarvis, who insist that these actions mean Howard Stern’s free speech is being violated. Due to government pressure. And you may be next.

As best I can gather, there are three primary arguments being put forth:

[1] The government has created an environment of ”fear” in the media ever since the Janet Jackson Super Bowl Costume Malfunction, and as a result of that, Howard’s free speech is now being censored.

[2] The government is putting pressure on Clear Channel because Howard has been critical of the Bush administration, and now endorses ”Anybody But Bush.”

[3] Howard isn’t doing anything he wasn’t before, what’s new is the government pressure on his corporate bosses.

I’ve written about this recently. As someone who worked in the radio business for nearly a decade, I want to address each of the points being made, but that means this is likely to get long, and potentially profane or vulgar, depending on your personal standards, as we must use the vernacular of shock jocks. Proceed forewarned.

But if you want the short tame proof this is nothing new, consider this quote: ”Howard Stern is Dead Man Talking. Remember where you heard it first.” And where and when did we hear it first? From Michael Harris, in Ottawa, Tuesday, November 18, 1997.

Seven years ago.

As I’ll be showing you repeatedly, this is nothing new.

[1] The government has created an environment of ”fear” in the media ever since the Janet Jackson Super Bowl Costume Malfunction, and as a result of that, Howard’s free speech is being censored.

I have two basic responses to this point, the first specific to Howard: ”Live by the Tit, Die by the Tit.” Howard’s show has always been focused on breasts (including contests to buy implants for willing lasses), strippers, lesbian sex, and other stark sexual innuendo. If all this is indeed the fault of Janet Jackson’s boob, then Howard was taken out on his home turf, on the bosomy stake he claimed. Even he must appreciate the irony in that.

But the real response is one of ”standards.” I’ve yet to hear anyone argue that showing bared breasts at halftime of the Super Bowl ought to be expected, routine, and accepted. Even those who think there should be no consequences for Ms. Jackson, MTV, or CBS, at least agree that it exceeded previous standards.

The people reacted to that. The majority consensus in America was that it went way too far. Standards of decency expected to be upheld on broadcast airwaves had been violated. The government, in response, reacts to the people’s anger with the bare minimum: an investigation. And a Senator or two spouting off, happy someone is in trouble other than them.

Ain’t democracy great?

Meanwhile, Howard is still on the air on more than 70 stations, still able to whine daily about his imminent demise (”I’m not quite dead yet!”), and still collecting his estimated $12-$17 million dollar annual income.

And the Republic trembles from the trampling of free speech.

The FCC has been around since shortly after Marconi started emitting transmitter noise. It has always been their job to police those who are licensed to operate on the public airwaves, and thus protect community standards. I personally don’t think the majority of America is ready for the 7 Dirty Words to be heard, and Tits and Ass to be seen on broadcast TV, especially between 7pm and 10pm when families, i.e., children, are likely to be watching. I don’t think the majority of America is ready for talk radio shows that feature no-holds-barred cussing and ethnic slurs, let fly simply in the name of ratings and profit.

So you can either support the community standards protection the FCC has always provided, or you can support abolishing the FCC completely, and letting media sink to the lowest profane level that can find a niche audience.

There really is no middle ground.

If you like a total free-for-all in your entertainment, go get HBO, the Playboy Channel, or any other adult content you can find and buy. But the stuff that’s free, the stuff that flies over the airwaves of our cities, it has restrictions. It always has. And it’s my opinion that those restrictions are [1] far less strict than they were when I was in the business 20 years ago, i.e., they have shifted with the times, and [2] a Good Thing.

In addition, there is little evidence the FCC is on some kind of Fine Rampage. In fact, quite the opposite. There are over 13,500 radio stations in the US, and according to the list on this page, the FCC has issued an average of less than 15 fines per year since November, 1999. These range from the recent $755,000 fine against Clear Channel over ”Bubba the Love Sponge,” to a bunch of $7,000 fines (18 of the 50 or so fines listed).

And though it wasn’t an exhaustive search, I was only able to find one case where the FCC actually revoked a radio station’s license. And it was over ”misrepresentation and lack of candor” regarding the move to a new transmitter location, not broadcast content.

If the above is an example of a government pogrom, thank God for the bureaucratic inefficiency that must be the reason so few fines and revocations have actually been passed down.

[2] The government is putting pressure on Clear Channel because Howard has been critical of the Bush administration, and now endorses ”Anybody But Bush.”

If that was true, Al Franken and Bill O’Reilly (who recently questioned whether he could continue to support the President) would be in the gulag alongside Howard. And while that’s a most entertaining proposition to ponder, the fact is no one is in a gulag over this.

If you wanted to put pressure on a radio personality, would you apply it to a company that only owned six of the 70-odd stations in his network? Or would you choose the company that syndicates his show? If your goal is to take him out, why go after less than 10% of him?

And you’d also have to prove that Howard is suddenly facing FCC fines under a Bush administration that he has never faced before. As we’ll see below, that’s hardly the case.

[3] Howard isn’t doing anything he wasn’t before, what’s new is the government pressure on his corporate bosses.

Have you noted the total refusal to accept any responsibility for actions or content here? [1] argues this is the fault of Janet Jackson, BoobGate, and the rabid government censorship that followed, and [2] suggests it’s politically motivated, because Howard disses Bush.

You can hear the finger pointing from the horse’s mouth: ”’I don’t think we can stop it, short of me calling up President Bush and saying ’Look man, I’m going to support you, so don’t do this.’’ Supporting President Bush’s Democratic opponent isn’t attractive to Stern either. ’Unfortunately, when they asked [John Kerry] about it, he completely skirted the issue, so it leaves me little recourse in terms of going to him.’

As for celebrity and media support of his free speech rights, Stern doesn’t expect it. ’Most of Hollywood and most of the media will be happy to see me gone. They will not fight for my First Amendment rights, because they don’t like me. I make fun of them. I goof on them. I’m dangerous to them. Everyone wants me to go down. They’ve been praying for this for 20 years.’

It’s not about his actions, Howard’s just a total victim here. It’s Bush (and Kerry’s no better), it’s the Hollywood types, it’s the media, it’s Janet Jackson, it’s the guy who forgot to press the bleep button … it’s society.

Not Howard.

As a summarization of that concept, [3] suggests that there’s nothing new here at all, Howard has always been this way. What’s new is government censorship. Howard even claims the incident in question wasn’t that vulgar: ”Discussing a clip from The Sharon Osbourne Show where she said ’Apparently the talk got very raunchy when Paris Hilton’s boyfriend was on,’ Stern stammered: ’Wrong! It wasn’t that raunchy. I mean, I asked some questions. I said, Did you ever have anal sex? But that’s nothing out of the ordinary.’

’Nothing that hasn’t happened here every day for the last ten years,’ added Robin Quivers.

She’s absolutely correct, except it’s more like 20 years. And Robin should know. She was a part of his on-air crew when he got fired from DC 101 … in 1982. Twenty two years and three presidential administrations ago. But Howard took the whole gang with him when he then got hired at WNBC, New York. And Robin was there again when he got fired from WNBC in 1985.

This was back when I was in the business, in the Dinosaur Days when a disc jockey was only on the air on one station at a time (other than Kasey Kasem). After I left, syndication became prevalent, and Howard was one of the first. He no longer had to pack up and move on when a station ”fired” him, he just tried to add some other station to his syndication network.

All that was left to deal with was FCC fines. What, you say, you thought Howard was a virgin to FCC fines? One would certainly think so from all the talk, even from Howard: ”It’s over for me as a broadcaster. I’m checkmated. All they gotta do is fine us and then we’re gone. And there’s nothing we can do about it.

It sounds like that first FCC fine will be enough to knock Howard off the air everywhere. But don’t buy the hype. Howard’s got a rap sheet with the FCC a mile long. And … gasp ... almost all of it happened before Bush even reached the federal government.

So, you say, this time will be different, as it will be a huge fine sure to make his corporate bosses quake.

They rarely have before. Howard has cost his employers millions of dollars in FCC fines, over the course of the past 12 years:

1992: ”Radio’s Howard Stern racked up $1.7 million in fines in 1992 from the Federal Communications Commission for talking dirty. The comment that led to the FCC’s fine was a syrupy comedy routine involving fantasies about pancake maven Aunt Jemima.

1995: ”The FCC … decided to fine WBZU in Richmond, formally, WVGO, for something deemed offensive from a broadcast of Howard’s show.

1997: ”He has had a running battle with the Federal Communications Commission over free speech issues. He is currently fighting FCC fines totaling over $1.5 million.

1997: ”Well, this week the Stern hit the fan with a $6000 fine when Howard’s flagship station, WXRK FM, 92.3 K-Rock, was hit with a Notice of Apparent Liability (a fine) for having aired segments of the Stern show that were found to be indecent enough by the FCC to fine WBUZ in Richmond and WEZB in New Orleans both $10,000 late last year.

1999: ”He had a man play the piano with his penis, which resulted in the first of Stern’s many FCC fines for indecency. He also asked porno star Jenna Jamison’s father to identify his daughter’s vagina from a lineup of five vagina photos, which Jamison’s father did. The staff applauded, and a Stern affiliate was fined. While breaking social mores, Stern has cost his parent company, Infinity Broadcasting (a division of CBS), more than $1 million in FCC fines. Technically Infinity’s payouts are ’donations’ to the U.S. Treasury, something to ensure it can purchase more radio stations. For Infinity Broadcasting, the fines are a small cost of doing business. Stern is its cash cow.

Re-read those last two lines. Infinity feels Howard’s controversial acts and FCC fines … millions of dollars … are a cost of doing business, with their ”cash cow.” They profit from it.

Obviously, Clear Channel has made a different business decision, perhaps as a result of the sting from a $755,000 fine over another of their ”talents.” That would certainly make one reassess the bottom line impact of such ”talent.” And any reasonable person who looks at Stern’s decade long history of millions of dollars of fines has to know more are to come.

It’s a part of his game, and always has been. Since Bush’s Daddy left office, Howard hasn’t been able to go more than a couple of years without stepping knee deep in the dog’s business, with hefty fines of up to seven figures as a result.

There’s nothing new here at all.

In fact, any claim that this is a free speech issue based on political motivation ignores the specific statute for broadcast indecency: ”To be obscene, material must meet a three-prong test: (1) an average person, applying contemporary community standards, must find that the material, as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest; (2) the material must depict or describe, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by applicable law; and (3) the material, taken as a whole, must lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value. See Miller v. California, 413 U.S. 15 (1973).

Note number (3). In other words, you could broadcast a cuss fest against Bush as a part of a political manifesto, and not fall under the penalties of this statute. But that’s not what Howard’s doing.

The ”free speech” in question here is scatological humor. Genital humor. The freedom to talk to a guy who likes to vomit on women for enjoyment, to ask another guy if he had anal sex with a hotel heiress, to buy breast implants for some poor unendowed lesbian, and issue fart noises when someone uses the word ”but” (and we won’t even go into the ”queefs” his invited guests occasionally send over the mike).

That’s the free speech we’re supposed to get all riled about protecting, and the fact that six radio stations out of the thousands in this country no longer carry it. Or the fact he may get fined for it. Again.

This is not Patrick Henry being silenced, or stuffing a sock in the mouth of a modern day Thomas Jefferson. It’s the same thing Howard has gotten in trouble over for decades. It’s the same thing that caused Infinity to pay over a $1 million settlement to the FCC because of Howard’s exploits … in 1992.

The only thing that’s really new is that his corporate bosses may be weighing the balance sheet differently this time. However, Infinity has been willing to suck down millions in fines, for a guy they pay $12-$17 million a year, as a cost of doing business with their cash cow. They’ve been doing it over a decade, and I see no reason to expect they’ll change.

But if they do, it’s a business decision. And it will be because of penalties over long established law, specific statutes that were written … and used against Howard … long before Bush approached the federal level.

There’s nothing new here.

Except maybe this (via Right Wing News): ”The House Energy and Commerce Committee voted 49-1 to send a tough broadcast-indecency bill to the full House of Representatives, which could vote as early as next week on the measure.

Fueled by growing complaints over indecency, the bill dramatically raises the maximum fines for broadcasting indecent material to $500,000 per incident, up from $27,500 [...] The bill would also authorize the Federal Communications Commission to launch license-revocation proceedings if a broadcaster violated indecency rules three times.

Quite a few people have used this proposed bill as a ”turning point” for them on the issue of Howard Stern and free speech. I’m not one of them. When I was in radio, I can assure you the man who owned the station (and six others, the limit the law allowed 20 years ago) would have been quite stung by a $27,500 fine. It would have had the desired effect.

To a company like Clear Channel or Viacom, $27,500 is about the equivalent of the daily company-wide bill for breakfast danishes and donuts. A fine of that size has zero impact on a company of that size. Therefore, raising the amount of the maximum fine seems quite reasonable to me. And a review of the past three years of FCC fines shows that, even now, the actual fines issued rarely approach the maximum.

As for the ”three strikes and you’re out” rule, I think I covered that above. The total population of 13,500 radio stations (and tens of thousands of DJ’s) have been subjected to an average of less than 15 individual fines per year, over the past 3.5 years. That’s one tenth of one percent. Gosh, I’d bet there’s a similar percentage of felons in the general population, and we willing subject them to the ”three strikes and you’re out” rule. Because they are exceptional offenders within the much larger general population. In addition, I can’t find a single radio license revocation since 1998 (or any before that, either).

The FCC simply isn’t doing a very good Gestapo imitation. And on this proposed bill, even Clear Channel has shrugged their shoulders in indifference: ”Andrew Levin, lobbyist for the nation’s largest radio broadcaster, Clear Channel Communications Inc., said his company doesn’t oppose the bill, but doesn’t think it is necessary.

’We are taking steps to voluntarily clean up the airwaves,’ he said. But he added the bill ’could provide a powerful incentive to other broadcasters … to make sure their broadcasts comply with the law.’

Clear Channel and all of the major television networks have announced plans to clean up broadcasts in the wake of congressional hearings. But members noted that 80% of the broadcasts found by the FCC to be indecent have aired on either Clear Channel stations or Viacom’s Inc.’s Infinity Broadcasting radio unit.

The bill makes no attempt to extend broadcast indecency standards to cable networks. Such provisions would likely be thrown out in court because Congress lacks jurisdiction, said Rep. Upton.

John Hawkins says we should be concerned:I say that because next time the government might decide to step in and start leveling huge fines on WEBSITES that they decide are ’indecent’ or radio talk show hosts who they decide are only presenting one political point of view and therefore aren’t being ’fair’.

Above, Rep. Upton made it clear Congress can’t even extend their broadcast decency standards to cable networks. It’s outside their (and therefore, the FCC’s) jurisdiction. ”WEBSITES” exist on the World Wide Web. Also, clearly outside the jurisdiction of Congress, i.e., there are web servers all over the world. There is no legal mechanism that exists by which Congress or the FCC could fine a web site owner for violating decency standards. They can’t even fine cable.

So, again, we’re faced with another strawman that distracts us from the basic truth: Howard’s always gotten fired/fined because he violates broadcast decency standards that have been in place for many decades. There is truly no one to blame but Howard.

Because if Howard’s a victim, he’s been one his whole career, certainly over the 12 years he’s amassed millions in FCC fines. Yet in each of those years, he’s somehow managed to take home a seven or eight figure income for continuing his shtick.

We should all be so oppressed.


Peanut Gallery

1  Harvey wrote:

Excellent, clear-headed analysis. This kinda stuff is what makes me a daily reader :-)

2  Law talking dude wrote:

While I totally agree that this is all nothing new for Howard (getting in trouble & whining about it), I do feel obliged to point out the the Miller v. California test for "obscenity" which you quoted above isn't part of the FCC regulations governing radio. The obscenity test used above is applicable to laws governing normal unregulated speech. The FCC uses an "indecency" standard which is a much more restrictive standard - an infringment on normal first amendment rights which the FCC justifies by saying that the fact that the public airwaves are the property of the federal government used by private companies pursuant to a license from the government allows them to use more stringent standards. Nothing Howard is accused of saying would come remotely near failing the obscenity test.

Comment by Law talking dude · 03/10/2004 11:06 PM
3  Half Canadian wrote:

This is the most sensible thing I've read on the matter. Worst case scenario for Howard is that he moves his gig to Sattellite radio. It's pretty pathetic that he's crying victim.

4  Shannon Love wrote:

I think it's important to remember that Stern broadcast in publicly owned radio spectrum. Neither he, his syndicate nor the individual radio stations pay anything like the true market value for that radio spectrum. Broadcaster get free radio spectrum in return for accepting basic government oversight. That has always been the deal. Stern's speech was never "free." It as heavily subsidized by the people and now they are calling Stern to account.

5  Reid wrote:

"...I do feel obliged to point out the the Miller v. California test for 'obscenity' which you quoted above isn't part of the FCC regulations governing radio" Hmmm. You are most correct, Sir Law Talkin' Dude, I Am Not A Lawyer, but I am able to create an accurate link with quoted text. It's one of my few talents. And that one came directly from the FCC, on a page from their "Enforcement Bureau", defining "Obscene and Indecent Broadcasts." So I guess it was them pointing to the Miller v. California test for 'obscenity', not me.

6  Matt Rustler wrote:

Excellent analysis. You've gotten right to the point I was hunting for when I wrote, a few days ago, "honestly, Howard, the future of human liberty does turn directly on whether you're able to broadcast the play-by-play of your latest game of Anal Ring Toss [if you don't know, don't ask -- ed.], or a woman having multiple orgasms while masturbating on-air . . . " It helps to actually know something about your topic, and you obviously do. Kudos.

7  Eric Scheie wrote:

The long list of Howard Stern's incidents of indecency proves mainly that he has been indecent for a long time. I have been a daily listener for ten years, but I have never seen anything resembling this -- being yanked off six stations simultaneously while his enemies yell for shutting him down completely. Your central argument is that it's nothing new. Well, it's new to me, and I don't like it, because I want to listen to Howard Stern, and because I don't think the drive for "cleaning up the airwaves" will stop with him. Much is made of Howard crying wolf, although it's obvious you realize that is part of his shtick. Yet in logic, crying wolf has nothing to do with the presence or absence of an actual wolf. The legend itself is a lesson in warning people not to complain about things which aren't really happening. The fact is that people who kvetch about "persecution" ARE sometimes persecuted. (I hope you don't think that unfounded complaints justify genuine persecution.) I hope you are right in your assessment that none of this will amount to anything, because I don't want to lose Howard Stern, who I think is one of the most original, most refreshing artists in the country. If you are right, then he's a boy crying wolf. If you are wrong, then my quality of life will suffer, because I won't be able to turn on my radio in the morning and wake up to him. Those who don't like Howard Stern don't have to listen to him, so their quality of life will not be affected either way. (Except, I guess, for the small minority whose quality of life improves if others are prevented from hearing what they hate.) Sometimes I wonder whether much of this argument is driven by whether people like Howard Stern or not. People who like him don't like what is happening, while people who hate him think it's great. (The rest being largely window dressing.)

8  Laurie K. wrote:

Eric, Howard's been dropped by Clear Channel and perhaps fined by the FCC (yet again) for the violation of company and federal policy. Both entities have every right to enforce these rules. Howard knows this. For some reason, this time, it's driven him into vast, conspiratorial, tinfoil hat rants that display such vast reservoirs of shallow, ignorant narcissism that he's lost me -- a fan of a decade's good standing -- for good. There's nothing worse than a self-proclaimed outlaw, a envelope-pushing risk taker, who cries like ten thousand babies when the perfectly logical consequences hit him in the ass every few years or so. It's not about politics, it's not about the religious right...it's about the chickens coming home to roost, as they have several times in the past. And, unfortunately, it's about one man's megalomaniacal myopia, that he can't see that it's his own fault. I can't believe so many of his listeners -- I can't believe he has any at this point, he's so boring -- fall for his age-old line. LK

9  Ted wrote:

Excellent read. Linked here from Instapundit. Just added a new favorite to my links list! :) I'm so sick of Stern. And if he thinks he's going to have any impact on this election, he's nuts. Pimply- faced teenage boys that think its funny to listen to Stern give breast exams to porn stars on the radio aren't exactly going to swing the vote.

Comment by Ted · 03/11/2004 05:42 AM
10  Mike South wrote:

As one infinately familiar with the Miller Test I can say thet the prvious comments are indeed correct. I work in the adult entertainment industry and I am avowed Libertarian, though somewhat right leaning. Howard Stern? Heís been a creatively bankrupt asshole cynically pandering to the idiocy of his mass audience for decades. But, um, that happens to be his right, just as itís the right of the marketplace to offer his message or not, and every American citizen to listen or not. I believe that really the marketplace should decide who stayd on and who goes away. Given the rope to hang himself without government interferance, Stern would self destruct. I think Rush limbaugh had it right in that this sets a dangerous precedent. Ask yourself what happens when it becomes President Hillary Clinton and the federal government decides that Howard isn't any real harm but conservative talk radio is. The right to free speech is an absolute, so long as you do not interfere with someone else's life , liberty or pursuit of hapiness. If people don't like Howard, turn him off, his sponsors will drop him and he will find himself unemployed. I dare say that educated people don't find Howard all that interesting, maybe that's the answer. I think Howard is a prime example of the failure of our government educational system.

11  Reid wrote:

"The right to free speech is an absolute, so long as you do not interfere with someone elseís life , liberty or pursuit of hapiness." 100% agreed, Mike. Howard should have the very same right to voice his free speech that I do. I have the right to put my free speech here on the web (within certain paid limitations, i.e., the space to place it), to send those same views to my elected representatives, to write letters to the editor, to go participate in civil protests, and to broadcast on them on my morning radio show. Oh, wait. I don't have a morning radio show. So it would seem my free speech is being oppressed by someone. Because it's either that, or Howard has no "absolute" right to broadcast his views on morning radio. He has the same rights to free speech that I do. And I haven't been allowed on the radio for almost two decades. I certainly haven't been paid millions per year for it. Have you? If not, are you being oppressed?

12  Robert wrote:

I think Rush limbaugh had it right in that this sets a dangerous precedent. Ask yourself what happens when it becomes President Hillary Clinton and the federal government decides that Howard isnít any real harm but conservative talk radio is
The distinction being that Stern's speech is apolitical. If the FCC starts trying to police political speech, I'll meet you at the barricades.

13  Jimbeaux wrote:

Interesting analysis. But I have a problem with your view of Howard's present transgression. You leave the reader with a sense that you'll demolish his claim that he's getting fined for asking that guy (I forget his name) about anal sex with Paris Hilton. But then there's nothing. Is the anal sex comment supposed to speak for itself? I mean, I have a real problem with FCC enforcement if they suddenly choose to fine Howard for asking a question about something which, for better or worse, has become newsworthy. As Howard says, anal sex is not exactly a new topic on his show. And although I think his blathering about how he's a Bush administration scapegoat is silly, I think that singling out this question about anal sex is even sillier. It certainly leaves persons with the sense that the "standards" are far too amorphous to deal with. And points up a serious problem with FCC enforcement in general.

Comment by Jimbeaux · 03/11/2004 03:44 PM
14  Reid wrote:

"Is the anal sex comment supposed to speak for itself?" No, Robin's comment about it is: "Nothing that hasn't happened here every day for the last ten years." Ten years during which Howard has amassed millions in multiple FCC fines. More of same. "As Howard says, anal sex is not exactly a new topic on his show. And although I think his blathering about how he's a Bush administration scapegoat is silly, I think that singling out this question about anal sex is even sillier." I can't judge the specifics ... because there are none. There are only allegations and rumors. The rumor is that it was about that content, and the allegation (made by Howard himself) was that the fines would happen this week. Later, he backed off that, as his "inside sources" now say they may hold off and fine him after the election. And where have the vast majority of the rumors and allegations of fines come from? Howard. His "inside sources." Or the voices in his head. You pick. When and if an actual FCC fine is announced, I'll be happy to comment further. But I'm betting either [1] there won't be one, or [2] if there is, it will be relatively minimal (in multi-million Howard terms, that is). "It certainly leaves persons with the sense that the 'standards' are far too amorphous to deal with." As someone who dealt with them for a decade, they were always very clear to me. And I never got fined.

15  DaveFla wrote:

I'm starting a movement to respond to the "Don't like it? Don't listen" argument. Our position will sound something like this: "Want tastelessness and near porn on your radio or TV? Sign up for a pay service, 'cause it isn't allowed on the public airwaves." Thanks, Reid, for giving me the history to point out that this is ALREADY THE CASE, the evidence of Howard Stern's last ten years notwithstanding.

Comment by DaveFla · 03/11/2004 04:28 PM
16  jjasper wrote:

Bah bah bah. All you really want is a nanny state to protect you from "indecency". What a bunch of frightened sheep. You all know you and your kids can get this online if they want. So, what makes the radio so special? Nothing. It's just the last stand of bunch of freaked out moralists. I bet some of you even pretend to be libertarian. Well, you can all sleep soundly. Your radio is safe from the big nasty Howie Stern and his sex jokes. Sleep little sheep, sleeeeeep.

17  Mike South wrote:

It deeply concerns me how many people are willing to just roll over and allow the government to make decisions on their behalf. I despise Howard, I have refused to go on his show, I also refused Jerry Springer, Maury Povich, Jenny Jones and Rikki Lake. I don't think that the government should have the power to squelch them, I think that should be left up to you, me, the advertisers and the market place. I think Adam Smith's Invisible Guiding Hand Theory of Economics, allowed to work would both weed out this nonsense and better our society.

18  Reid wrote:

And for those who think this alleged "pressure" is going to knock him off the air (including Howard himself), here's the end of that theory: "A high-level source at Infinity tells us that as much as Howard Stern believes he's going to be pulled off of his show, it won't be happening any time in the near future. And in addition, Infinity will be defending him: 'He's not going to satellite - - first of all, he can't. He's under contract with us for two more years. So, I mean, it's not even an issue...[and] we're going to defend him.'"

19  wjb67 wrote:

god damn that's about the single most eloquent and straightforward breakdown of this situation I've heard...thank god someone in the world hasn't lost thier common sense...thank you

20  AST wrote:

I echo all the praise. I think the key point is "Ain't democracy great?" As citizens we all get to say what we think about the kind of society we live in and vote for it. A lot of libertarians talk about the tyranny of the majority, but never mention the tyranny of the courts who more and more regularly are willing to strike down democratically enacted laws. Personally, I don't buy the need for an FCC other than to assure that broadcasters inferfere with each others' signals, but, hey, ain't democracy great!

Comment by AST · 03/11/2004 09:00 PM
21  CEH wrote:

You didn't get the number of stations he's on right in point #1, so I stopped reading at that point, assuming that the rest of your rant is filled with factual errors. If you don't like it, don't listen, but don't make stuff up. The bottom line is that the government is attempting to change the cost of doing business, as a way to censor speech they dislike, and it doesn't take a 1000 word screed to understand that.

Comment by CEH · 03/11/2004 09:41 PM
22  Reid wrote:

The number of stations? I'm sorry I haven't been able to keep up on my Howard trivia, I've been busy. In reading various sources on this issue, that was a figure I read somewhere. But it would appear his network had shrunk considerably before this event: "Stern, once heard on 70 stations in the U.S. and Canada, was down to 40 before losing the Clear Channel six." However, this page lists 35, not 34 (though it does have an interesting list of over 25 stations that have dropped Howard, due to low ratings, lack of advertising, and Howard's high fees). I've seen other pages that list a different number. But somewhere, somebody knows the exact number, and their opinion is thus surely of greater value.

23  Mike South wrote:

AST Lesson in American History: We do NOT live in a Democracy, our forefathers feared democracy, the word is not in the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of rights or the federalist papers. We live in a Constitutional Republic, that said it should be apparent that the majority does not rule, nor will it ever.

24  CEH wrote:

He was on about 42 stations before the Clear Channel 6 dropped the show in February. That's down from a peak of about 66 at the end of 1999. What this means is that he lost about 21 stations, or 33% of his maximum, all by his lonesome, between 2000 and 2004 - without any help from Uncle Sam. Stern failed on 21 stations because he couldn't get enough ratings to make his show worth carrying - because he didn't appeal to their local community standards for entertainment, or exceeded their standards for obscenity. What this demonstrates is that the local radio marketplaces are more than able to determine for themselves what is appropriate content, and don't need Washington nannies adding a golden toll booth to the airwaves to tax traffic they deem indecent off the air. The FCC should be completely out of the censorship business. It is impossible for a small group of men in Washington to make blanket decisions on obscenity that accurately reflect the local community standards of 280,000,000 people who are spread out over 9,000,000 square kilometers.

Comment by CEH · 03/12/2004 06:38 AM
25  Brian wrote:

Just to comment, perhaps you're better tied in to what people are saying around the blogosphere than I, but the point I've seen most often said is not that the Bush administration leaned on Clear Channel, but that Clear Channel lean right and this is a hidden warning shot to its many other shows to not go against the right-leaning line. So it's not entirely a free speech issue, but also an issue of the power of large media conglamerates to control the political views in the country. (And that said, I'm not tremendously convinced it's the best interpretation; Howard Stern has had a contankerous relationship, and it doesn't seem impossible that, knowing a decision was coming down, he'd cloak himself in political speech).

Comment by Brian · 03/12/2004 09:34 AM
26  Reid wrote:

CEH: "The FCC should be completely out of the censorship business." That's fine (no pun intended). But there have been broadcast decency standards as long as there have been public airwaves. Realize that it is what you (and many others) advocate that is new. And that's a perfectly legitimate position to advocate. It's also contrary to current law. You see, the FCC exists to enforce the laws as passed by Congress. So those who want the FCC to completely get out of the indecency enforcement business have an obvious course: lobby Congress to change existing law. Just be aware that you are saying we need to change seven or eight decades of law and its enforement, not that Howard is a sudden victim of new prosecution. He's (if this goes forward ... ha!) being prosecuted the same way he has been for 12 years, by the same law. I would also note Howard has not incited his millions of fans to take that obvious course, to pester their elected representatives to change the law, or even in his sole defense. If he were truly at risk, wouldn't that be the obvious move, to rally active support from his supposed 18 million listeners? Instead, Howard seems to be busy coming up with reasons to quit. First, he said he'd quit if he was fined, and he was certain he'd be gone this week. Oops, didn't work out. Then, he said he'd quit if Bush signs the new law raising the maximum FCC fine. He seems nearly desperate for a reason to quit. "Oh, come and see the violence inherent in the system! Help! Help! I'm being repressed!"* Meanwhile, the people who pay him eight figures a year, Infinity, have said that they will defend Howard against any FCC fines, and that they fully expect him to work the remaining two years of his contract. Their statement could be summed up as "He's not going anywhere" (which I read as a veiled contractual threat should this really be all about Howard moving to satellite radio). As they did in the 90's, they seem perfectly willing to suck up whatever the FCC dishes out as a cost of doing buisness with their "cash cow." Their statement yesterday indicates that has not changed in the light of this new evidence. Brian: "...Clear Channel lean[s] right and this is a hidden warning shot to its many other shows to not go against the right-leaning line. So it's not entirely a free speech issue, but also an issue of the power of large media conglamerates to control the political views in the country." I won't argue with that, other than to reiterate this isn't a free speech issue unless we all have the right to a syndicated morning radio show. I agree that the massive conglomeration in the radio industry over the past 15 years has created real issues. Nevermind the "political views" of those mega-corps, and the influence they can wield with their massive network, there's the simple fact that conglomeration gives someone like Howard fewer potential employers. If all the conspiracies are true, and Clear Channel and Infinity succumb to the Big Thumb of Government Pressure, where can Howard turn to resurrect his syndication network? To a smaller bolder operator, willing to take chances to make a big profit? Sorry, they all got swallowed up by bigger fish like Clear Channel and Viacom. Why? Because of 20 years of FCC deregulation. So Howard would be left with a small group of big operators too timid to hire him. So ... on one hand we have an argument that Howard would benefit from eliminating most, if not all, FCC decency regulations they enforced for many decades. And on the other hand we have an argument that Howard would benefit from more FCC regulation, to break up monopoly owners. Maybe ... just maybe ... the problem isn't the FCC. Shock jocks have been around since the late 70's, or even earlier. Yes! Prior to Howard's infamous DC101 gig. Check out the Greaseman (FAQ: "He also has his own vocabulary which he uses to avoid trouble with the FCC") (and some old airchecks). He had a complaint filed against him in those days, claiming that he made the sounds of ejaculation on the air ... "spoit - spoit - spoit!" His defense? "Well, I've ejaculated many times, but I've never heard it make a sound like that." He got off. So to speak. He's never been fined. He's just one example that I happen to know much about personally, but there have always been DJ's who push the edge of the envelope, and every now and then, one of them busts out of it, and makes a cold wet flopping sound when they hit the pavement. In my opinion, Howard is standing on the lip on the envelope, threatening to jump if anybody so much as looks at him. At this point, my bottom line is [1] there is no FCC fine, just rumors mostly coming from Howard, and [2] Infinity says it will defend him if he is fined, and keep him on the air. Just as they have before. There's just nothing new here. Even Howard's threat's to quit. They've been relatively frequent over the years. And they often seem to come when he's trying to barter a new deal. That's why all of his talk about going to satellite, right down to worrying if they have enough sets to sell for his audience, make me wonder if all Howard's bluster has some other motive. Because there's no real substance here ... no fine, and a firm and ready defense announced by Infinity. But Howard seems determined to find a way to quit.

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