Shock Jocks across America might soon receive a shocker from the
Legislation is currently under consideration in the U.S. Senate
that would raise the maximum penalties for public broadcasts deemed
indecent or profane by the Federal Communications Commission from
$27,500 to $275,000 per incident. A similar measure passed through
the House March 11 by a whopping 391-22-1 measure.
Both pieces of legislation have received the pre-emptive
approval of the Bush administration, and free-speech advocates and
elements of the entertainment industry are roundly criticizing
both. Upon giving the topic my own personal once-over, I found out
this legislation did not infringe upon my First Amendment rights.
This realization left me tickled pink.
The subject first aroused my emotions when I heard an
advertisement on 99.5 FM (KQMT) calling on listeners to contact
their representatives and the FCC to voice their displeasure of the
federal legislation. Whereas I am an ardent and occasionally
athletic supporter of First Amendment advocates such as the
American Civil Liberties Union, I picked up the subject and spent a
long night exploring its intricacies. By the time I went to sleep I
felt a little used.
The radio ad and the Web site it promotes, freeyourradio.com,
claim the current law and the proposed increase of the maximum
penalty will affect both the lewd-lipped jockey and music variety.
On the surface, this could theoretically be a true statement;
however, a brief investigation found this claim to be
The message on the Web site is both misleading and incomplete.
The statement concedes how the legislation seeks to zip the lips of
so-called “shock jocks,” but in doing so “playing certain songs can
also result in significant penalties.” While this may appear to be
a possibility, it never happens because of how the current law is
Thanks to the 1973 Supreme Court case Miller v. California, the
murky realm of what is or is not obscene/indecent is navigated by a
three-tiered test of questionable content. First, someone needs to
find the content objectionable.
Next, the “material must depict or describe, in a patently
offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by applicable
law.” It is this clause that is the basis for George Carlin’s
famous skit about the seven dirty words. Yes, these words do appear
in many a song. No, I am not going to list them here.
Test three is what largely exempts music from federal penalties.
It states, “The material, taken as a whole, must lack serious
literary, artistic, political or scientific value.” Music, even bad
music, is possessed of some literary and artistic value. “I Touch
Myself” by the Divinyls may never be a classic, but it still made
it on the radio.
Freeyourradio.com also states how “Many songs that you’ve
enjoyed on the radio for years now can result in a $27,500 fine
each time they are played.” Now? What about last week? These
regulations, and the $27,500 fine, have been on the books for
When I asked Marla Stone, the afternoon disc jockey for 94.3 FM
(KKQZ), if she had ever heard of a station being fined for playing
song lyrics, her answer was “no.” She went on to say how in her 17
years in radio, she was only fined once and it was when a caller
was threatening suicide.
Stone supports the new legislation. “I personally think its
about time we raised the bar,” she told me, adding that DJs who
can’t attract listeners except via vulgarity lack real talent.
Cal Hall, the general manager at KKQZ, was happy to agree with
Stone. “Just because you can say something,” Hall explained,
“doesn’t mean you should say something.” Adding that he and his
station have an obligation to provide a quality product to the
listener, he emphasized the importance of quality while degrading
the value of shock.
It would be foolish, however, to say nobody enjoys shock radio.
Howard Stern and other edgy DJs can still say and do whatever they
want, free from government persecution … on the ever-growing
medium of satellite radio. The FCC manages public airwaves because
they are public property. Just as HBO can carry more explicit
programming like the Sopranos, Stern could become the backbone of
XM or Siruis.
This federal legislation is not designed or intended to forever
banish “Closer” by Nine Inch Nails or “Baby Got Back” by Sir
Mix-A-Lot from the public airwaves.
The purpose of the new fine increases is to tie the tongue of
cunning linguists who air explicit content over public airwaves. I
do, however, enjoy cunning linguists on occasion and therefore will
be subscribing to XM soon. And the Spice Channel.
Joe is a senior majoring in history, and yes, he did win the
Z94.3 “Drive at Five” on April 4.