The Federal Communications Commission is trying to clean up the airwaves, which could have a chilling domino effect for shock jock radio personalities, radio-TV-film professors said.
Members of the House Telecommunications Subcommittee held a hearing Feb. 26 that proposed a $275,000 fine — 10 times the amount of the current fine — for each indecent or obscene incident.
Stations fear the proposed fines and will probably end up playing it safe and not push the envelope, said Joel Timmer, assistant professor of radio-TV-film media law.
A lot of the scrutiny that broadcasters are experiencing is in response to the controversial halftime show in which Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake bared more than their latest dance moves. Timmer said up until the halftime show the FCC had been fairly relaxed and now is trying to clean up the airwaves.
Howard Stern’s favorite past time is talking about sexual and excretory functions on his morning radio talk show. The law states that radio stations and over-the air channels can’t discuss these topics between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. because children may be listening.
Clear Channel Communications made the decision to take Stern off of a half-dozen stations. “Bubba the Love Sponge,” a Tampa-based radio host, was taken off of all stations. The decision came from the heightened public and political pressure broadcasters are facing to forgo indecent programming.
TCU student and Wild 100.3 DJ Kristin Holt said the Super Bowl and Howard Stern incidents have definitely affected how DJs behave on air.
“I think this will drastically affect every Clear Channel Infinity station, especially the Top 40,” Holt said. “That’s the format where we could be more edgy, but the incidents have changed that.”
She said the station was given specific instructions from the New York Infinity station to cut back on sexual innuendoes and anything that might be considered offensive.
“In the last few weeks I’ve noticed a difference in the news stories we read on air,” Holt said. “In the past we might have read things that were about sex but now anything that might be deemed offensive we don’t read. We try to make more family friendly jokes, too.”
Daniel Hardaway, a senior radio-TV-film major and DJ for KTCU-FM, said he was shocked by the decision to get rid of Stern because of the longevity of his career.
“Stern hasn’t changed his tune, Clear Channel has,” Hardaway said.
The decision seemed to come out of nowhere and now that they want to take action, it’s too little too late, not to mention ridiculous, Hardaway said.
Many shock jocks say their creative antics are protected by free speech under the first amendment and listeners can either choose to listen or not, Timmer said.
“Censorship in any form is damaging to society as a whole because life can’t be viewed through rose colored glasses,” said Ryan Flanagan, a senior radio-TV-film and marketing major. “Reality is harsh and you can’t skew reality.”
By law, the FCC can determine what is indecent programming and hold the stations responsible, despite free speech, Timmer said.
If found indecent, stations can be sure to be faced with a heavy fine. Bubba’s raunchy antics alone could draw a $755,000 fine from the FCC.