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Largest radio chain takes on indecency

Thursday, February 26, 2004

WASHINGTON -- The nation's largest radio station chain announced Wednesday it was suspending shock jock Howard Stern's radio show after issuing new rules to limit indecency and address criticism of what airs on TV and radio.

Clear Channel Radio said it suspended broadcast of Stern's show after assessing the content of his show Tuesday.

"Clear Channel drew a line in the sand today with regard to protecting our listeners from indecent content and Howard Stern's show blew right through it," John Hogan, president and CEO of Clear Channel Radio, said in a news release. "It was vulgar, offensive, and insulting, not just to women and African Americans but to anyone with a sense of common decency."

Hogan said the show would not air on Clear Channel stations until officials are assured it will conform to acceptable broadcasting standards.

Attempts to reach Stern's spokesman for comment late Wednesday were unsuccessful.

Under pressure from regulators and lawmakers, some TV networks are delaying live broadcasts to delete offensive material and doing more to let parents know how they can block specific programs. The National Association of Broadcasters says it will hold a conference on indecency next month.

The rules issued by Clear Channel Communications came on the eve of the second congressional hearing this month on broadcast indecency. Hogan is scheduled to testify along with top officials from TV networks.

Congress is considering increasing the maximum fine for indecency from $27,500 to $275,000, a move that the Federal Communications Commission endorsed even before the tumult over singer Janet Jackson's exposed breast during the nationally televised Super Bowl halftime show.

"In the history of broadcast indecency, there have been these moments where it makes headlines," said Jeremy Lipschultz, a professor of communication at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. "In the short term, broadcasters become much more careful. You're going to see people playing it safe. The long-term problem is the same one we've had, which is it's very difficult in the end to precisely define what is indecent or not. "

Under FCC rules and federal law, radio stations and over-the-air television channels cannot air material containing references to sexual and excretory functions between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., when children may be tuning in. The rules do not apply to cable and satellite channels and satellite radio.

Clear Channel's new policy includes companywide training about indecency, possible fines against DJs, and automatic suspensions for anyone accused by the FCC of violating indecency rules on the air, company officials said.

Firing 'Love Sponge'

The initiative came one day after the company fired the DJ known as "Bubba the Love Sponge," whose show drew an FCC-record fine of $755,000. The program aired in four Florida cities and included graphic discussions about sex and drugs "designed to pander to, titillate and shock listeners," the FCC said.

Mel Karmazin, president of Viacom Inc., discussed indecency issues during a conference call last week with officials and station managers of the company's Infinity Broadcasting radio subsidiary. Infinity, which owns 120 stations, asked them to increase efforts to avoid indecent programming, such as using a seven-second delay on shows with live talk, spokesman Dana McClintock said.

Infinity, owned by Viacom, in 1995 paid the largest cumulative fine to date, $1.7 million, for various violations by Stern.


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