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The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees Americans the liberty to say what they think. Most people understand the intent of this and its value to our nation's life. In the 201 years since the amendment's ratification, however, there have been plenty who attempted to serve themselves in its name. Howard Stern, so-called "shock jock," is one. The fine issued to Stern's employers last week sent a crystalline signal that federal regulators want trash off the public airwaves. We believe most Americans want the same thing.

Stern, for those who have remained outside the reach of his "humor," is the vanguard of a radio movement intended on shock listeners into continuing to listen. His performances consist of non-stop references to body parts and bodily functions a class act, indeed. The Federal Communications Commission had once fined the company that employs Stern $6,000 as a warning about his on-air deportment. Two months ago, a Los Angeles radio station was fined $105,000 by the FCC because of complaints about Stern programs. On Friday, the FCC fined Infinity Broadcasting Co., Stern's boss, a record $600,000 for continual noncompliance with regulations governing decency.

Leading the charge against Stern and his offensive brethren, we are proud to say, was FCC Chairman Alfred C. Sikes, born in Cape Girardeau and raised the Bootheel. His tenure at the head of this regulatory agency has been eventful and productive, and with his resignation (as a courtesy to the new administration), we believe the FCC and nation will be absent a good bit of Southeast Missouri common sense.

Not surprisingly, the American Civil Liberties Union and self-proclaimed free-speech protectors don't share this view, saying the FCC is reaching too far in regulating the content in broadcasts. Stern, whose crudity seems limitless (and whose words continue to provide ample evidence for regulators) said on the air he hoped Sikes' prostate cancer would spread. Nice, huh?

Here is the bottom line in this case: No one is telling Stern what he can and can not say. He can spew his tasteless views at will. However, the people of this nation own the airwaves on which radio signals are broadcast, and it is our belief that most Americans don't embrace the type of humor that Stern fosters. In guarding the will of this majority, the regulators have done the right thing in discouraging (through fines) the company that hires Stern. (Sadly, Infinity might view the $600,000 fine as well-spent money to publicize Stern ... such is the nature of modern celebrity.)

We value the First Amendment. It is the nourishment of our craft at the Southeast Missourian. We wish to bring no arrogance to this argument or claim we are the sole guardians of this doctrine. However, we feel the fine against Howard Stern returns some sanity to the regulation of what the government says the public owns. Perhaps it will discourage others from following his unsavory path.