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Published: Friday, 2/27/2004

Radio chain airs new decency rules

FROM BLADE STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS

WASHINGTON — The nation's largest radio-station chain announced new rules to limit indecency yesterday in the latest example of the broadcast industry's efforts to address criticism of what goes over the air.

The rules issued by Clear Channel Communications were issued on the eve of the second congressional hearing this month on broadcast indecency. John Hogan, president of Clear Channel Radio, 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 right breast during the nationally televised Super Bowl halftime show.

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.

Chris Murray, legislative counsel for Consumers Union, the publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, said broadcasters worry that Congress, angered over indecency, might also move to overturn FCC rules relaxing media ownership rules, including one that makes it easier for companies to own newspapers and broadcast stations in the same community.

“The broadcasters are quickly and visibly cleaning up their act on indecency because they know if Congress gets real game on smut, they won't stop there,” Mr. Murray said.

Clear Channel's new policy includes training about indecency, fines against DJs, and suspensions for those the FCC accuses of violating indecency rules, the company said.

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.

“Clear Channel is serious about helping address the rising tide of indecency on the airwaves,” said Mark Mays, president and chief operating officer. “As broadcast licensees, we are fully responsible for what our stations air, and we intend to make sure all our DJs and programmers understand what is and what is not appropriate.”

In Toledo, sex is a popular topic of discussion on the morning shows of two Clear Channel-owned radio stations, WVKS-FM (92.5) and WIOT-FM (104.7). On WVKS, “Johny D.” has told listeners on numerous occasions that he and his wife are trying to have another baby — and he has not been shy with the details of what that entails. On WIOT, sexual innuendo is rampant on the nationally syndicated The Bob & Tom Show.

The WVKS morning show has a long history of flirting with indecency standards. In 1995, then-host Denny Schaffer was charged with complicity to commit public indecency for sponsoring coed naked volleyball in International Park. A Toledo couple stripped and played volleyball for 15 minutes in front of a dozen onlookers until they were arrested for public indecency. Charges were dismissed against Clear Channel employees, including Mr. Schaffer, after they completed a clothing drive to benefit the Salvation Army.

The only FCC fine imposed recently against local Clear Channel stations was against WVKS — a fine for $4,000 in 2000. WVKS was fined for broadcasting a telephone exchange between Mr. Schaffer and Toledo NAACP President WilliAnn Moore without notifying her in advance that the conversation would be aired. He also broadcast a lengthy message he left on her answering machine, in which he accused Ms. Moore of hating him because he is white and inviting her to eat ribs with him.

Mr. Schaffer left WVKS in August after a two-year ratings decline. When he left, the WVKS morning show's audience share was lower than when he started his decade-long run. He now hosts a talk show on WSPD-AM (1370).



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