Howard Stern Booted In Clear Channel Indecency Crackdown

By David Montgomery and Frank Ahrens
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, February 26, 2004

Clear Channel Communications knocked Howard Stern's radio show off stations in six cities yesterday as the nation's largest radio chain announced a crackdown on "indecent content" on its 1,200 stations.

Clear Channel executives were responding to a segment of Stern's Tuesday broadcast in which they say he used sexually explicit language and graphically discussed a pornographic videotape.

"It was vulgar, offensive and insulting, not just to women and African Americans but to anyone with a sense of common decency," John Hogan, president and CEO of Clear Channel Radio, said in a statement.

The segment included Stern interviewing Rick Salomon, who appeared with hotel heiress and reality TV star Paris Hilton in an infamous sex videotape now ubiquitous on Internet porn sites.

Stern asked Salomon whether he engaged in anal sex and referred to the size of his penis, according to a transcript of the show obtained by Reuters. A caller to the show used a racist term in asking Salomon whether he had ever had sex with any famous black women.

The announcement apparently will not affect Stern's listeners in the Washington area who tune in to the popular, flamboyant and occasionally foul-mouthed jock from 6 to 11 a.m. on WJFK-FM. That station is owned by Infinity Broadcasting, the unit of Viacom that also syndicates the Stern show. In addition to the six Clear Channel stations, it is also broadcast on about three dozen others. Attempts to reach officials with Infinity and WJFK last night were unsuccessful.

The stations where the Stern show is carried by Clear Channel are in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Orlando, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Rochester, N.Y., and San Diego. Hogan said Stern's show will be suspended "until we are assured that his show will conform to acceptable standards of responsible broadcasting."

The partial gagging of Stern came one day after San Antonio-based Clear Channel fired Florida radio shock-jock Todd Clem, known on-air as Bubba the Love Sponge, and one day before Clear Channel's Hogan is scheduled to join executives from ABC, Fox and NBC before the House subcommittee on telecommunications and the Internet. Several of Clem's broadcasts were recently ruled indecent by the Federal Communications Commission, which levied fines of $755,000 against Clear Channel. Clem had also been charged with animal cruelty for butchering a pig on-air.

In the 1990s, Stern's broadcasts resulted in a settlement between the FCC and Infinity for more than $1 million. Infinity was also fined more recently for indecent broadcasts, including one in which New York-based shock jocks Opie & Anthony broadcast a couple who claimed to be having sex in a church.

Broadcast indecency has drawn increasing lawmaker and consumer attention in recent months after several instances of profane utterances on network television and radio broadcasts, culminating with the baring of Janet Jackson's right breast on Viacom-owned CBS during the Super Bowl halftime show.

Congress has introduced legislation increasing the FCC's power to enforce standards, raising the maximum fine from $27,500 to $275,000. The FCC is also considering fining offending radio and television broadcasters for each profane utterance or indecent incident on programs, rather than levying one fine for the entire show as in the past.

Clear Channel suspended broadcast of Stern's show hours after announcing what the company called a "responsible broadcasting initiative," prompted by "the rising tide of indecency on the airwaves," said Clear Channel President and Chief Executive Officer Mark Mays in a statement.

The steps include modifying contracts of on-air performers so they will "share financial responsibility if they utter indecent material on the air," the company said in a statement. DJs also will be automatically suspended if the FCC alleges an indecency violation. If the allegation is proved, the offender will be fired.

Stern's alleged infractions were brought to company executives' attention by a station manager in one of the markets, according to a company spokesman.

"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," Hogan said.

Viacom last week announced a similar zero-tolerance indecency policy for all of its stations.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company