Stern taken off air in 6 cities on eve of congressional hearing on indecency

Thursday, February 26th 2004, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The nation's largest radio station chain took shock jock Howard Stern off the air in six markets, saying his sexually explicit show did not meet the company's newly revised programming standards. The move came on the eve of Thursday's congressional hearing on broadcast indecency.

The Stern show was heard on six stations owned by Clear Channel Communications, though it is distributed to dozens of others by its owner, Infinity Broadcasting. It was not immediately clear how long Stern would stay off the Clear Channel stations.

Stern's show has graphic references to sex and regularly includes strippers and pornographic movie stars as on-air guests. The show that prompted Clear Channel to act aired Tuesday and included a man discussing an alleged sexual encounter with hotel heiress Paris Hilton.

On Thursday, Stern told listeners he had been unaware of the move by Clear Channel.

``I could blow my stack. I'm trying to be cryptic,'' he said. ``To tell you the truth, I don't know what's going on. They are so afraid of me and what this show represents.''

Stern's suspension was the second time in two days that Clear Channel has acted against a disc jockey. The company on Tuesday fired the DJ known as ``Bubba the Love Sponge,'' whose show drew a record fine of $755,000 from the Federal Communications Commission. 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's moves are the latest examples of broadcasters responding to pressure from federal regulators and lawmakers who say too much of radio and TV programming has become unsuitable for children.

Executives from ABC, Fox, NBC, Pax and Clear Channel Communications were scheduled to testify Thursday before the House Energy and Commerce telecommunications subcommittee. The committee has recommended increasing the maximum fine for indecency from $27,500 to $275,000.

In response to letters from Federal Communication Commission Chairman Michael Powell, NBC, CBS and Fox outlined steps they were taking to curb indecency. Among them: Airing live programs on time delays, displaying ratings for programs on their Web sites, reviewing standards and practices, launching ad campaigns to let parents know about the V-chip, and reminding affiliate stations they may reject network programming viewed as unsuitable for their communities.

ABC has not yet responded to Powell.

Powell's letters to the National Association of Broadcasters and the four major networks followed CBS' Super Bowl halftime show, which ended with Justin Timberlake exposing Janet Jackson's breast to 90 million viewers.

``True and lasting change will only be achieved if the broadcast community recommits to its public service roots and its tradition of abiding by community standards of decency,'' Powell wrote, urging a return to a voluntary code of conduct, which was dropped in 1982 under Reagan administration pressure.

Under FCC rules and federal law, radio stations and over-the-air television channels cannot air material that refers 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.

Dr. Frank Wright, president of the National Religious Broadcasters, questioned how long the broadcasters' concern about indecency will last.

``Some of this hand-wringing in public is from the very people who have brought us a rogue's gallery of shock jocks,'' said Wright, whose association of Christian radio and TV broadcasters counts 1,700 members.

Officials at Clear Channel announced a new indecency policy Wednesday that includes companywide training, possible fines against DJs, and automatic suspensions for anyone accused by the FCC of violating indecency rules on the air.

Announcing that Stern's show was suspended, Clear Channel said the radio host disregarded the company's effort to limit indecency.

``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.''

Infinity Broadcasting in 1995 paid the largest cumulative fine to date, $1.7 million, for various violations by Stern's radio show.