In Decency

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by Brian Wilson by Anthony Gregory

I am but an insignificant grape, currently toiling in the vineyards of Infinity Broadcasting. Thanks to the FCC-inspired "Era of Consolidation," that also puts me under the corporate umbrella of Viacom, owner of CBS, Originator of Stern, Broadcaster of Super Bowl 38C and other notorious programs that have recently roiled reactions in the public, political and regulatory sectors.

The Suits have been in a major twist since JJ's Super Bowl Pop-Out ad. The relationship to Infinity radio properties is tangenital (sic). The perpetual charges of "Smut a la Stern," the well-publicized Opie & Anthony "Sex In St. Patrick's" incident and the laundry list of suspensions for the DC-based Don & Mike show – Infinity owned programs all – have created Corporate cause for concern, a direct result of the national hyperventilating since Ms Jackson's Tempest In A C-Cup.

Regardless, the plethora of strongly worded memos to air talent, bored board-ops and janitorial personnel "Re: Death and Dismemberment (And Worse)" that will befall those who "air or allow to be aired" any indecent material" has created blizzard-like conditions in station in-boxes as well as a cacophony of confused conversation among the underpaid and overworked.

For the Vocabulary Challenged, these allegedly instructive directives provide only a diaphanous "definition by example" of what all might agree constitutes "indecent." Sure, the latest "Comprehensive Big Memo From Mel"* contains page after titillating page of transcribed air-checks from the SOS (Seriously Offensive Shows) heard on sleazier stations around the country. But these are extremes by any measure. The vast majority of on-air talent does not have to resort to any of the 7 or 8 words on the FCC's Verboten List or engage in titillating on-air dialogue with callers who otherwise spend their days writing "Letters to Penthouse," enjoying a rich fantasy life. Most provide entertaining programs well within the oft-referenced "community standards."

However, in attempting to navigate the New Effluvium with the confounding hair-splitting logic of recent FCC rulings, consider a couple current conundrums facing on-air types throughout Radio Land:

You may not say "You are an "asshole."

You may say "You are an ass. Whole subdivisions agree with me."

You may not say "I got to fuck this hottie in the back seat!"

You may say the experience was "fucking great!"

When publick skoolz are regularly graduating Functional Illiterates into the listening audience, who among them are going to savor the grammatical gymnastics and linguistic nuances shown above? If the maternally protective motive is to shield tender ears from coarse language, what sort of prophylactic does mere punctuation provide? Obviously, it doesn't. But is does provide plausible cover for the Corporate Legal Beagles when they have to present both a cogent and digestible defense at their next License Lifting Hearing before the FCC.

By actual Atomic Clock measurement, Ms Jackson's Right One was on display for parts of a nanosecond. Sharp-eyed parents went ballistic over the wanton display! "How do we explain this to our children?," came the plaintive wail. "We never expected The Children to be exposed to THAT on a fine, family-oriented Super Bowl show!" (Ahem) pardon me – but during that same family fun fest, the kiddies also saw and heard the exciting news about the 4 Hour Erection. How did you explain THAT to the crumbsnatchers?

Meanwhile, the dreaded Double Standard monster has raised its ugly heads over here. Within hours of the arrival of the recent "Really Really Big Memo from Mel," the Howard Stern Show was airing a "Best Of" tape containing such rule-breaking content as: use of the word "penis" in a lascivious way, discussion of oral/anal sex in a lascivious way, other content of a "titillating nature" i.e. "in a lascivious way." The Suit's explanation for Howard's continued employment goes thus: "Howard is contractually obligated to pay his own fines." Fine. But as anyone who's been in The Business for more than 10 quarter-hour segments knows, the payment of fines is just an expensive stretch along the rough road leading to Loss of License-ville. Those of us who have been instructed to eschew airing Monty Python's cutesy "I Bet They Won't Play This Song On The Radio" are left to ponder the enforcement chasm between Mel's Memos and Stern's Shows. The Inner Children are left to wonder how their big brother gets away with it while they are preemptively denied much less offensive tools of their trade.

As is the case in every social-political skirmish, the real battle is in the back rooms and board rooms for bucks and bennies much bigger and infinitely more important than My Next Show. Meanwhile, the little guy in the trenches takes the heat and the audience unwittingly loses another chunk of Freedom. Frothing Politicians, Corporate Bean Counters and Myopic Regulators predictably paint their prohibitions with a very broad brush. Not to eliminate foul language (or attractive body parts) from the "public airwaves," but to make the schlubs on the payroll and public at large easier to control, all the while giving the appropriate appearance of being shocked – SHOCKED! – at something they intentionally cultivated in their never-ending pursuit of ratings and oblation to Corporate's Yahweh, The Bottom Line. The simple freedom of choice to change the channel is not beyond the comprehension of Suits in the public or private sector – just contrary to their goals. Sadly, that all-to-obvious option is routinely overlooked by way too many in the audience. At least the Guys With Ties can correctly point to our increasingly litigious society as a real source for their anxiety attacks.

But never fear! Maximum Concern from the Government-Corporate Complex is here!

(Details in the next Memo)


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