"Madame, bear in mind That princes govern all things--save the wind." -Victor Hugo, The Infanta's Rose

Thursday, January 12, 2006

A Stern-ly worded warning

I've got mixed emotions about Howard Stern's long-anticipated debut on the Sirius satellite network on Monday (1/9). Let me state right up front that I am not one of Howard's fans. Even though you could not by any stretch of the imagination call me a prude, his particular over-the-top brand of raunchy humor just plain disgusts me far more often than it makes me laugh. If there were an award given for "The World's Filthiest-Talking Radio Host", it wouldn't even be close to a contest: Stern would win by a mile, and I don't consider that much of an honor.

Yet in a way, I somewhat admire the man. Most likely this has much to do with me being a former disk jockey myself, and secretly wishing that I could have gotten away with one-one-hundredth of what he does on the radio. I was nearly fired at one station years ago for playing "The Bitch is Back" by Elton John, for God's sake. ("We can't have the B-word on the air," said the station manager; good thing I never talked about my female dog.) My specialty was the double-entendre, which I always thought was a far more clever way to say something (gasp!) shocking, but this did get me in trouble more than a few times. And I enjoyed Stern's movie "Private Parts" for the same reason I liked the old TV series "WKRP in Cincinnati": both were relatively accurate representations of the world of broadcasting, and the short-sighted stupidity of bean-counting radio station managers who care only about sales and nothing about the listeners.

Neither am I a fan of the Federal Communications Commission's current jihad on so-called "indecency", an agenda pushed by radical conservatives. I am still amazed by the overblown reaction to Janet Jackson's Super Bowl "wardrobe malfunction", and the chill that has since permeated over-the-air broadcasting. Under the threat of major financial burden from an FCC fine, radio has become so dumbed-down, bland and predictable in the last few years that I can hardly stand to listen to it any more. Love him or hate him, you nevertheless must admit that Stern is probably the most successful and influential figure in modern radio. He pushed the free-speech envelope about as far as it would go, and as a result became the poster-bad-boy scapegoat for everyone who thought those boundaries were stretched too far. At least now Stern can say whatever depravity he pleases free from FCC censorship, and if you don't happen to like that, nobody's going to put a gun to your head and force you to listen.

As for Stern's first satellite broadcast, it went about as you might expect. The word "fuck" was used 77 times, along with other colorful content; all together, there were "740 instances of profanity, sexual terms, scatological references (potty humor), verbal threats of bodily harm and sexual activities implied by sounds". We know these details thanks to this fascinating report from MediaData corporation, who monitored the program for the Family Media Guide. Every minute of the inaugural show was carefully logged and double-checked. What dedication!

Bottom line? I don't plan to run out and buy a Sirius receiver just so I can listen to Stern rant about his obsession with lesbians. He ain't worth my money. But I'm not about to tell anyone else what they should or shouldn't listen to - or say on the air - either. We still live in a free country. For now.

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