In the post-Janet Jackson crackdown on broadcast indecency, Clear Channel, the nation’s largest radio conglomerate, booted Howard Stern from six of its stations in February over complaints about the content of his show, a move tantamount to closing the barn door after the horses have escaped. That gesture has not stopped Clear Channel from being hit with the largest indecency fine in the history of the Federal Communications Commission. On Wednesday, Clear Channel agreed to settle a number of indecency complaints, some involving Stern, for $1.75 million, sources close to the deal told Reuters and the Associated Press.
Clear Channel has already had to cough up $755,000 this year for an FCC fine related to complaints over sexually explicit talk by morning host Bubba the Love Sponge (a.k.a. Todd Clem), whom Clear Channel fired because of the fine. In April, the FCC proposed a fine of $495,000 against Clear Channel over a Stern show that aired in April 2003 that included a discussion of anal sex. The settlement reportedly covers that incident, as well as 10 open investigations and 25 other pending complaints that have not been made public.
The settlement is also said to require that Clear Channel admit that the Stern segment was indecent, an admission that could have ramifications for Stern’s employer, Infinity, which broadcasts his show on 18 of its own stations and syndicates it to about a dozen others. Infinity paid the previous record-holding fine, $1.7 million, in response to complaints about Stern in 1995. A Clear Channel admission that it had aired indecent material would give the FCC reason to fine Infinity for the same broadcast. That action could send Stern packing. He has been grumbling since the indecency crackdown began earlier this year that, given the inhospitable climate, he may take his show to satellite radio, which is not subject to FCC fines.
Clear Channel would not comment on the settlement, but it issued a statement, saying: ”While we can’t comment on today’s media reports, Clear Channel is committed to responsible broadcasting and continues to work with the FCC and our on-air talent to ensure our broadcasts do not violate indecency laws. Our broadcasts are crucial platforms for free speech and we embrace that responsibility and privilege. We are confident that we can provide compelling, entertaining and informative programming without being indecent.”