''Try to describe carefully what a 'Cleveland steamer' would be....'' On Jan. 9, 2002, at around 4:30 p.m., so began an educational half-hour discussion of urban-legendary sex acts, many involving the violent humiliation of women, courtesy of the Michigan guy-talk radio team of Deminski & Doyle, heard on WKRK (''Talk That Rocks Detroit''). The duo, who often dance on the precipice of permissiveness, did offer a mild disclaimer at its onset -- ''No children are to be listening...and ladies, you probably don't wanna hear this crap either 'cause this is really foul'' (and we all know how the word foul gets kids scurrying to the ''off'' button) -- and then proceeded to describe the wonders of the ''blumpkin'' and the ''rusty trombone.''
Even today, when FM could easily stand for foulmouthed, this particular chitchat landed Deminski & Doyle in deep chit: Fifteen months later, on April 3, the Federal Communications Commission announced a Notice of Apparent Liability (NAL) for a proposed fine of $27,500 to the station's owner, Infinity Broadcasting, which also employs Howard Stern. This was a substantial leap from the basic indecency penalty of $7,000 and came with a warning that other infractions might lead to the revocation of the station's license, the ultimate penalty. (Infinity is still formulating its response to the FCC.)
In an era when limits are vanishing in all media (including strippers in videogames and people eating bovine genitalia on prime-time network television), it's hardly a surprise that radio toys with the formerly taboo. The outrageous success of Howard Stern has long since trans-formed the airwaves into a sound-scape where crank calls to Dick Hertz would seem downright quaint: The thwap of a DJ's hand slapping a stripper's bare bottom is a common reveille blaring from the clock radios of the valuable young-male demographic. The crippling restrictions that program directors give DJs as to what songs they can play are inversely proportional to the apparent freedom they're given to say whatever their prostates are thinking.
It's not just talk radio -- music DJs will use the 30 seconds between songs to proclaim how much they love breasts, and in what size. And with a nation of guys doing this brand of testosteradio, an oxymoronic generic outrageousness pervades the dial: In nearly every market you can find DJs Tasering each other, interviewing porn stars, having women compete for breast implants, mocking the station ''suits,'' and leering at hot interns. When multiple DJs across the country were asked for the craziest thing ever done in their studio, the following three answers came from three geographically disparate hosts:
* A woman spraying champagne out of her ''hoohoo.'' (WFNX, Boston)
* A woman spraying Code Red out of her ''hooha.'' (KFMA, Tucson, Ariz.)
* A woman spraying water out of her ''popo.'' (Rock 103, Memphis)
In a genre in which the biggest difference is the choice of beverage and vaginal euphemism, the FCC still tries to draw the line somewhere, maintaining a comically graphic 28-page doctrine intended to distinguish between what's indecent and what's not on radio and TV (song parody called ''Uterus Guy'': indecent; full-frontal nudity in Schindler's List: decent). Though in recent years the FCC has taken a rather laissez-faire approach (issuing just 22 NALs since November 1999, with only 12 resulting in paid fines), the climate after the Deminski & Doyle incident was enough to prompt current chairman Michael Powell (no fan of heavy government intervention) to tell a gathering of the National Association of Broadcasters, ''At some point, enough is enough.''