TWO STRIKES - NO BALLS
By Geoff Metcalf
March 8, 2004
The Federal Communications Commission recent indecency crackdowns suggest a sea change in broadcasting some see as good and others as Big Brother censorship.
In the wake of the probability of big fines and new 'zero tolerance' polices, the industry debate is over whether the glass is half empty or half full.
Howard Stern says he is "a dead man walking" and he is correct.
The same FCC suits who, not all that long ago, determined the use of the 'F' word by singer Bono was okay�now, in the wake of the Janet Jackson Super Bowl flap�is Jonesing to morph broadcast standards back to the days of Ozzie and Harriet Nelson and away from Ozzie and Sharon Osbourne.
I am not a Stern fan. I personally consider his schtick funny but also tacky, classless, and vulgar. However, I find myself begrudgingly assuming the mantle of Voltaire.
Howard Stern and his copycats were and have been 'enabled' by the same industry and bureaucracy that is now preparing his public evisceration.
I recall George Carlin's brilliant rant on 'the seven dirty words' that could not be articulated on radio or television. Since then, I have heard at least six of them used with chronic abandon. How did that happen?
Broadcast talent, not unlike children and dogs, will test the limits of what they can get away with. Not unlike writers who now end sentences with prepositions and begin sentences with conjunctions�..
When the authority figure (the presumed 'grown ups') allows inappropriate conduct�it eventually becomes appropriate. Training children, dogs, and broadcasters requires not only the establishment of limits, but that the authority figure is consistent in defining those limits.
Frankly, the 'grown ups' have done a lousy job of establishing and maintaining limits�and are now blaming the kids and insisting on a 'do over'.
Broadcasting (radio and television) is a business. However, a chronically overlooked reality is the 'product' is not the talent. Howard, Rush, Hannity, Bill O'Reilly et al are NOT the product. The product is the audience.
When shocked audiences ask why a vulgar Stern or a smarmy Michael Savage are allowed to be on the air, the answer is simple. They are successful in building and maintaining audience�and audience is the product.
When Clear Channel finally got the memo (and read it) they pulled Stern from six of the stations they own. The conventional wisdom was that local competitors in those markets would scoop up Howard and subsequently grab market share (and revenue) from Clear Channel.
However, now that is becoming increasingly clear that the FCC's hypocrisy is limitless, Stern is indeed "a dead man walking". The newborn decency jihadists need a high profile sacrificial goat�and who more high profile and emblematic of the genre/trend than the 'King of all Media'? And not just Howard�all those wannabe, would be, Howard clones attempting with varying degrees of failure to copy the 'King'will soon be able to empathize with those domestic turkeys gorging themselves in preparation for the coming holidays.
Frankly, the elimination of coarse, vulgar language can, and should be, a good thing for the industry. It will force talent to be more creative and innovative. It is still possible for broadcasters to continue to 'push the envelope" without having to tear it up and use it as a replacement for Charmin.
Howard had a good run and made a lot of money. If he doesn't spend the rest of his life wallowing in frustration over the end of the ride he can and probably will continue to succeed. He is a talented guy.
Talk radio audiences are inimitably loyal. Rush remains invincible because his audience is intensely loyal. It takes about three to five years to develop a talk radio audience. However, once a host has done that�he owns them (unless or until an epic�and it really has to be EPIC catastrophe befalls him).
Stern is righteous in his indignation but he is misdirecting his ire. President Bush shouldn't be the target of his daily venom saturated rants. In his time remaining twilight Howard should be eviscerating the hypocritical enablers at the FCC who said Bono can say the 'F' word but Howard can't talk about small penises�AND, how about Janet Jackson? CBS? MTV?
Hey, be honest�if that forty-year-old boob had popped out on MTV, or Conan O'Brian, it would have been as significant as a pee hole in a Montana snowbank. However, it was the SUPERBOWL�one of the highest rated programs on earth.
Frankly, it would better if Stern did not go away. He is talented enough to still push the envelope of propriety by talking around the edges and crafting unsubtle innuendo. He could and should do that�but he won't. And what is gained is loss��
Meanwhile, it is still acceptable for newscasts to report on "cock fighting" (as long as only roosters are involved) and it isn't in San Francisco.
� 2004 Geoff Metcalf - All Rights Reserved
"Geoff Metcalf is a nationally syndicated radio talk show host for TALK AMERICA and a veteran media performer. He has had an eclectic professional background covering a wide spectrum of radio, television, magazine, and newspapers. A former Green Beret and retired Army officer he is in great demand as a speaker. Visit Geoff's Web Site: www.geoffmetcalf.com. While you're at it - pick up a copy of Geoff's latest book! E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
"I recall George Carlin's brilliant rant on 'the seven dirty words' that could not be articulated on radio or television. Since then, I have heard at least six of them used with chronic abandon. How did that happen?"