FCC Cracks Down on Clear Channel

WASHINGTON, D.C. The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday proposed fines totalling $495,000 against Clear Channel Communications for a radio broadcast by Howard Stern. The penalty amounted to the fourth-largest ever proposed by the regulatory agency.

The FCC said it would seek the maximum $27,500 fine for each of three decency violations uttered during Stern’s show on April 9, 2003, on six stations, for a total of 18 penalized violations. The action represents the first time the agency has determined there are separate violations for individual utterances during a program, rather than issuing one for an entire program.

Michael Copps, a member of the FCC’s Democratic minority who has pressed for vigorous action against broadcast indecency, lauded the action as “a step forward toward imposing meaningful fines.” FCC Chairman Michael Powell, a Republican, issued no separate statement.

Stern issued a response on his Web site, which read, in part: “It is pretty shocking that governmental interference into our rights and free speech takes place in the U.S. It’s hard to reconcile this with the ‘land of the free’ and the ‘home of the brave.'”

Clear Channel said it would “permanently terminate” its relationship with Stern.

In February, Clear Channel said it had stopped airing Stern until the shock jock offered assurances the show would comply with FCC regulations. On Thursday, John Hogan, president and CEO of Clear Channel Radio, said no such assurances had arrived. “The FCC’s latest action, combined with deafening silence from the Stern show on their future plans to comply with the law, leave us no choice but to abandon the program for good,” Hogan said.

On March 18, the FCC proposed a $27,500 fine against Detroit station WKRK-FM for another Stern broadcast. Before that, Stern’s show had not been cited since 1998, according to an analysis by the Center for Public Integrity, an investigative nonprofit based in Washington. In 1995 Infinity Broadcasting settled several FCC actions against Stern with a $1.7 million payment.

The stations targeted by the FCC on Thursday were WBBG-FM in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; WTKS-FM in Cocoa Beach, Fla.; WTFX-FM in Louisville, Ky.; KIOZ-FM in San Diego; WNVE-FM in Honeoye Falls, N.Y.; and WXDX-FM in Pittsburgh.

Also on Thursday, the FCC affirmed a $14,000 fine against Emmis Communications for a broadcast on the Mancow’s Morning Madness program on WKQX-FM in Chicago.