Clear Channel Fires Howard Stern After FCC Sanction

Rhett Pardon
LOS ANGELES – Clear Channel Communications Inc. fired Howard Stern on Thursday after the Federal Communications Commission proposed $495,000 in indecency fines.

Clear Channel suspended Stern in February from its six stations that carry his program, which regularly features graphic sexual discussion and humor. It decided to make the move permanent after the FCC cited the chain for 18 alleged obscenity violations from Stern’s April 9, 2003, show.

One of the largest sanctions ever, the FCC imposed the maximum fine of $27,500 for each of 18 violations on six Clear Channel stations: WBGG in Fort Lauderdale; WTKS-FM in Cocoa Beach, Fla.; WTFX-FM in Louisville, Ky.; KIOZ in San Diego; WNVE in Honeoye Falls, N.Y.; and WSDS-FM in Pittsburgh.

The FCC’s case against Stern’s radio program could go further though, FCC spokeswoman Janice Wise told XBiz.

The regulators are reserving the right to go after Viacom Inc.’s Infinity Broadcasting unit for additional fines related to the same show and perhaps others as well.

Infinity, which employs Stern, airs his show on 18 of its own stations nationwide.

The FCC hammered Clear Channel over the broadcast during which Stern and his cohorts discussed their sexual practices and the use of a personal hygiene product called "Sphincterine."

Stern, through his website, commented that he wasn’t surprised about the fines.

“It is pretty shocking that governmental interference into our rights and free speech takes place in the U.S.,” he wrote. “I’m sure what’s next is the removal of dirty pictures like the 20th Century German exhibit in a New York City Museum and the erotic literature in our libraries.”

Radio personality Jim Holio, who operates the JimHolio.com adult webmaster radio show, said that anyone involved with media is “living through some very scary times.”

“What we have here are people of power who are deciding First Amendment cases and not objective,” Holio told XBiz. “They are subjective and let other traits of their lifestyles – like religion – dictate others.”

Holio, who also is director of business development for downtown Los Angeles-based DreamTank which hosts HowardStern.com, said that the adult industry now has lots to worry about.

“Many think about whether it can affect them,” he said. “The mood now is that there is no end to this.”

In March, the FCC proposed fining Infinity $27,500 for a Stern show broadcast July 26, 2001, on WKRK-FM in Detroit. The show featured discussions about sexual practices and techniques.

Infinity paid $1.7 million in 1995 to settle various violations by Stern. Fines against Stern accounted for almost half of the $4 million in penalties proposed by the FCC since 1990, according to watchdog group The Center for Public Integrity.

Stern has charged on the air that he’s being punished for his criticism of President Bush. Clear Channel’s political action committee and its employees have given $265,800 to Republicans for the 2004 election, more than any other broadcaster, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research group.

Also Thursday, the FCC decided not to review a $14,000 penalty for radio station WKQX-FM in Chicago for airing indecent material during “Mancow’s Morning Madness” on two occasions in May 2000.

The FCC ruled indecent a broadcast of a conversation in which the porn star had talked in graphic detail about “fisting.”

The regulators also ruled indecent a segment of the program entitled “Bitch Radio,” where air personality interviewed three women about their sex lives, specifically asking them whether they “spit or swallowed” their partners’ cum after engaging in oral sex.