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A Stern Look At the Airwaves

Our Sydney Smith has turned away from Howard Stern with these pithy words:

    I listened to last Friday’s rant, when he projected – wrongly – that his show would be over by the end of this week. I listened to him blame – wrongly – Republicans and Christians for his FCC woes. I listened to him mock a group of evangelical Congressmen while speaking in an exaggerated Southern accent. (The message: Southern = Stupid = Christian.) I didn’t think it was funny, but I listened. And I kept returning each morning, hoping the laughter would return.

    It hasn’t.

Salon notes that Stern’s anti-Bush rants could very much affect the presidential election:

    Stern had strongly backed Bush’s war on Iraq, but in the past two weeks, he has derided the president as a “Jesus freak,” a “maniac” and “an arrogant bastard,” while ranting against “the Christian right minority that has taken over the White House.” Specifically, Stern has assailed Bush’s use of 9/11 images in his campaign ads, questioned his National Guard service, condemned his decision to curb stem cell research and labeled him an enemy of civil liberties, abortion rights and gay rights.

    In other words, it’s the kind of free campaign rhetoric the Democratic National Committee couldn’t have imagined just one month ago.

    “Our research shows many, many people in the 30- to 40-year-old range who were Bush supporters are rethinking that position and turning away from Bush because of what Howard Stern has been saying,”

    ….”Overnight, Stern’s probably increased by an important percentage the amount of talk-radio airtime that is not right-wing,” notes Martin Kaplan, associate dean of the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communications. “His show does make a difference in terms of media ecology and what’s out there. It’s letting people know how they feel is an acceptable way to feel. What the media do is put out a version of what’s normal. And if all that’s out there is Rush Limbaugh and Dittoheads, then centrists and progressives see themselves as the minority. But if you can hear voices on the airwaves that sound like the voice in your own head, you begin to realize it’s a polarized, 50/50 nation.”

    ….Some in the broadcast business see Stern, perhaps best known for ushering into radio “Lesbian Dial-a-Date” contests, as a corporate clown whose political influence is not on par with the likes of Don Imus, the syndicated shock jock turned smart-aleck pundit. “Who cares what Howard Stern thinks about people running for public office?” says one longtime radio executive. “Imus is different, that’s more of a thinking guy’s show. With Howard, it’s pure narcissism.”

    Yet Stern has proven his political clout in the past. Known mostly for his libertarian take on politics, in 1992 he made news by endorsing Republican Christie Todd Whitman for governor of New Jersey, and she then won in an upset over Democrat Jim Florio. (She repaid the favor in 1995 by naming a New Jersey highway rest stop after the jock.) Stern has also backed Republican George Pataki for New York governor. “When Stern says he helped Pataki win,” says Goyette, “I don’t think anybody doubts that.”

    ….It’s that relative absence of political discussion on Stern’s show in the past that might make the current anti-Bush barrage more influential. “The fact that his audience does not tune in to him to hear about politics means that he is not just preaching to a choir, in the way that most of the conservative talk-show hosts are doing,” says David Barker, author of “Rushed to Judgment: Talk Radio, Persuasion and American Political Behavior.” It’s an audience, he suggests, that might be more open to persuasion from a broadcaster like Stern.

Despite o because of the publicity, ABC says it plans to go ahead with a Stern-hosted interview TV show:

    An ABC spokeswoman said it is going ahead with plans, first revealed in January, to develop an hourlong prime-time interview special moderated by Stern

    ….On Friday’s [radio] show, Stern said that this past Monday he had invited FCC Chairman Michael Powell to be a guest on his upcoming ABC show, but Powell declined.

    An ABC spokeswoman said she did not know if any other guests have been lined up for Stern to interview, and no air date for the program has been set. [Reuters]

Howard isn’t the only jock with troubles – more shock jock problems:

    Federal regulators stepped up their campaign against indecency, proposing a $247,500 fine Friday against the nation’s largest radio chain for a Washington-based show.

    The Federal Communications Commission cited Clear Channel Communications’ “Elliot in the Morning” show for nine alleged violations “that involved graphic and explicit sexual material, and were designed to pander to, titillate and shock listeners.”

    The FCC proposed the maximum fine of $27,500 per incident.

    ….The fine comes amid heightened public and political pressure on broadcasters to clean up their programming. On Thursday, the House overwhelmingly passed legislation that would boost the maximum indecency fine to $500,000 per incident. [AP]

Hey, this might be the time for someone like, oh I don’t know, say Marie Osmond to take to the airwaves:

    Marie Osmond is taking the shock out of jock. As the Federal Communications Commission cracks down on broadcast indecency, Osmond’s nationally syndicated and family friendly radio show, “Marie & Friends,” is hitting the airwaves.

    “It’s safe radio,” said the 44-year-old Osmond, a member of the famously squeaky-clean performing Utah family. “That’s one of the things we’re going for is to be safe, and funny and clever and quick-witted without getting to the blue side.” [AP]

I remember back in high school, a teacher was discussing her TV viewing habits with the class and someone asked if she watched Johnny Carson. She said, “No, he is too blue.” I had this vision of Carson in something like Blue Man Group regalia, and the teacher, noticing our quizzical looks, said “that means ‘dirty.'” If Johnny Carson was “too blue,” I wonder what she thinks of TV today.

Back to Marie:

    “We all have choices,” said Osmond, whose show mixes congenial conversation and the occasional celebrity guest with familiar songs. “You have to be 21 to be able to go into a strip bar. Why are you bringing the strip bar into my living room?”

    She has tailored the show primarily for women, but counts her eight children, her 78-year-old mother, men and truck drivers among her listeners.

    “It’s informative and it’s fun and we’re a little crazy,” she said. “But it’s something you don’t feel like you have to explain to your 6-year-old later in the evening, and try to fill her in on information that she’s too young to understand.”

    “Marie & Friends” is a five-hour afternoon drive time program syndicated by Jones Radio Network. So far it airs on stations in Salt Lake City; Boise, Idaho; Yakima, Wash.; Santa Monica, Calif.; and Santa Maria, Calif.

    ….Along with the much storied success have come some very public setbacks.

    She left her family for a few days after suffering postpartum depression in 1999. A year later, she and her second husband, Brian Blosil, briefly separated.

    She admitted, but gave few details in her autobiography, that she was sexually abused as a child. And later, as an adolescent Hollywood star appearing alongside busty women like Raquel Welch and Farrah Fawcett, developed an eating disorder.

    “You know, I’ve been through a lot of things, so I feel like (listeners) think they can relate to me,” she said.

    But this isn’t an advice show. “Life can be heavy,” she said. “When you turn on the radio, you want something that will pick you up, make you laugh, and make you feel like, ‘I can do this.”’

George Carlin sees the current governmental interest in “indecency” as part of a predictable cycle:

    George Carlin famously dissected “The Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television” as a way to explore what everyone was so uptight about. Thirty-two years later the same debate is still raging, now fueled by Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl flash, the suspension of Howard Stern’s raunchy radio show from six stations and new House legislation that would raise a performer’s indecency fine from $11,000 to $500,000.

    ….”The whole problem with this idea of obscenity and indecency, and all of these things – bad language and whatever – it’s all caused by one basic thing, and that is: religious superstition. … There’s an idea that the human body is somehow evil and bad and there are parts of it that are especially evil and bad, and we should be ashamed. Fear, guilt and shame are built into the attitude toward sex and the body. … It’s reflected in these prohibitions and these taboos that we have.”

    Mix that with TV or radio, and you’ve got a problem, he said.

    ….The U.S. Air Force veteran compared the recent tension with memories of his military experience.

    “These bursts of interest and decency are just like when you’re in the Air Force, Army and Marines, whatever – the discipline in your unit may get a little lax, people live with it, it’s fine for months at a time then some colonel notices it and suddenly they crack down … enforcing all the minor rules and regulations. Then what happens after these bursts of bothering people, that wears off and we get back to normal, relaxed discipline, but things still get done.

    “Society can be counted on to let this fade.” [AP]

I agree with him about where these notions of “indecency” come from, and the cyclical nature of clampdowns, but he doesn’t mention that shock jocks are hardly discussing these matters of sex, excrement and body parts in an educational manner: they are very purposely confronting taboos in a juvenile, transgressive manner simply because they ARE taboos.

About Eric Olsen

Career media professional and serial entrepreneur Eric Olsen flung himself into the paranormal world in 2012, creating the America's Most Haunted brand and co-authoring the award-winning America's Most Haunted book, published by Berkley/Penguin in Sept, 2014. Olsen is co-host of the nationally syndicated broadcast and Internet radio talk show After Hours AM; his entertaining and informative America's Most Haunted website and social media outlets are must-reads: [email protected], Facebook.com/amhaunted, Pinterest America's Most Haunted. Olsen is also guitarist/singer for popular and wildly eclectic Cleveland cover band The Props.

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