The Second District Court ruled the Federal Communications Commission's current policy regarding profanity is unconstitutionally vague.
"By prohibiting all 'patently offensive' references to sex, sexual
organs and excretion without giving adequate guidance as to what 'patently offensive' means, the FCC effectively chills speech, because
broadcasters have no way of knowing what the FCC will find offensive,"ruled the New York-based court.
That was music -- expletive-free music -- to the ears of Sandra Wasson, the longtime general manager of U.C. Berkeley's KALX radio. While an FCC fine might get a shock-jock fired and displease a corporate executive, the amount of money in question would kill a college radio station. The $5,000 or $10,000 fines student DJs were warned about even a decade ago have now swollen to $325,000 and even $3 million infractions.
Not having to worry about that would be a relief for Wasson -- but don't expect to hear George Carlin on KALX anytime soon. "At this point, I'm very cautiously optimistic," she says. "But I don't think we're going to change our policies until the Supreme Court [rules] or refuses to hear it."
And, even then, don't expect to hear news broadcasters, DJs, and musicians cursing up a storm on-air. Tuesday's ruling simply stated that the FCC's policy was too vague -- which is a big deal when hundreds of thousands or even millions are on the line. Now, Wasson notes, they'll just do a better job of defining what's obscene and what isn't.
Finally, while KALX has never been hit with an FCC fine during Wasson's 20 years on the job, U.C. Santa Barbara's KCSB was dinged back in 1987 for playing a song called "Makin' Bacon" by the Pork Dukes.