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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Don't Expect Court Ruling to Lead to Loads of On-Air Cursing

Posted By on Wed, Jul 14, 2010 at 12:01 AM

click to enlarge comic_book_swearing.jpg
It appears that George Carlin's "Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television" still are the seven words you can never say on television.

Despite a federal court ruling yesterday that fining broadcasters for uttering, say, "shit; piss, fuck; cunt; cocksucker; motherfucker; and tits" on TV or radio, don't expect to hear language such as "shit; piss, fuck; cunt; cocksucker; motherfucker; and tits" on-air anytime soon.

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.

Here's a clip of the Pork Dukes singing that ditty in 2009. If you can make out any obscenities -- or even any lyrics at all other than "Makin' Bacon" then you have sharper ears than your humble narrator.

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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