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Regular Guys Fired

Atlanta- The edgy and popular Regular Guys on Atlanta’s 96rock (WKLS-FM) have been fired by station owners Clear Channel Communications after a March 19 incident in which the deejays’ show aired graphic sexual content. The firing comes a day after the Federal Communications Commission proposed a $495,000 fine against Clear Channel for alleged indecent content by syndicated shock jock Howard Stern. “In line with our zero-tolerance policy and after conducting a thorough investigation of a March 19 broadcast on WKLS-FM, we have decided we will no longer broadcast the ‘The Regular Guys,’ ” said Pat McDonnell, Clear Channel regional vice president, in a prepared statement. McDonnell also said the station is seeking a replacement show. Regular Guys Larry Wachs and Eric Von Haessler didn’t return calls for comment though their agent, Robert Eatman, in Los Angeles said, “This is total government interference pressuring companies to take actions they wouldn’t otherwise take.” The local duo is the second Clear Channel show to be booted for indecency while the FCC is cracking down on obscenity on public airwaves. Clear Channel, which owns more than 1,200 radio stations nationwide and six locally, recently axed Tampa shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge, after the FCC cited him for a skit in which cartoon characters discussed sexual acts. Clear Channel has also permanently dropped Stern from six of its stations. Stern, who broadcasts from New York, is distributed by rival Infinity Broadcasting and is heard on 35 stations nationwide, though not in Atlanta. “The FCC is on a warpath,” said Michael Harrison, editor of radio trade magazine Talkers. “They are shutting down the spontaneity and freewheeling nature of radio. The FCC has incredible power, and the people responsible for protecting radio licenses, the bottom line and their jobs are in chains.” Since singer Janet Jackson showed her breast during the nationally televised Super Bowl halftime show Feb. 1, the FCC has reacted to public and political outrage by being more aggressive in its enforcement of rules against indecency on the airwaves. Congress is considering several measures to give the FCC more teeth. The House recently approved legislation that would raise indecency fines to $500,000 from $27,500 for each offense. A pending Senate version of the bill would require the FCC to hold license revocation hearings if a radio or TV station is cited three times for indecency. In response, many radio jocks have toned down their broadcasts, and station owners are scrambling to install delay buttons to ensure accidentally uttered obscenities can be cut before they air. Citizens for Community Values, a public policy organization in Cincinnati, applauded Clear Channel’s actions. “I am very impressed with Clear Channel trying to fix the problem internally,” said president Phil Burress. “We as citizens have a right not to be offended over our public airwaves. If you play with fire, you get burnt.” Atlanta’s Regular Guys – a No. 2 morning show among men 18 to 49, according to Arbitron ratings – have been a crucial foundation for 96rock, which generated an estimated $19 million in revenue last year. But the license for a top-rated radio station in this market is worth at least $100 million, and Clear Channel doesn’t want to risk losing that, said Gary Stevens, a New York-based media broker. The Regular Guys got in trouble for a skit they called “backward smut.” It was meant to mock the FCC campaign against indecency. The plan was to tape porn star Devinn Lane talking dirty, then play it on air backward. But the stunt went bad when a microphone was accidentally, according to the deejays, left on and listeners could hear Lane using very explicit sexual terms over a car ad. The bit wound up on the Internet, and the FCC received complaints. Clear Channel suspended the Regular Guys the same day the stunt aired. A few days before the incident, Wachs had said he wasn’t worried about running afoul of FCC regulations. “In the real world we live in,” he said, “you have to modify your presentation to suit the standards of the time.” The Regular Guys, since arriving in Atlanta from Los Angeles in 1998, had generally straddled the line between provocative and tasteless. They held homeless karaoke contests, joked about celebrity nudity with online expert “Mr. Skin” and hosted an annual pregnant bikini contest. But they were never considered as raunchy as Stern. On air, they could gab for hours on a range of nonsexual topics, from “American Idol” to the electability of John Kerry, with a touch of sardonic mirth. “I’m shocked they were fired,” said Mike Rose, a former program director for WGST-AM and a Regular Guys fan. “I’m sure Clear Channel didn’t want to do this, but zero tolerance is zero tolerance.” Mark Kanov, general manager of Top 40 station Star 94, said the FCC has swung from one extreme to another. “I am not a believer in censorship,” he said, “but I think these guys thumbed their noses at the FCC and did a very rude and crude bit that backfired. They’re now suffering the consequences.”
 

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