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Stern Booted off Clear Channel-update

New York- Howard Stern declared he was the victim of a “witch hunt” yesterday after the government socked a major broadcaster with a massive $495,000 fine for airing the radio shock jock’s potty-mouthed banter.

Radio giant Clear Channel, which had carried Stern’s syndicated morning show on six of its stations, responded by permanently booting him from its airwaves.

And now the Federal Communications Commission has set its sights on Stern’s employer, Infinity Broadcasting, which owns his home base, New York’s 92.3-FM K-Rock.

Stern, who has threatened to quit his show over growing censorship, blasted back with a statement that accused the Bush administration of a “witch hunt.”

“It is pretty shocking that governmental interference into our rights and free speech takes place in the U.S.,” he said on his Web site. “It’s hard to reconcile this with the ‘land of the free’ and the ‘home of the brave.'”

The FCC had been in crackdown mode since Janet Jackson’s breast-baring Super Bowl stunt. The agency proposed the fines against Clear Channel after reviewing a “patently offensive” show that aired on six of its stations last April.

In one segment, Stern baited then-sidekick John (Stuttering John) Melendez about a certain sex act, the comments punctuated by sounds of flatulence.

Another bit involved a discussion with a guest about a product designed to cleanse male anatomy.

“While this is not the most egregious case that I have seen, the material broadcast is indecent under our standards,” commissioner Jonathan Adelstein said.

Clear Channel, the biggest radio group in the nation, suspended the show in February after an uproar over a caller’s racially tinged sex talk with socialite Paris Hilton’s ex-boyfriend. After yesterday’s FCC action, it axed Stern for good.

“Mr. Stern’s show has created a great liability for us,” Clear Channel President John Hogan said. “The Congress and the FCC are even beginning to look at revoking station licenses. That’s a risk we’re just not willing to take.”

For the first time, the FCC fined a company for each “indecent” utterance on each station, dramatically raising the money stakes for broadcasters who stay loyal to Stern.

Clearn Channel can appeal or petition to have the fine reduced. Infinity had no comment.

Associated Press: Six Clear Channel radio stations were fined a total of $495,000 yesterday for 18 complaints about a Howard Stern broadcast that aired last year.

The Federal Communications Commission levied fines against stations in Florida, California, Kentucky, New York and Pennsylvania that aired Stern’s show. The total represents $27,500 in fines for each complaint, the maximum allowed. Stern is employed by Infinity Broadcasting, owner of New York’s WXRK (92.3 FM), but his show is syndicated to stations owned by other companies. He continues to air locally on WXRK on weekdays from 6 to 10 a.m.

Clear Channel suspended Stern in February from the six stations after a discussion on his show that included explicit sex talk and a racist remark by a caller. The company responded to yesterday’s action by permanently terminating its relationship with him.

“Mr. Stern’s show has created a great liability for us and other broadcasters who air it,” said John Hogan, president and CEO of Clear Channel Radio. “The Congress and the FCC are even beginning to look at revoking station licenses. That’s a risk we’re just not willing to take.”

The FCC did not say when the show in question aired. In a statement, the agency said the program materials included “repeated graphic and explicit sexual depictions that were pandering, titillating or used to shock the audience.”

Federal rules bar obscene material and limit the airing of indecent comments, such as explicit and graphic sexual or excretory references, to late-night broadcasts when children are less likely to be listening or watching.

“I have long advocated that the commission use all of the tools it has to tackle indecency on the public’s airwaves,” said FCC Commissioner Michael Copps in a press release. “(Yesterday’s) decision is a step forward towards imposing meaningful fines.

“For the first time, the commission assesses a fine against more than a single utterance, rather than counting an entire program as one utterance. In addition, the commission makes clear that its indecency enforcement will address not only the station that is the subject of a complaint, but also any other station that aired the same programming.”

Stern is on vacation this week, and WXRK is airing repeats of past broadcasts. But he has railed against the FCC, the Bush administration and Clear Channel in the months since his suspension, and a statement was posted on his Web site yesterday afternoon.

“This is not a surprise,” Stern said in the statement. “This is a follow-up to the McCarthy-type ‘witch hunt’ of the administration and the activities of this group of presidential appointees in the FCC, led by ‘Colin Powell Jr.’ and his band of players.”

The Powell reference is to FCC Chairman Michael K. Powell, the son of Secretary of State Colin Powell. The younger Powell was named to the FCC by former President Bill Clinton, and was made chairman under President Bush.

Last month, the FCC proposed fining a station in Detroit owned by Infinity Broadcasting $27,500 for another incident on Stern’s show.

 

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