Talk radio used to be a forum for public service. Now, too often in America, talk radio is a forum designed to turn men on with a level of sexual raunch unimagined 15 years ago.
In the increasingly daring attempts to shock and titillate, the only obstacle is public protest, and the only agency to address those protests is the Federal Communications Commission, a bureaucratic dinosaur that crawls at a glacial pace. On October 2, more than 13 months after shock jocks "Opie and Anthony" were fired by Infinity Radio, the FCC finally found that a radio show encouraging sex in St. Patrick's Cathedral on the day Catholics celebrate the Virgin Mary's assumption into Heaven could be defined as an obscenity violation. How this decision took longer than 13 minutes, at least by any non-government entity, is beyond me.
How grievous a message does that send to a multi-billion-dollar conglomerate? Even the FCC noted these stunts went beyond shocking listeners - they encouraged sex in very inappropriate public places with children present, involving "unsuspecting people who were otherwise going about their business," including sacred moments in church.
So what fine did the FCC levy? A whopping, utterly meaningless $27,500 for each of the 13 stations that aired this sacrilege. That fine didn't hurt; it tickled the corporate funny bone.
Infinity is the radio behemoth behind so much of this raunch. It has the proper name - its capacity for crotch talk is endless. It can fire Opie and Anthony, but still rake in profits from Howard Stern, and Don and Mike, and others. It can begin each broadcast day of boob-butt-dildo-thong-sperm-strip stimulation with an airing of the National Anthem, saluting America for the freedom to use the public airwaves to create a foul stream of moral corruption.
On the same day that Infinity was "punished," the FCC handed out a fine to Washington, DC station DC-101, owned by the enormous Clear Channel radio chain, for incidents on May 7 and 8, 2002. It took almost seventeen months to adjudicate this: In their contest to recruit girls to dance in a cage at a Kid Rock concert, the "Elliot in the Morning" crew interviewed two girls who said they were students at Bishop O'Connell High School, a Catholic school in Arlington, Virginia.
Shock jock Elliot Segal tried to make the audio-ogling most of these eager teenagers, and soon had the star-struck girls eating out of his palm. "Are you kind of like an exhibitionist?" Yes, said the first girl. "And you want to flash from time to time?" Yes. "What size bra?" She obliged. From there, Segal leapt into the lurid, asking whether the girl's lined "guys up against lockers" for oral sex in the hallway? "Two or three," she claimed. The interview turned to the second girl, who said "we're both pretty hot." She claimed she and her friend "do our little show at parties," and Elliot asked "with your boobies out?" She said "depends on who's there." She claimed her sexual activity inside the Catholic school was in more secluded areas like stairwells. She also claimed a healthy bra size and added her nickname is "J-Lo, so I got the booty to go with it."
Both girls claimed to be 18, so Elliot told listeners not to send "your g-damn e-mails...Save the 'you're corrupting the youth of America.' Please...I didn't hold a gun to anybody's head to line up nine guys against a locker." Laughter followed.
The next day, Elliot continued his assault on Catholics. His female sidekick Diane started reading from the Bishop O'Connell High School mission statement. "'Our mission is to provide the students an education rooted in the life of Christ and to foster the pursuit of excellence of the whole person.' And then you go down [for oral sex]," she sickly joked. As she read through the rest of the school's beliefs, Elliot mocked them all. As alleged O'Connell students began calling in with campus updates, Elliot began mocking the school's principal: "Anybody willing to believe he's never gotten [oral sex] from his wife?" He also joked that the principal told one of the call-in girls "she's gotta give up semen for Lent."
The fine for all these incidents? Just $55,000, a giant $27,500 for each day's work. A joke.
Two of my children were students at Bishop O'Connell High School at that time. The entire school - students, teachers, parents - was horrified by this incident. The FCC received complaints from Father Michael Taylor, the school's chaplain, and 73 O'Connell students.
Both of these incidents were attacks on American families in general and Catholics in particular. I can only imagine that champagne corks were popping at Infinity and Clear Channel. They know that the FCC is a toothless lion when it comes to the enforcement of commonsense decency standards.