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Radio's Summer Smut

It's June 30, an otherwise bland, sunny Monday, and Washington DC area commuters fiddling with their radio buttons are about to get drenched in audio smut again. It's one thing to go looking for gutter-wallowing shows like Howard Stern's. It's another thing when nearly every morning radio show is pushing sex, sex and more sex - and the more outrageous, the better.

Imagine you have your twelve-year old daughter with you in the car. You turn on the radio to catch the "Sports Junkies" on WHFS, a 50,000-watt station covering both Washington and Baltimore. What's top sports story of the day? Who knows? The "Junkies" are hosting an extended discussion on a "gang-bang" which was reported to have featured 40 males and four females. They're talking to "Dan" about his pornographic Web site, pornodan.com, which for good measure they promote on the air several times. Dan organized that orgy for filming on his site, see. The announcers joke that the men might have sexual difficulty with so many other men in the room, and ask if the women ever grew too tired to continue.

You are disgusted, and remembering your twelve-year old daughter, who is being exposed to this filth, embarrassed. What kind of debauchery is this on the airwaves, you ask yourself. What can be done?

You hear the voices of the moral relativism crowd: If You Don't Like It, Change Channels. So you give the dial a quick spin and land on rock station "DC-101," where you might expect music. Not so. The eponymous host of "Elliott in the Morning" is discussing with his staff which trees, when it rains, smell like ...sperm. Abort. Hit the "Scan" button again. Stop on "Z-104," where morning host Brett Haber, a former TV sports anchor in town, is discussing which body part is the best "sex organ," including someone's eyes or lips. Brett also describes how he had a girlfriend who "went to O-hio" during intercourse while making him stay motionless.

You are now enraged. You "Scan" again. Minutes later at "Mix-107," host Jack Diamond is discussing - you guessed it - sex. Would you let your 17-year-old daughter go to the beach with her boyfriend's family? Would it lead to premarital sex? Given what else is on the dial, this is almost refreshing by comparison.

But wait a minute, you say. I'm just not going to accept this. After all, aren't these my airwaves? Why should I (not to mention my daughter) have to be exposed to this nonstop barrage? Why, I'm going to do something about it.

So you take your complaint to the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC is entrusted with monitoring indecent behavior on radio. You log on to the FCC's website to learn how to file a complaint. You are told you "may submit a significant excerpt of the program describing what was actually said or a full or partial tape or transcript of the material."

In other words, if while you were driving down the road you weren't taping, or transcribing the offensive program, you're out of luck.

What about the FCC? Can't it afford to do this? Apparently its $278,092,000 annual budget doesn't allow that luxury. Can't it mandate that radio stations keep a tape file of all their programming for, say, 60 days? Yes, but it won't.

Let's say that by some miracle - your daughter had her tape recorder on - you do have the evidence. Now what? You turn it over to the FCC and ... wait. And wait. And learn while you're waiting that there's no time limit for FCC action. The agency can take years to investigate a complaint - and does. You also learn that with $278,092,000 allows only a staff of five to handle all investigations dealing with radio, television, telemarketing, telecommunications issues - in short, anything the FCC handles. Five.

And if it will make you feel any better, you learn that even FCC Commissioners who have filed complaints find their staffs still working on them a year later.

What if the Red Sea waters part, and the FCC does finally render a judgment, where a fine is levied? As things now stand, the maximum fine the agency can exact is - ready? - $27,500. To a multi-billion dollar empire like Viacom or Clear Channel, that's less than a hic-cup. That's a joke.

And they are laughing, too. From the lewd anti-FCC rants from Eminem in his "music," to the verbal broadsides from Howard Stern on his radio program, the industry is taunting the FCC, that big, bad $278,092,000 monument to bureaucratic impotence.

In the final analysis, they're laughing at you, dear reader, the taxpayer. You pony up almost a quarter of a billion dollars every year to an agency that has no intentions of protecting your rights. Ultimately, the joke's on you.