Stern goes to Sirius, Free Speech Loses
October 8, 2004
By Dan Gougherty
Radio's ultimate shock jock Howard Stern has announced he will
join the Sirius Satellite Radio network in 2006. Stern, one of the
nation's best known radio personalities, will join the fledgling
satellite concern when his contract with Viacom expires in 15 months.
While I normally don't follow celebrity news, Stern's departure
is a significant development in the ongoing assault on free speech.
As you may recall, Stern was a whipping-boy of sorts last winter
in the fall-out from the Janet Jackson Superbowl breast-baring performance.
In response, Clear Channel paid $1.75 million in fines stemming
from Stern's show and promptly yanked the program from six stations
that carried it, as an act of contrition to the Bush administration.
The libertarian-leaning Stern was understandably peeved. Stern
has used his dismissal from the Bush-friendly Clear Channel stations
to launch a full frontal attack on FCC Chairman Michael Powell and
Clear Channel, in case you have forgotten, is the Texas-based behemoth
that owns over 1,200 radio stations. This is the same corporate
entity that used its media clout to organize pro-war pro-Bush rallies
in the build up to the invasion of Iraq.
Stern has repeatedly said that he would be run from broadcast
radio. In a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy, Stern will now reap
millions of dollars from his new deal yet is nonetheless a victim
of the assault on free speech.
What better way to shut up a well known critic than to pay him
millions and relegate him to a pay-per-listen medium? By the time
Sirius has a significant audience, Stern will probably be eligible
to collect Social Security. While Stern's program is wildly popular
on broadcast radio, it is questionable how many people will actually
cough up cash to listen to his often boorish and sophomoric diatribes.
More importantly, does this mean that political dissent, which
is already an endangered species on broadcast radio and such as
it is on Stern's show, become extinct?
Although Stern will be able to freely peddle his raunchy content,
his personal victory is actually a defeat and a setback for free
speech. Despite a huge national following and the ability to generate
tons of cash, Stern was still stifled by an ever-obedient Clear
It is also worth pondering whether Viacom, which makes millions
off the show, and coincidently owns CBS, would have renewed his
contract or bowed to pressure from Bush and the neo-cons.
For the few remaining independent radio stations and a growing
movement of community-owned non-profit radio stations who do not
have the financial resources of a Clear Channel or Viacom, the message
is clear - don't mess with Bush and the neo-cons lest you be fined
out of existence. Talk about clogging the courts with lawsuits!
On election day when you cast your vote for John Kerry, remember
you will be sending a statement that you value free speech. If the
thought of what is happening and has happened on our public radio
airwaves concerns you, remember that other media, such as the wide-openInternet
we now enjoy, could be the next target.
Visit Dan Gougherty's blog at www.ltobs.blogspot.com