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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 George Bush.

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 Channel.

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

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