Pulling the plug on Howard

Published February 27, 2004 10:47PM (EST)

What got Howard Stern pulled from six Clear Channel radio stations this week? The corporate line is that Howard is too raunchy for the radio giant. Clear Channel president John Hogan went up to the Hill and apologized to Congress for airing Howard's filth on the great American airwaves.

Are Clear Channel executives just now tuning into the nation's most popular shock jock? After all, it's not like Howard Stern just recently got randy. Even Michigan GOP Rep. Fred Upton wondered why radio execs were so suddenly turning on Stern. "I don't think what (Stern) said this week was different from things he's said before," he said. "Why didn't you do this earlier? Has he actually changed his tune?"

Hogan said: "I don't think he's changed his tune, but we've changed ours. We're going in a different direction at Clear Channel Radio." Clear Channel apparently got a nudge from a proposed $755,000 fine from the FCC, the biggest fine ever for indecent content. Clear Channel this week announced a "zero-tolerance" policy against trashy talk.

But some Salon readers and webloggers are wondering if Clear Channel getting religion about Howard has anything to do with Stern's recent political change-of-heart. It was just recently that Stern started trashing President Bush, who he has strongly supported in the past. On the blog Music Angle Michael Fremer says: "On Tuesday, Stern took a strong stance against Bush, the Republican party and the strong stench of fascism and intolerance in the air when it comes to free speech and gay rights, among other things. John Hogan, president and CEO of Clear Channel is a strong Bush supporter. When the war in Iraq began, Clear Channel organized rallys supporting the action and actually banned John Lennon's 'Imagine' and anything by The B-52s. Hard to believe, but true. Stern has great sway over millions of listeners. His political stand is what got him thrown off Clear Channel's network of stations, not his supposed 'indecent' remarks towards women and blacks. This is a sickening development."

If you've missed Howard, Robin and friends recently, MarksFriggin.com helpfully paraphrases every Stern radio show for you. On Monday, sometime after discussing his colonoscopy (he "didn't crap for two days") and playing parts of Stuttering John's audition tape for the Jay Leno show, Stern praised Al Franken's book, saying he might be an "anyone but Bush" guy now and that even Ralph Nader would be better. Is it really Stern's Bush-bashing, and not Clear Channel's kowtowing to the GOP Congress and FCC that got Howard yanked? Probably not, but the timing has some spinning theories.

And Charlie Kuffner's Off the Kuff blog points out that while Clear Channel says it's interested in protecting us all from obscenity, the radio giant recently brought to Houston the conservative ranter Michael Savage, the guy MSNBC fired last year after he referred to a caller to his weekend cable TV show as a "sodomite" and that he should "get AIDS and die." Nice.

By Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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