FCC plans shock of own for 'shock jock' Stern $600,000 fine for his employer

December 18, 1992|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- The Federal Communications Commission, after weeks of rancorous internal debate, was set today to fine Infinity Broadcasting Corp. of New York $600,000 for allegedly indecent remarks made by radio personality Howard Stern.

The fine -- which has raised concerns among broadcasters that their free-speech rights might be jeopardized -- would be the largest issued by the commission against a broadcaster. But it will fall short of FCC Chairman Alfred C. Sikes' threat to place constraints on Infinity's broadcast licenses.

Mr. Stern, the nation's best known "shock jock," has come to the attention of the FCC for routinely making on-air remarks considered by many to go beyond the barrier of good taste, especially in matters pertaining to race, ethnicity and sexuality.

He once said, for example, that he wanted to "strip and rape" male disc jockeys at a rival Los Angeles radio station. He also drew the ire of commissioners when he said he hoped Mr. Sikes' prostate cancer would spread.

But as offensive as his program is to some, he has been a hit with audiences. His morning show, which mixes banter about sex, race and humor, is ranked No. 1 in New York, Philadelphia and Los Angeles and is heard in seven other large cities.

[The show is simulcast locally on Baltimore's WJFK-AM (1300).]

Last month, the FCC came down hard on Mr. Stern. It imposed a $105,000 fine on the owners of KSLX-FM in Los Angeles for 12 alleged indecent comments by Mr. Stern in late 1991.

As the FCC debated whether more action should be taken against the stations that aired Mr. Stern's show, the controversy took on increasingly political overtones.

Infinity, which has annual revenues of about $150 million from the operation of 18 FM and AM stations and broadcasts Mr. Stern's (( show in the East, recently paid $113 million to buy three more radio stations.

Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., a proponent of on-air decency standards, initially registered an objection because of Mr. Stern. He later withdrew the objection when he learned the stations would not air the show.

Yesterday, the American Civil Liberties Union called on thincoming Clinton administration to support Mr. Stern's free-speech rights.

Following today's vote, expected to be 4-1, Mr. Sikes is said to be prepared to issue a heated dissent, having preferred tougher sanctions.

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