Clear Channel drops Howard Stern from its stations. In the wake of the Super Bowl and a large FCC fine for another host, the radio giant launches ''zero-tolerance'' policy on indecency

By Gary Susman
Updated March 01, 2004 at 05:00 AM EST

Clear Channel Radio, the company that dominates radio with its ownership of 1,200 stations, says it has drawn ”a line in the sand” regarding on-air indecency, and on Wednesday, it penalized Howard Stern for allegedly crossing that line. In response to Stern’s Tuesday’s broadcast, Clear Channel dropped him from its six stations — in Fort Lauderdale, Rochester, Orlando, San Diego, Pittsburgh, and Louisville — that had carried the syndicated program. In a statement, Clear Channel president John Hogan said of Tuesday’s show: ”It was vulgar, offensive, and insulting, not just to women and African-Americans but to anyone with a sense of common decency.”

Hogan didn’t cite the specific content that led to the decision, but the New York Daily News reports that the offending words may have come not from Stern or even from guest Rick Salomon (of Paris Hilton sex tape infamy), but from a caller. Salomon had been boasting of the celebrities he claims to have had sex with when the caller asked if he’d ever slept with any famous African-Americans — though the term the caller used was the N-word. ”We will not air Howard Stern until we are assured that his show will conform to acceptable standards of responsible broadcasting,” Hogan said.

Stern’s show is syndicated by Infinity Broadcasting, which is a division of Viacom, as are CBS and MTV, the TV outlets behind the Janet Jackson-Justin Timberlake Super Bowl debacle, which prompted the current crackdown on indecency by both the Federal Communications Commission and by self-policing radio and TV broadcasters. Clear Channel’s action against Stern came one day after the radio giant announced a ”zero-tolerance” policy toward indecency. The first casualty of that policy, fired on Tuesday, was Todd Clem, the widely syndicated radio host known as Bubba the Love Sponge, whose graphic sex talk had resulted in FCC fines of $755,000 against Clear Channel. In the future, the company said, it would write into hosts’ contracts a provision that would make them share the cost of fines, giving them a financial incentive to keep it clean.

Stern discussed the Clear Channel move on his show on Thursday. Describing himself as ”under attack,” he said of the FCC, ”They’ve been after me since 1992… then Janet Jackson whipped out her boob and that’s all they needed.” (Stern has cost Infinity some $1.7 million in fines over the years.) Meanwhile, in Washington, at Congressional hearings over whether the FCC should multiply its current indecency fine tenfold, several media executives are scheduled to testify on Thursday, including Clear Channel’s Hogan.