The 7 Words You Can't Say On Radio

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case concerning vulgarity on the airwaves -- you know, Bono using the F-word in an unscripted broadcast, etc.

The FCC wants the power to punish carriers that are responsible for such slips -- like the ones Cher and Nicole Richie made at a Billboard Awards show.

I guess the Supreme Court has nothing better to do -- the next presidential election doesn't need to be decided until November. What's remarkable about this issue is that one of the chief proponents for stronger FCC power is the Parents Television Council -- a group some consider right wing wackos.

In fact, as The New York Times reports, "Of the 234 complaints the commission received after the 2003 Golden Globes broadcast, all but 17 were generated by the Parents Television Council".

This is also the group that brought in over 90% of the complaints about seeing Janet Jackson's boob during the Super Bowl.

Now, the issue is out of our hands -- the one about vulgarity on the radio, that is.

However it harkens us back to the day that George Carlin caused a big stink by having the audacity to utter the 7 Words You Can't Say on TV. That begs the question (and you'll soon see where I'm going with this) -- what are the 7 Words You Can't Say on Radio?

1. Variety -- Listeners know that when stations claim "more variety" what they really mean is the same 30 songs over and over again. In fact, there is even less variety in the liners and sweepers that tout "more variety". Ask any listener under the age of 25 what "variety" means on a terrestrial radio station and they will tell you it's an empty promise.

2. New -- like in "new music". Again, long before consolidation drove the spike into the heart of terrestrial radio the lack of new music on-the-air was choking it. The reason is that programmers have been drinking the Kool-Aid of research companies they've been hiring for years in which results show -- play the hits over and over. It's always worked before. Only one problem. The next generation doesn't care as much about hits. This social networking generation is more interested in whether a friend likes a tune than if a station plays it to death. So much for research.

3 and 4. Fewer Commercials
-- Hey, if they're not believing "more variety" and "new music" why do you think they are going to believe "fewer commercials"? One good reason is that ostensibly (and with all due respect to our forefathers who gave us "less is more") it still sounds like the same high number of commercials on terrestrial radio. Oh, and yes, most of these commercials are awful. Clients doing their own spots who should never be on the air. Spots that have more copy crammed into them than even a genius can comprehend. Fast talk. Crummy music. Copy written by account execs. Stop me! I can go on forever. Fewer commercials, indeed!

5. Talent -- That's because radio has been methodically exterminating on-air talent the way Terminix eradicates household pests. Radio used to have afternoon personalities because somehow they got the idea that listeners returning home from work wanted to hear the same kind of personalities they enjoyed on their way to work. Bad consolidators! Remember how hit music stations used to even have night-time jocks that were personalities and trendsetters for the youth audience. Aaah, who needs them? Throw on some voice tracking and no one will ever know. Or listen.

6. News
-- Somewhere along the way these past 30 years, radio stations have conducted a holy war to reduce and then finally remove news from the radio. Makes sense, doesn't it. Why not take away another local element that distinguishes them from -- say, an iPod. Think of the savings! Anyway, there are lots of ways to get your news these days, but radio isn't one of them. Maybe it wasn't such a good idea after all to dump local news.

7. HD -- (I know, HD is not a word, but it's also not High Definition). The reason you can't say HD on the air is because your audience may drop their cell phones out of their hands, cause an accident -- all this because they can't stop laughing. Remember, people listened to AM music stations for years not because they sounded as good as a recording but because of what was between the music. When you say you're broadcasting in HD, it's like saying you're breathing air -- what is so remarkable. HD is a figment of radio's misguided imagination but it is meaningless to the audience.

I don't envy the Supreme Court for having to rule that the FCC has the lawful right to punish broadcasters for fleeting and unplanned vulgarity over the air. I think there's a good chance that will be their judgment. I don't agree, but that's my personal viewpoint. Some radio people don't really care, they just want to know what the guidelines are going to be so they can avoid the fines.

I do wish we were all more concerned with preserving the right to free speech than we seem to be when 217 lunatic fringers get a bee in their bonnet.

But if radio stations are seriously looking for a way to do something positive for their declining audiences, scroll back up to the 7 Words You Can't Say On The Radio and fix them.

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