FCC Cold On Hot 97 Furor?

Will the C-word get Hot 97 in hot water with the Federal Communications Commission?

FCC action is one of the demands lodged by City Council members and immigrant activists, who are furious over the now infamous Tsunami song—a demand they'll probably repeat when they hold a protest outside Hot 97's studios at 11 a.m. on Friday.

But it's not clear that the feds will deliver, or even that they can.

Sure, the FCC has been making a mint going after indecency in recent months. In December, it fined the licensee of stations in Leavenworth and Wichita, Kansas, the sum of $220,000 for broadcasting a bit called "Naked Twister," featuring "local strippers" and naughty "descriptions of the participants' vaginal areas." That fine followed the FCC's high-profile actions against Viacom for on-air no-no's by Howard Stern, Bono, and Janet Jackson.

But the FCC seems more reluctant to go after language that offends because of racial, rather than sexual, content. Take the case of Florida station WLLD, fined $7,000 for a September 11, 1999, broadcast of a local rap concert. The song included the following ditty:

    N–s and your motherf–ing wide mouth. (Unintelligible.) Damn that bitch can pump with it. You want to bang, n–r. You want to bang, n–r. You're off the chain, n–r. We running game, n–r. You want to bang, n–r. It ain't no thing, n–r. We off the chain, n–r . . .
    Goddamn, where are my pussy eating n–s? Any my n–s into eating pussy? Y'all make some noise. Hey, where are the girls? If you're eating pussy, where you at?

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But it wasn't the N-word the FCC had a problem with. Instead, it was that the song included "language that, in context, depicts or describes sexual or excretory activities or organs in terms patently offensive."

That's the standard for indecency that the FCC goes by. Of course, in the WLLD case, the intent behind the use of the N-word might be different from the way c–k was used in the Hot 97 Tsunami song. But since the song didn't refer to the tidal wave victims' sexual or excretory behavior, it may be a target the FCC is unwilling or unable to hit.

(For more on this topic, see my colleague Kareem Fahim's posting on how one Boston talk-jock says we ought to deal with the "fifth column" of Muslims living in America.)

But for once, the marketplace might be fulfilling a job that government can't handle. Some of the Hot 97 morning show's sponsors have pulled out, including McDonald's, which went from "lovin' it" to indefinitely suspending ads on January 24.

"McDonald's does not support programs that discriminate or are insensitive to the plight of people suffering from devastating events," said a Mickey D's statement.

Reebok yanked its spots, saying it has "requested that the station institute a rigorous policy to prevent this kind of material from being produced and broadcast in the future."

"Until a response is received from the station, Reebok has indefinitely pulled all of its advertising," the shoemaker said.

Sprint has also pulled its ads, calling the song "deplorable." And Popeye's spokeswoman tells me the firm has received about half a dozen e-mails and a few calls of complaint, and while their ad contract with Hot 97 had already ended, Popeye's asked the station to end all mentions of the company on the air.

Those lost ad dollars might sting more than any fine.


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