A Colorado radio station found out the hard way that broadcasting an edited version of a song doesn't guarantee you're in compliance with FCC decency regulations.
Following up on a listener complaint, the government agency has fined KKMG-FM $7,000 for airing the radio edit of Eminem's "The Real Slim Shady."
Because the Colorado Springs station broadcast an edited version of the song, KKMG parent company Citadel Communications claimed that it wasn't violating FCC rules, according to a notice issued by the agency. In addition to the changes made to the song by Eminem's label, Interscope, Citadel made further edits "in an attempt to render the song suitable for broadcast," the notice said.
In its ruling, though, the FCC said the edited version "contains unmistakable offensive sexual references ... that appear intended to pander and shock." Earlier this year, the FCC issued new guidelines indicating that innuendo and context are factors in determining whether a record violates its decency standards, regardless of the specific words.
"There is nothing about the context of 'The Real Slim Shady' which removes the material from the realm of indecency," the agency said.
An unidentified KKMG listener filed a complaint about the airing of the song in July 2000. Citadel, which said KKMG broadcast the song about 418 times in May, June and July 2000, claimed the listener submitted lyrics from an Internet site, not transcribed from the actual broadcast, according to the FCC notice.
The FCC cited the lines "walkin' around, grabbin' his you know what" and "but it's cool for Tom Green to hump a dead moose" as objectionable, as well as lines about masturbation and a "bleeped" reference to a female body part.
The FCC defines indecent material as that which "depicts or describes sexual or excretory organs or activities" in a manner that is "patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards," according to the agency's Web site. The FCC responds to consumer complaints about radio and television, but does not actively monitor broadcasts.
The agency's rules restrict the broadcast of "indecent material" between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.
Citadel received notice of the fine on June 1, and KKMG stopped playing the track immediately. The company will file a response to the notice, according to Citadel lawyer Kathleen Kirby. The agency will then decide whether to uphold the fine, reduce it or dismiss it.
KKMG Operations Manager Bobby Irwin said in a statement Wednesday (June 6) that the station reviewed the "clean version" of "The Real Slim Shady" to see if it met the station's decency standards before adding it to its play list. He also pointed out that many other stations played the same version without retribution from the FCC.
Irwin said the station took the song off its play list "because we don't know where the landmine is that could have caused the problem. ... 'Offensive' is so subjective. One thing offends one person and not another."
Other music industry and radio figures immediately criticized the FCC fine.
Hilary Rosen, president of the Recording Industry Association of America, said the fine sets a dangerous precedent.
"It would be a disgrace if the FCC were to impose a violation on a radio station because they didn't like the 'suggestive' nature of a song," she told Variety. "That goes right to the heart of idea-based censorship."
Bobby Hacker, program director of modern-rock station KCCQ-FM in Ames, Iowa, said he worries that FCC clampdowns will have a chilling effect on what stations will play.
"Ultimately, the label's not going to pay the fine, the artist isn't going to pay the fine it's the radio station that's going to pay the fine," Hacker said. "And it only takes one irate listener or somebody from a competing radio station to cost you thousands of dollars [by filing a complaint]."
Kirby agreed, adding that this notice sends a clear message that program directors can't rely on tracks labeled "radio edit" to satisfy FCC guidelines.
Hacker said part of the problem is that FCC regulations have changed frequently in the past 10 years, leaving him and other program directors guessing.
"You throw something on and hope nobody's offended by it," he said. "You have to know your local area, know the local people and cross your fingers."
Def Jam founder Russell Simmons released a statement accusing the FCC of trying to censor hip-hop.
"Throughout American history, the young and creative culture has always been accused of crossing the line," Simmons wrote. "Whether it was the writings of Mark Twain or musical genres like blues, jazz and rock 'n' roll, when we look at these forms of expression in retrospect, we see that they weren't bad at all."
Nina Crowley, executive director of anti-censorship organization MassMic, agreed with Simmons, saying that the fine is basically "censorship by threat," because it intimidates broadcasters and artists into policing their content with a heavier hand.
Interscope did not return phone calls by press time, and the FCC had no comment beyond the notice itself.
In January, the FCC fined WZEE-FM in Madison, Wisconsin, for airing the unedited version of "The Real Slim Shady." The station paid the fine, but claimed the broadcast was an innocent mistake (see "Broadcast Of Unedited Eminem Track An Accident, Station Says").