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of satellites and transistors…

Whether the network you subscribe to (now or in the future) is XM or Sirius, satellite radio maybe one of the best things to ever happen to the medium since the growth in popularity of the FM band in the 60’s and 70’s.  And the nice part is, no matter what side of the argument of indecency versus freedom of speech you sit on, everybody wins!

A Stern Awakening? 

With radio personality Howard Stern’s contract with Infinity Broadcasting finally coming to an end (its expected his last terrestrial broadcast for that group will be sometime in mid-December 2005 if Infinity doesn’t end it sooner) Stern will finally be able to begin his long promoted run on Sirius Satellite Radio (for what is reported to be hundreds of millions of dollars for Stern).

Sirius has garnered a number of positives in the Stern deal: Stern and his “brand” bring instant credibility to a young and fiercely competitive satellite market as the majority of Stern’s current audience is expected to not only subscribe to Sirius but also pay an additional fee to hear Stern.  The self-proclaimed “King of All Media” will enjoy the freedom to present his program sans restrictions…much like cable’s subscriber and pay-per-view systems, which may entice current Sirius Satellite Radio subscribers to pay the Stern fee as well.  Stern will also be programming other channels (some featuring other radio personalities like Stern whose programming and style were not welcomed any longer on the AM/FM bands).

Broadcast Radio’s Death or Re-birth?

Infinity (and other radio stations that syndicate the Stern broadcast currently) now has new morning show host choices to pick from as well as decisions to make.  Former Van Halen front man David Lee Roth and comedian/radio personality Adam Corolla are just two show hosts that Infinity will offer its stations as a Stern replacement.  Morning drive is universally radio’s prime revenue source so there are hundreds of millions of dollars at stake as well as more than a few jobs at Infinity and other radio outlets.

Equally, though, losing Stern relives the strain on participating stations that were under extreme pressure from the Federal Communication Commission and the United States Congress to put an end to all indecent broadcasts (which based on the government’s targeted fines seemed to include Stern and other labeled “Shock-Jocks” around America). At the core of the indecency argument was the actual definition of what was considered “indecent”. The FCC and Congress didn’t seem to spend too much time on truly crafting that definition as it seemed hell bent on issuing fines to get their “targets” off the air.

But in addition to reliving the strain of towing the line of a foggy list of indecency rules, the fines and farewell of Stern from terrestrial broadcast may spark a new and better level of radio programming that, especially in the morning slots, had become lazy and complacent to let a bit too much either innuendo or outright seamy sexuality and vulgarity be broadcast when the majority of listeners (of ALL ages) were listening.  Broadcasters (large and small) really have a chance to make a programming change and make it right.  Entertainment doesn’t have to be about sex…there are a lot more topics than that which audiences will find interesting and funny.  For broadcast radio, that knocking sound is opportunity waiting to be let in.  And for those who like the naughtier jokes…. much like cable television, satellite radio awaits.  

The Irony Of It All

The amazing fall of Stern on broadcast radio had almost less to do with radio and more with television and Janet Jackson’s “Nipple-Gate” (though he had been fined before that revealing Super Bowl broadcast).  Now with radio’s act on its way to being cleaned up (more or less) it seems that network television’s entertainment content hasn’t really changed that much.  It will be interesting to see if government agencies now turn their guns toward prime time broadcast television programming and promotion which continues to expose kids to a wide variety of bad messages.

A Final Observation

Ultimately, though it’s not sexy programming or corporate ownership that has the final say about what is listened to or watched.  That responsibility falls to the viewer and in the case of those under the voting age, the parents.  As much as broadcasting is a privilege, the mediums of radio and television should not be used as a babysitter. As has been often been said about programs like Stern, there is an off switch and it’s up to every responsible adult to know when to “clap on…clap off!”