Commissioner doubts complaints about Stern sufficient to block purchase of stations
WASHINGTON — While the Federal Communications Commission has delayed the planned purchase of three radio stations by Infinity Broadcasting Corp. because of indecency complaints, an outright denial of the station acquisitions seems unlikely, a commissioner has said.
Commissioner James H. Quello told the New York Times in early January that the FCC was delaying Infinity’s licensing until the FCC resolved new complaints about radio personality and Infinity employee Howard Stern. Yet Quello conceded that a December decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington would make it difficult to block the station acquisitions altogether.
Stern, author of the recent best-selling autobiography “Private Parts,” is known for his raucous, sexually explicit radio programs. His show draws an audience estimated at 15 million people in 16 cities.
Inundated with complaints about Stern’s broadcasts over the years, the FCC has assessed about $1.2 million in fines on Infinity since 1990 for alleged indecency on Stern’s shows. But Infinity has yet to pay the fines, saying in court appeals that Stern’s materially is constitutionally protected.
The recent court opinion rejected FCC rules banning indecent programming between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. as unconstitutional and too broad.
The FCC’s options for dealing with Infinity range from dismissing the new complaints to revoking the licenses Infinity now holds. Quello told the New York Times that with or without the court ruling, the FCC did not have the authority to block Infinity’s purchases unless it found that the company was unfit to be a broadcaster.