Howard Stern’s notorious radio antics could cost his employer a record $ 315 ,000 if the government decides to punish Infinity Broadcasting Corp.
The Federal Communications Commission is considering whether to fine Infinity for airing a series of allegedly indecent shows by Stern on three of its stations last year, Commissioner James Quello said Wednesday. The $ 315,000 would be far and away the most ever levied for violating the FCC’s indecency rules.
The FCC is also debating whether to delay Infinity’s $ 100 million purchase of three radio stations and refer the Stern indecency case to an administrative law judge, according to Quello.
“There are a lot of things that haven’t been decided,” he said in an interview Wednesday. “We have several options open to us.”
Quello said a judicial hearing was “likely but not final.” And he said the five-member commission is closely divided on whether to transfer the Cook Inlet Radio Partners’ radio licenses to Infinity or wait until after a hearing. The Cook Inlet stations are in Boston, Chicago and Atlanta.
Infinity president Mel Karmazin refused to comment Wednesday on any potential actions by the FCC. But he said the FCC should not tie its objections to Stern to the company’s proposed purchase of the Cook Inlet stations.
“The idea of linking the Cook Inlet transfer to a very fair, honest First Amendment disagreement does not appear to be fair and in the best interest of the public,” Karmazin said from Infinity headquarters in New York.
“We certainly don’t believe there’s anything we have done to warrant that anything be delayed.”
The $ 315,000 fine would be three times the one slapped on Los Angeles station KLSX-FM last month for a series of Stern programs aired last year. KLSX is owned by Greater Media Inc.
The proposed Infinity fine would cover the same programs but would be tripled because the company simultaneously broadcast the programs on three of its stations: WXRK-FM in New York, WYSP-FM in Philadelphia and WJFK-FM in the Washington area.
Quello said he has no problem personally with Stern’s raunchy humor.
“I find Howard Stern to be a rather entertaining smart ass,” Quello said. “But it’s time for Karmazin to take him to the woodshed.”
Karmazin said no objections to the sale of the Cook Inlet stations have been filed with the FCC.
But Quello said four groups and conservative Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., have sent letters to the FCC urging that the sale be blocked.
“There’s no doubt there’s a public and congressional outcry about excessive sex, violence and indecency on the air,” Quello said. “I think something has to be done. … He’s outrageous.”
Stern routinely snubs interview requests, but has used his show to attack the FCC.
“A kid can’t spend five minutes on a playground without hearing much, much worse than what I ever said on this radio station,’ Stern said on one program.