WASHINGTON — Already in the Federal Communications Commission’s cross-hairs for its crew of trash-talking shock jocks, Clear Channel Communications is now the target of other investigations by the feds.
The same week Clear Channel permanently dumped Howard Stern after his raunchy show racked up another record FCC fine, a federal judge in Denver ordered the mammoth radio broadcaster and concert promoter to stand trial for threatening to keep artists off the air unless they performed at its shows.
On top of that, the Justice Dept. is investigating allegations that Clear Channel’s new version of the old payola problem violates antitrust laws and that the company’s stations dominate San Diego’s radio market.
In the Denver case, the judge’s 125-page decision to allow the case to move forward was filled with references to emails and depositions that allegedly show that Clear Channel’s Denver office linked artists’ airtime with appearances at concerts the company promotes.
On the indecency front, late last week, after ditching Stern, Clear Channel also dropped a pair of Atlanta shock jocks for airing graphic sexual material during a stunt making fun of the FCC’s anti-smut campaign.
Clear Channel exec veep Andy Levin dismisses claims that the swift action his company has taken to respond to the feds’ new indecency crackdown is in any way linked to the Justice Dept.’s payola investigation or the Denver court case.
“They are completely unrelated,” Levin insisted. “There is no hidden agenda. The law is the law. It is our obligation to comply with FCC rules, not to mention simple common sense. Losing a license is capital punishment for any broadcaster.”
Levin was referring to FCC commissioner Michael Copps’ campaign to convince the agency to start yanking station licenses — or at least holding hearings to investigate the possibility of doing so — for broadcasters who repeatedly flout the indecency laws.
Copps seemed at least temporarily mollified by the nearly half-million dollar fine the FCC leveled against Stern last week. Agency’s action also marked the first time it assessed a penalty for multiple violations or “utterances” in one program instead of issuing a single violation per offending program.
The FCC also announced that Infinity stations were next on its hit list for the same Stern show. If the agency fines Infinity, it would mark the first time the agency has investigated a broadcasting company for a complaint originally made for a program heard and made on a rival network’s station.
Infinity spokeswoman Karen Mateo refused to comment about the FCC’s decision to launch a new investigation against the company.
So far, Viacom-owned Infinity has stood by their man and Stern was back on the air on Infinity stations Friday.
Late last week, the commission slapped Clear Channel with a total of $495,000 in fines for the airing of salacious material during the Howard Stern show Friday on six stations around the country. In the first unanimous agency decision since the FCC’s stiffened its anti-smut resolve, all five commissioners agreed to level the current statutory maximum of $27,500 per violation.
They found that the show violated the federal indecency standards three times and imposed $27,500 for each infraction. Legislation making its way through Congress would raise the statutory maximum to $500,000, making this fine worth $8 million in the future if the agency decided to go with the statutory maximum.
Stern has amassed the most fines of any shock jock in the business, racking up a total of nearly $3 million in proposed fines over the past 14 years. Infinity paid $1.71 million for five separate FCC penalties against Stern between 1991 and 1992.