Savvy radio talk show host Bill Ballance, who dispenses advice to lovelorn callers Monday through Saturday nights on KFMB-AM in San Diego, has little sympathy for the current plight of New York shock-jock Howard Stern.
"I don't want to sound self-righteous or generate any bogus piety, but if what I hear he (Stern) says is true, I definitely support the FCC's position," said Ballance, a nine-year veteran of KFMB's 7 p.m.-to-1 a.m. air shift.
"It's not amusing, it's not witty, it's not real communication--it's just dirty words," he said. "And if people can't be amusing without being offensive, then maybe they should look for work in some dirty nightclub in a sleazy part of town. They certainly don't belong on radio."
It's ironic that such criticism should come from a man who was once himself under investigation by the FCC for alleged broadcast indecency.
In the early 1970s, "The Bill Ballance Feminine Forum," a five-hour call-in talk show that aired Mondays through Saturdays on KGBS-AM in Los Angeles, was the bane of radio moralists.
By today's standards, Ballance's so-called "offenses" appear decidedly innocuous.
He regularly advised listeners to "stroke your ganglia as affectionately as possible," which may sound lewd but merely refers to the mass of nerve endings in the wrist.
He caught a lot of heat from station management when he allowed a woman caller to say, on the air, that she had recently "become intimate" with her boyfriend.
"The whole station reverberated with horror and dismay," Ballance recalled. "And it was all because of a broken tape-delay switch that prevented me from cutting her off. That was about the most risque thing that ever made it onto the show."
Controversy, however, fuels attention, and within weeks of its debut in April, 1971, "The Bill Ballance Feminine Forum" was one of the highest-rated radio shows in Los Angeles.
This success did not go unnoticed by others in the radio business. By 1972 there were scores of Ballance imitators around the country; most of them had copped the "Feminine Forum" title, preceded with their own names.
That's when the real trouble began, Ballance said.
"The mistake most station managers made was to assign some beardless, 19-year-old, opaque-eyed, slack-jawed oaf to do my type of show," Ballance said, "and these kids weren't mature enough.
"They were much too young to have any information on things like love, marriage and divorce, so what they started to do was get dirty. They became cruder and cruder with their callers; they made all sorts of implications and insinuations.
"And pretty soon, as time went by, the entire 'Feminine Forum' concept began to get a black eye--and so did I, since I was the one who had started the whole thing."
In March, 1973, then-FCC Chairman Dean Burch, in a speech before the National Assn. of Broadcasters, publicly rebuked the "Feminine Forum" shows as "topless radio" and "electronic voyeurism."
Three months later Ballance was vindicated when the FCC, which had been monitoring his broadcasts for nearly a year, announced in an official report that his show was "not obscene."
But by then it was too late. A day after Burch's warning to the NAB to police itself, KGBS management announced it would be dropping "Feminine Forum" the following week. Ballance was given a new generic talk show, with instructions to be "wary of indiscretions," he recalled.
He obliged, and for nearly two years he interviewed everyone from pop psychologists to best-selling authors. In October, 1974, KGBS switched to a country-Western format and Ballance moved to KABC-AM; in 1978 he moved again, to San Diego's KFMB.
"Looking back, what we did back then, the occasional little innuendoes, are completely bland and innocuous compared to what's going down now," said Ballance, who won't give his age other than to say, "I'm hyper-mature."
"I mean, I wasn't even allowed to ask a woman if she and a man were lovers. I was told to use euphemisms, like, 'Are you more than just good friends?' I guess that just shows how much the times have changed."
Ballance said he has no problem with the FCC's failure to define exactly what is meant by indecency.
"Some judge once made the rather astute observation that while he could not spell out what's obscene, he knows what's obscene," Ballance said. "And every air personality does too. Through intonation, inflection, shading, nuances, significant pauses and things like that, we can put a spin on almost any phrase and make it risque.
"That's why I make it a point to pick my words with extreme care. I don't use any hip terminology, or any phrases that in any way might be misinterpreted by a little-old-lady listener.
"Words are the ammunition of the mind. Somebody like Howard Stern is using dirty pellets as ammunition, and he's bringing down our entire profession."