Blasting the Federal Communications Commission for renewing a "witch hunt" against radio, KFI-AM talk show host Tom Leykis on Friday echoed the feelings of many broadcasters angered by an escalating 3-year-old war that the regulatory agency has waged against allegedly indecent broadcasting.
"Conservatives (on the commission) are hypocrites," Leykis told The Times, following the commission's announcement Thursday that KFI was one of four stations it was fining for indecency. Leykis said his popular 2-6 p.m. show, would probably be dedicated to the indecency issue for at least the next several days.
"The (conservatives) say that they want government off the backs of multimillion dollar corporations who buy up radio stations, but when it comes to program content, they want government right down there in our shorts," said Leykis.
The FCC, under the leadership of newly appointed chairman Alfred C. Sikes, fined KFI $6,000 for airing allegedly indecent remarks over Leykis' afternoon drive-time show last November, January and April. According to Leykis and KFI general manager Howard Neal, callers to the show apparently made the allegedly offensive statements during programs when the announced topics of discussion involved penis size, "the grossest thing you ever put in your mouth" and "sexual secrets."
"Why are they singling out radio?" asked Leykis. "The fact is there is nothing on my show that you don't see on television on 'Oprah,' 'Geraldo,' 'Donahue' or 'A Current Affair.' "
Since the FCC began its campaign against indecency three years ago under former FCC chairman Dennis Patrick, only one television station has been fined. The $3,000 fine, levied against KZKC-TV in Kansas City for broadcasting frontal nudity during a prime-time airing of the R-rated movie "Private Lessons," was later rescinded.
During the same 3-year period, however, at least 15 radio stations have been fined or formally scrutinized by the commission for alleged indecency.
In addition to KFI, two Miami stations and a Las Vegas station were fined Thursday.
Two of the stations are FM music stations that were each fined $2,000 for playing songs with allegedly indecent lyrics. KLUC-FM in Las Vegas was cited for playing Prince's "Erotic City" while WZTA-FM was censured for playing "Penis Envy" by the all-female a cappella group the Roches.
In all four instances, the material that the FCC found offensive was broadcast before 8 p.m. In September, the commission dropped its complaint against KZKC-TV because, in part, the movie aired after 8 p.m., when young children are less likely to be in the audience.
The FCC voted 4-0 Thursday to launch an inquiry into the possibility of imposing a 24-hour ban on indecent broadcasts "to protect the American people, especially children, from exposure to indecent material."
Both Prince and the Roches have been singled out in the past by the Washington-based Parents Music Resource Center for allegedly being obscene. "Its amazing to me that 'Erotic City' was released in 1984 and they're only now geting around to it," Warner Bros. Records spokesman Bob Merlis said Friday.
As long as four years ago, such popular Los Angeles music stations as KIIS-FM and KROQ-FM included the Prince recording on their regular playlists, and it still is aired from time to time as an "oldie" on several FM stations locally.
Merlis said that the Roches left Warner Bros. for Rhino records before recording "Penis Envy," but that Prince, who is still a Warner Bros. artist, has never made a secret of the frank sexual nature of much of his music. Though the company seeks "as much airplay to our stuff as possible, ultimately it's up to the radio stations what they play."
" Penis envy is a clinical term," Merlis said in defense of the Roches. "If you can't say penis envy on the air, how is it that Dr. Ruth (Westheimer) can get her own show?"
KFI's sister station in Miami, all-talk WIOD-AM, was assessed an even larger fine than KFI: $10,000. According to an FCC spokeswoman, the fine was for comments made last November and December during afternoon talk jock Neal Rogers's program.
Ironically, Rogers was Leykis' competitor on Florida radio three years ago, according to Leykis. Rogers was also working as the KZTA morning deejay in Miami when "Erotic City" was played on Oct. 27, 1987--the day cited in the FCC complaint against that station, according to KZTA program director Peter Bolger. Rogers subsequently left the station, he said.
Both Leykis and Rogers were hired last year by Atlanta-based Cox Broadcasting, which owns both KFI and WIOD.
Mike Faherty, executive vice president for Cox's 11 radio stations, said Friday that the company has not determined what action it will take, though it will probably fight the FCC fines.
You must remember that the law says we are not allowed to broadcast material that is 'patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards,' " said Faherty. "But the FCC doesn't define 'contemporary community standards.' What might be acceptable in Miami or Los Angeles could be offensive to the rest of the country. And they're making that determination from Washington, D.C., where there might be a completely different community standard."
The three KFI violations had to do with what callers said, not Leykis, according to KFI program director George Oliva.
"In these cases they were stories that the callers were sharing with Tom on one subject or another," Oliva said. "They were sexual references."
Oliva said that Leykis had warned his callers to be careful what they said for fear of inciting the FCC's wrath.
"In fact, Tom warned his audience about taking the show in the wrong direction," Oliva said.
KFI General Manager Howard Neal said that the station has since installed a "dump" button that enables the show host or producer to immediately get rid of callers who may begin saying something objectionable.
"Technically I think we should have dumped them out," Neal said. "At that time, we didn't have the dump button. It had not been installed at that point."
The FCC's Thursday action was the result of the commission's Mass Media Bureau clearing up a 2-year backlog of 95 indecency complaints. In addition to the four stations that were fined, four more were sent letters requesting a defense against complaints about the broadcast of explicit conversations, songs and skits about sexual acts. The four stations were KCCL-AM/FM in Paris, Ark.; KSD-FM of St. Louis; WWWE-AM of Cleveland, and WXRK-FM of New York.
The WXRK complaint was lodged against veteran "shock jock" Howard Stern, whose morning music and talk program brought on one of the first three FCC indecency complaints in April, 1987. Under then-chairman Patrick, the commission publicly censured Stern's program, aired over Philadelphia station WYSP-FM, and two late-night programs aired on KPFK-FM in Los Angeles and KCSB-FM in Santa Barbara.