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KFI Pays Fine but Denies Indecency Charge

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Talk station KFI-AM (640) said Wednesday that it had paid $6,000 in fines levied by the Federal Communications Commission while still denying the regulatory agency’s allegations of broadcasting indecent material.

Station manager Howard Neal said that KFI opted to pay the fine to avoid an expensive and protracted legal battle, estimated by station lawyer Warner Hartenberger at $300,000 or more.

“You could easily spend $300,000 and you’re never certain as to what the outcome could be,” Hartenberger said. “It’s a heck of a burden and ties up the company, so they just said, ‘What the heck, we’ll pay the fine and put it behind us.’ ”

“We’re just coming out of one legal situation and I just don’t want to continue paying (legal fees),” Neal said, referring to KFI’s recent court battle with rival talk station KABC-AM (790) over the use of the term “talk radio.” Fighting that suit cost the station “hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he said. (KABC won the right to use the term in conjunction with its call letters and dial position.)

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Last month, the FCC, under newly appointed chairman Alfred C. Sikes, fined KFI for airing allegedly indecent remarks during three programs of afternoon talk show host Tom Leykis. According to Leykis, 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.”

Both Neal and KFI program manager George Oliva criticized the FCC for not clearly defining what constitutes indecent programming. They maintained that radio programs should be judged by contemporary local--not national--standards of decency, and cited the popularity of Leykis’ show (it is the top-rated AM program in its time slot) as evidence that the majority of the community does not find it offensive.

The commission’s definition of indecent broadcast material involves “the depiction or description of a sexual or excretory organ or activity in a manner that violates contemporary community standards,” Hartenberger said.

Along with the payment, the station filed a letter with the commission lodging a formal complaint that the FCC’s standard of what constitutes offensive material is “vague and over-broad,” Hartenberger said.

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