To hear Clear Channel executives tell it, they were shocked — shocked — by one of Howard Stern’s recent (and typically vulgar) broadcasts. They were likewise unsettled, they said, by the on-air behavior of “Bubba the Love Sponge,” another limits-pushing shock jock whose antics caused his Clear Channel outlets in Florida to reap $755,000 in proposed fines from the Federal Communications Commission. Clear Channel, one of the country’s largest broadcasting conglomerates, owns more than 1,200 radio stations, and it can’t afford to see fines like that multiply.
“We were wrong to air that material,” a penitent John Hogan, the company’s radio CEO, confessed to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce on Feb. 27. From now on, he pledged, “We’re going in a different direction at Clear Channel Radio.”
To prove it, they’ve fired “Bubba,” bumped Stern’s show from their stations (six Clear Channel outlets were carrying it), and announced a new companywide effort to change their ways. In a Feb. 25 press release, the company dubbed the effort a “responsible broadcasting initiative,” quoting another exec’s claim that “Clear Channel is serious about helping address the rising tide of indecency on the airwaves.”
WWNC, one of Asheville’s Clear Channel stations, has also done a little housecleaning of late. Last month, the station replaced its weekday local talk-show host, Tony Dale, with fellow radio veteran Matt Mittan. Two days before Dale lost his show, an Xpress commentary took him to task for broadcasting bogus statistics about what he called the “incredibly dangerous and unhealthy lifestyle” of homosexuals. The stats, it turned out, came from a virulently anti-gay group with no regard for the facts.
A frequent gay-basher, Dale also had plenty of venom for environmentalists, feminists and immigrants. Mittan, on the other hand, holds a more eclectic set of views, and so far his show has been markedly more tolerant and informed and than Dale’s was. It’s also livelier and more tightly focused on local concerns, forgoing Dale’s stale practice of reading other people’s commentaries on national issues.
The personnel change, then, was a step forward for a company that says it wants to clean up the airwaves and promote dialogue that meets community standards. But in another recent programming switch, WWNC has taken two steps backward. I refer to the addition of Michael Savage’s Savage Nation, which the station now airs from 9 a.m. to noon on Mondays and from 7 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Friday.
A California-based firebrand, the aptly named Savage has earned a reputation as the biggest bigot in talk radio. The chief targets of his considerable rage are homosexuals, civil-rights and peace activists, and immigrants from what he calls “Turd World nations.”
Savage, many will recall, achieved brief infamy last summer when MSNBC offered him his own weekend TV show. The cable channel promptly fired Savage after he made these indelicate remarks to a caller to the show: “Oh, you’re one of those sodomites. You should only get AIDS and die, you pig. … Go eat a sausage and choke on it. Get trichinosis.”
Undeterred, Savage fumes on: His radio show now airs on more than 300 stations and dozens of them are, like WWNC, owned by Clear Channel). And a quick survey of Savage’s rants on various topics indicates that his MSNBC blowup was no isolated outburst. Here’s a sampling of Savage-isms — a hint of what’s in store for WWNC listeners:
• Savage on women: “Look around the world. Most women happen to like what the National Organization of Women says they’re not supposed to like — which is being manipulated and controlled. That’s absolutely true.”
• On race and immigration: “With the [Latino] population that has emerged, since they breed like rabbits, in many cases the whites will become a minority in their own nation. … The white people don’t breed as often, for whatever reason. I guess many homosexuals are involved. That is also part of the grand plan, to push homosexuality to cut down on the white race.”
• On diversity: “Diversity is perversity.”
• On dissent: When recording artists the Dixie Chicks criticized President Bush during a concert in London, Savage took to calling them the “Dixie Sluts.” In his recent book The Savage Nation: Saving America from the Liberal Assault on Our Borders, Language and Culture, he calls anti-war protesters “rats” who “should be detained for investigation of sedition.”
• On anti-Arab racism: “We need racist stereotypes right now of our enemy in order to encourage our warriors to kill the enemy.”
In short, Michael Savage makes Tony Dale sound like Miss Manners. And Clear Channel’s newly professed wholesomeness looks like a public-relations ploy by a company that’s still all too willing to profit from the indecency of hate radio.
[Jon Elliston is a freelance writer based in Asheville.]