Clear Channel Radio has pulled Howard Stern's show from the half dozen of its 1,200 stations that run it, saying it did not meet the company's newly revised programming standards.
Stern blamed the suspension on a Congressional hearing "because the Clear Channel guy's being called up in front of the committee today" and likened it to the McCarthy anti-communist hearings of the 1950s.
John Hogan, president of Clear Channel, apologized to members of the House Energy and Commerce telecommunications subcommittee for the "Bubba the Love Sponge" show. The program, which aired on stations in Florida, recently brought a $755,000 proposed fine from the Federal Communications Commission for sexually explicit content and other alleged indecency violations — the largest indecency fine in history.
"We were wrong to air that material," Hogan said. "I accept responsibility for our mistake and my company will live with the consequences of its actions."
Clear Channel fired the disc jockey Tuesday, then announced the next day it would suspend any personality accused of airing indecent programming and would ask its DJs to share in any financial penalties.
These hearings are about increasing by ten-fold the fines for violating decency standards, reports CBS News Correspondent Lou Miliano, and committee member Greg Walden (R-Ore.) said the size of the fines is getting broadcasters' attention.
"Networks are digitally delaying higher-risk programming. 'Bubba the Love Sponge' is out, Howard Stern is on hold, and new standards are in," he said.
However, reports Miliano, another congressman suggested current broadcaster response will be short-term, like a deathbed confession.
In suspending Stern's program — which originates on New York City station WKRX-FM, owned by Infinity Radio — Clear Channel cited sexually graphic content from Tuesday's broadcast.
Stern expressed frustration on his show Thursday.
"The thing I just don't like about Clear Channel being forced to suspend me, it makes it seem like I did something wrong on Tuesday. ... They are being forced to say that I did something wrong," he said on the air. "A caller called in and used the 'n' word, and I hung up on him. ... I'm so tired of this."
Incoming House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton, R-Texas, praised Clear Channel's actions. "That sets a good standard," he said.
Clear Channel's moves are the latest examples of broadcasters responding to pressure from federal regulators and lawmakers who say too much of radio and TV programming has become unsuitable for children.
Hogan joined executives from ABC, Fox, NBC and Pax in testifying before the subcommittee, which voted earlier this month to increase the maximum fine for indecency from $27,500 to $275,000.
For many critics, Stern is the poster child for indecency. His show has graphic references to sex and regularly includes strippers and pornographic movie stars as on-air guests. The show that prompted Clear Channel to act included a man discussing a sexual encounter with hotel heiress Paris Hilton.
Although Infinity also owns a large number of radio stations in major markets, including WKRX-FM, it does not syndicate Stern's program. His company negotiates individual deals with each station or group. The arrangement predates Infinity becoming part of CBS and Viacom.
CBSNews.com is also part of Viacom.
The program is still heard on about three dozen stations, including some of Viacom's Infinity Broadcasting stations.
TV networks also are making changes because of the government's pressure.
In response to letters from FCC Chairman Michael Powell, NBC, CBS and Fox outlined steps they were taking to curb indecency. Among them: Airing live programs on time delays, displaying ratings for programs on their Web sites, reviewing standards and practices, launching ad campaigns to let parents know about the V-chip, and reminding affiliate stations they may reject network programming viewed as unsuitable for their communities.
ABC has not yet responded to Powell, but network president Alex Wallau told lawmakers Thursday said he would also support a campaign to educate viewers about the V-chip. "We believe strongly that we have a responsibility to enable our viewers to make informed choices about the programs that they watch and that they want their children to watch," he said.
Powell's letters to the National Association of Broadcasters and the four major networks followed CBS' Super Bowl halftime show, which ended with Justin Timberlake exposing Janet Jackson's breast to 90 million viewers.
"True and lasting change will only be achieved if the broadcast community recommits to its public service roots and its tradition of abiding by community standards of decency," Powell wrote, urging a return to a voluntary code of conduct, which was dropped in 1982 under Reagan administration pressure.
Under FCC rules and federal law, radio stations and over-the-air television channels cannot air material that refers to sexual and excretory functions between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., when children may be tuning in. The rules do not apply to cable and satellite channels and satellite radio.
Dr. Frank Wright, president of the National Religious Broadcasters, questioned how long the broadcasters' concern about indecency will last.
"Some of this hand-wringing in public is from the very people who have brought us a rogue's gallery of shock jocks," said Wright, whose association of Christian radio and TV broadcasters counts 1,700 members.