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November 30, 1990 - Image 20

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1990-11-30
This is a tabloid page

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inv stityr Ul dance to the rock
I roll st t_ a t h be alright
Nineteen-eighty-four has long since passed, but in the arts and
elsewhere, many feel that Big Brother, or at least his confused Big Cousin,
still looms large. In the case of radio, this omniscientpresence comes not
in the form of a right-wing lobbying group or a small faction of Congress,
but in a long-standing government agency that has been cracking down on
"indecency" in broadcasting, targeting mainly smaller alternative
The University's student-run station, WCBN, calls itself Radio Free Ann
Arbor. While the station's free-form format still warrants the use of this
phrase, the control the Federal Communications Commission (Fcc)wields
over the station indicates the moniker may not be completely accurate.

In the late 60s, the FCC
implemented a 14-hour ban on
broadcast indecency between the
hours of 6 AM and 8 PM. The
commission is seeking to increase that
ban to 24-hours - all day, every day.
The bill proposing this ban is stalled
in the U.S. Court of Appeals.
wCBN program director Andy Flynn
cannot speculate on the bill's future
but he has his hopes about its
ultimate fate.
"It's up in the air," he says of the
bill's chances of becoming law. "I
certainly feel that it should not be a
twenty-four hour thing."
There are all sorts of problems with
a 24-hour ban, explains Flynn. Not
the least of these is the vague
definition of indecency, both in the
English language and in the standards
set by the FCC. One definition names
only seven words - shit, fuck, piss,
cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and
tits - now known as the George
Carlin words after the comedian
created a monologue based on the
seven "obscenities."
It was a complaint against Pacifica-
network radio station WBAI in New
York for broadcasting Carlin's routine
that led to the initial FCC indecency
regulations. It is important to note
that the ban covers broadcasts that
may be deemed "indecent". Other
freedom of speech debates, such as
the one surrounding rap music and so-
called pornography, center on works
that are potentially obscene.
"Indecency" regulations cover a
wider range of material.

"Regulations" is the other key word
in this phrase, Flynn points out,
because the original FCC ruling called
for a monitoring of indecency rather
than the all-out ban which is now in
Not only that, but a small college
radio station was fined last spring for
playing an Uncle Bonsai song, "Penis
Envy," that does not use any of the
Carlin words. Closer.to home, Detroit
rock station wLLZ was fined at the
same time for playing a Bangles
parody called "Walk with an
Erection," another tune that
contained none of what Flynn calls
"the forbidden words."
"The FCC'S definition of indecency
is really nebulous," Flynn says. "It
makes it difficult for a programmer to
know exactly what it is we can and
cannot do. It's frustrating."
It is possible that these songs fall
under a second definition of indecent
- anything that has the subject
matter of sex or bodily processes -
but, Flynn points out, if this were the
operative definition, "half the songs
on pop radio" would be banned.
Being fined by the FCC does not
create a financially strapping situation
for commercial stations like WLLZ.
However, most college radio stations,
some of which have already been
targeted, do not have such ample
means of preservation.
"If WCBN were to be fined, it would
be, for the station's existence, a more
serious situation," Flynn says.
But CBN'S progressive nature, not
only in its format but in its

preventativmeasures, may preclude
such a setback. "Our general policy is
that anything that may be
controversial, the programmer or D.J.
should have a valid reason for doing it
and they should explain what they are
doing," says Flynn. In other words,
CBN tries to do what the majority of
broadcast media cannot even fathom
- educate its audience.
"I've always encouraged people not
to use disclaimers but to use
explainers," claims Dr. Arwulf Arwulf,
a longtime CBN D.J.
The station came under fire in 1986
when a D.J. played a song titled "Run,
Nigger, Run," without taking these
preventative measures. For obvious
reasons, there was a public outcry
against the apparent racism of the
record's title, although the piece is
actually an old slave song about
running away.
Whether or not the outcry was
warranted, this incident tainted the
station's history. Just mention the
name of the D.J. or make a reference
to the incident, and station employees
who were around for the controversy
are likely to get up and leave the
But, controversy aside, Flynn
explains that songs like "Run, Nigger,
Run" are rooted in American folk
traditions and can be used as
educational tools rather than
confrontational weapons.
Arwulf agrees with this theory and,
following the 1986 incident, began a
weekly show that airs during winter
term called "Face the Music." The
show operates on the theory that it is
better to address the offensive
elements of society rather than cover
them up, and Arwulf examines the
permeation of pop culture by
elements that are racist, sexist,
homophobic, or otherwise offensive or
harmful to a group of people. Flynn
describes "Face the Music" as "a
seminar on the dark side of American
culture and how it's reflected in
recorded music."
"This kind of record sold really well
in the 1920s," Arwulf explains of the
questionable single. Rather than
ignore that fact, he says, people
should come to terms with the ugly
aspects of America's past, not to
mention its present and future. "You
use this air signal to wake people up
and make them think."
Paradoxically, songs like "Run,
Nigger, Run" and other potentially
offensive material do not fall under
the FCC'S definition of indecency. But,
explains Flynn, 'They (musicians)
are just as sure to offend people by
material that is not FCC-
"There are all kinds of things that
we can do within this (regulation) that
we don't want to do," he continues:
thus, the policy of issuing disclaimers
or "explainers." Flynn says he talks

9th his staff members to figu out
ways to deal with potentially
objectionable material but the
fundamental advice he gives D.J.s
debating whether or not to play FCC-
targetable material is simple: "Don't
chance it. It's not worth it."
Surprising words coming from a
bigwig at the bastion of Radio Free
Ann Arbor, but Flynn knows CBN
would be radio free nothing without its
license, which, should the FCC
become involved, would be in a
precarious position. Flynn is keenly
aware of this and has taken
"The license is held by the Regents
and we seek to avoid irresponsible

bro casting of any sort because hat
we do down here is so special, so
important and unavailable elsewhere
on the dial, we take measures to
ensure that our on-air staff is aware of
the legalities of the situation," he
This is not to imply that the station
has become an extension of the
administration. "I feel that CBN - and
the Daily along with precious few
other forums - is where students are
allowed to express themselves freely,
and we allow people to say a lot of
controversial things," Flynn says.
He points to CBN's coverage of the
recent student anti-deputization
protests, which was favorable to the

protestors rather thar the"
administration, as an example of this
free expression.
While music, not news broadcasts,
seems to be the primary focus of the
FCC ban, the source of WCBN's national
news shows, the Pacifica network, has
come under fire since the ban took
effect. Pacifica network broadcasts are
generally regarded as an alternative
news source, slightly to left of but in
the same vein as National Public
Radio's All Things Considered and
Morning Edition.. Many FCC-watchers
believe this liberal reputation is the
reason Pacifica stations have been
targeted by the commission.
Regardless of which aspects of radio

are targeted or why, Flynn and Arwulf
agree that the current and proposed
bans are a threat.
"The FCC has taken some action in
the past few years that is really,
troubling to broadcasters," says
Arwulf puts it more bluntly: "I
think the crackdown is despicable and
should be fought every step of the
Arwulf also clearly articulates what
he believes the regulators are doing.
"They're helping ignorance to
happen," he says.
But Flynn vows he won't let that
ignorance permeate his airwaves or
his station, and he dismisses claims

that CBN is tame compared-to othi
college broadcasting networks. B1
does concede the present climate
not a desirable one.
"I don't feel that we're tame b
means and I don't like this role c
having to censor things and havin
have my staff consider specifics o
language or lyric," he says. "It's a
shame that the prevailing climate
fear makes us cautious but I do f
cautious. We have a lot to protec

text by Kristin Palm " photographs by Anthony M. Croll


WEEKEND November 30,1990

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