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FCC fines prompt largest station owner to drop Stern

WASHINGTON -- Federal regulators yesterday proposed $495,000 in indecency fines against Clear Channel Communications for broadcasts by Howard Stern, prompting the nation's largest radio chain to drop the country's best-known shock jock.

Clear Channel suspended Stern in February from its six stations that carry his program, which regularly features graphic sexual discussion and humor. It decided to make the move permanent after the Federal Communications Commission cited the chain for 18 alleged violations from Stern's April 9, 2003, show.

"Mr. Stern's show has created a great liability for us and other broadcasters who air it," said John Hogan, president of Clear Channel Radio. "The Congress and the FCC are even beginning to look at revoking station licenses. That's a risk we're just not willing to take."

In a statement posted on his website, Stern said he was not surprised by the fine. He characterized it as an infringement of free speech and furtherance of a "witch hunt" against him by the Bush administration.

"It's hard to reconcile this with the `land of the free' and the `home of the brave,' " his statement said.

The FCC investigation was prompted by a listener in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who complained about a Stern program that included discussion of sex accompanied by flatulence sounds.

Federal law bars radio stations and over-the-air television channels from airing references 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 or satellite radio.

The FCC imposed the maximum fine of $27,500 for each of 18 violations on six Clear Channel stations in Fort Lauderdale and Cocoa Beach, Fla.; as well as stations in Louisville, Ky., San Diego, Honeoye Falls, N.Y., and Pittsburgh.

The FCC fined each station for two specific incidents during a single program.

In Boston, Stern is heard on WBCN-FM (104.1), an Infinity-owned station. Yesterday, an Infinity spokesman indicated that the Clear Channel situation would not affect Stern's status on their stations.

Last month, the FCC proposed fining Stern's employer, Infinity Broadcasting, $27,500 for a Stern show broadcast July 26, 2001, on WKRK-FM in Detroit. The show featured discussions about sexual practices and techniques.

Stern has charged on the air that he's being punished for his criticism of President Bush. Clear Channel's political action committee and its employees have given $265,800 to Republicans for the 2004 election, more than any other broadcaster, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research group.

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