Exclusive: Snyder's WWXX-FM License Challenged Over 'Redskins'

George Washington University law professor John Banzhaf has challenged the license of Dan Snyder's WWXX-FM (ESPN 980) Washington over the broadcast of the name "Redskins." He filed the station license challenge paperwork at the FCC Tuesday, Banzhaf told B&C.

Snyder's Red Zebra Broadcasting owns seven radio stations.

Banzhaf signaled last week that he was teeing up a challenge to one or all the stations, and followed through Tuesday with the challenge to Snyder's Washington outlet.

According to Banzhaf, his challenge is based in part on the argument by former FCC officials and others that the term is a racial slur and that "the unnecessary and repeated on-air use of that derogatory racist word is contrary to current federal law and akin to broadcasting obscenity." Unlike indecency, which is allowed but must be confined to the overnight hours —10 p.m. to 6 a.m.— there is no safe harbor for obscenity.

Chief among those one-time FCC officials is former FCC Chairman Reed Hundt, who along with former commissioners Jonathan Adelstein and Nicholas Johnson and others also called on the FCC to convene a forum with broadcasters about whether they should "self-regulate" and not use the name.

Banzhaf also argues that the term constitutes hate speech and cites studies showing racially derogatory words related to Indians can cause "real physical harm, including beatings, bullying and ostracism.

Banzhaf has been trying for years to get the Redskins to change their name or broadcasters not to use it, but last week pointed to various recent events that have "substantially strengthened" the arguments he is making.

Those include a U.S. Patent and Trade office ruling that the name was offensive and the associated trademarks should not get federal protection. That happened once before, prompting Banzhaf to take aim at some TV station licenses in 2005, though that did not result in licenses being pulled or the name being dropped on-air.

This time around, momentum seems to be building, with former FCC officials, legislators and the President all suggesting it could be time for a change. Some NFL broadcasters have also signaled they don't plan to use the term, and the Washington Post editorial board has banished the term from the opinion page.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.