FCC Milks Mancow for $300 Thou

Emmis has paid the FCC $300,000 to settle a series of indecency complaints against its Mancow Morning Madhouse program and WKQX(FM) Chicago stretching back to January 2002. It has conceded that some of the material was indecent and has promised to implement a "companywide compliance plan" to make sure it doesn't happen again.

The incidents had involved proposed fines of a total of $42,000 for three incidents, one involving a telephone conversation with a porn star, one involving airing of a song entitled "Smell My Finger," and a third that involved innuendo, though no graphic or explicit references, regarding various sex practices.

Emmis had originally challenged all the notices of apparent liability, but has since decided to pay up, clean the slate, and move on. If it looks like Emmis got a raw deal, paying $300,000 to settle $42,000 in proposed fines, looks can be deceiving. The consent decree also settles all enforcement bureau investigations and complaints.

That includes at least a dozen complaints in the pipeline, said an Emmis spokeswoman, mostly from one complainant in Chicago, again against Mancow. The spokeswoman would not identify which of the forfeitures or pending complaints Emmis conceded were indecent, but she praised the DJ's ongoing efforts to keep the show "within the lines," saying he was doing a "great job."

Actually, the number of potential complaints expunged is 27, according to an FCC staffer familiar with the complaints. In addition to the three forfeitures, there were six complaints that hadn't been acted on, plus a request to reinstate 21 previously denied complaints.

“Earlier this year we adopted an aggressive policy to ensure that Emmis provides quality, compelling, on-air content that conforms to decency standards,” Emmis President and CEO Jeff Smulyan said of the settlement. “We announced a zero tolerance policy and are taking extraordinary steps to educate our on-air employees and program directors. The consent decree settles all pending indecency-related issues, and allows us to move forward.”

FCC Commissioner Michael Copps supported the settlement of the forfeiture order, but was not happy that Emmis was off the hook for outstanding complaints and investigations. ""The totality of a broadcaster's record is pertinent and should be considered when licenses are renewed. Today's decision takes an entire part of the record off the table.

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.