Bitch, Bitch, Bitch

Politicos, prudes, and the paranoid protest the programming heard on Bay Area radio stations to the highest authority in the land -- the Federal Communications Commission

Despite his warm relationship with KGO management, Mooney apparently didn't have the stones to take up this issue with them. Swanson seemed genuinely taken aback when the poison pen letter was read to him. "Tom is a longtime regular listener to KGO," Swanson says. "I'm stunned. I never had any idea that he didn't totally love us."

Not every letter in the complaints file concerns a misdeed. Any piece of correspondence relating to a station's operations can find its way into the heavy brown folders, each of which is a small tribute to bureaucratic efficiency -- letters fastened in place chronologically, each bearing a date-received stamp and a file number.

KSJO-FM's file, for example, contains listener Kelvin Riley O'Keeffe's impassioned defense of the station's sometimes politically incorrect material, including a feature called "Learnin' to Spell With Darnell," which obviously made sport of uneducated African-Americans.

Here's Kev's take on the situation: "What I don't get is why some elements in the community seem to think that anyone who hears this stuff is going to naturally conclude that all Black people are stupid. I think most of us are quite aware that some Black people are stupid, just as some white people are stupid. We certainly don't need any group of whining, self-proclaimed watchdogs to keep us from hearing the 'wrong' kind of humour."

Thank you, Mr. O'Keeffe, for proving beyond a doubt that some white people are indeed stupid.

KMEL's file contains a 1995 letter from a 17-year-old Stockton kid who wanted to create a new radio format that would feature uncensored versions of even the raunchiest gangsta rap songs presented by DJs who were equally unfettered. The budding program director concluded by asking the FCC's general counsel to drop him a line regarding whether such "True Urban" programming would violate the agency's obscenity and indecency guidelines. While there is no record of the agency's response, it's safe to assume that the boy is still waiting for that legal opinion.

So, does it make any sense to expend precious life energy grousing to the feds about the latest aural outrage? No matter how incensed one may be, does a rational person really want his anger on file along with the ravings of James Mason and Former Student -- fodder for snickering bureaucrats and smirking journalists? Can it have any real impact?

The short answer to that last one is: yes. A carefully crafted complaint about an issue that falls under the FCC's mandate can have serious ramifications -- no matter what Swanson and Kelley say. Just ask Las Vegas oddity Al Westcott, the chain-smoking, tie-dye-clad aging hippie whose drumbeat of meticulously documented complaints about Howard Stern resulted in Stern's employer, Infinity Broadcasting, paying $1.7 million in indecency fines. Westcott's campaign also prompted Infinity to tone down Stern's act, something it would never have done without L'Affaire Westcott.

And even if a complaint doesn't prompt specific regulatory action, it can have a subtle effect over time. Most visitors to the Complaints Branch reference room are young researchers performing due diligence background checks on stations that are being sold. While it's unlikely a single complaint will crater a sale, a thick and juicy file can slow down a deal -- and perhaps give the new owners something to think about, especially if there is a pattern to the grievances. The pending sale of a Washington, D.C., radio station is currently tangled up in an unresolved contest-related complaint and a lawsuit alleging that the FCC should have yanked the station's license over earlier misdeeds. Both actions were brought by a former station employee who is delighting in punishing her former bosses for their supposed transgressions.

But a complaint needn't be prompted by outrage, spite, or vengeance. For now at least, the law states that the airwaves belong to the public and are licensed to broadcasters for use in the public interest. The FCC and the federal government -- in principle at least -- want your opinion about the use of "your" airwaves. To paraphrase that old voting slogan: "If you didn't bitch, don't bitch."

But please, no letters about that DJ who is stalking you.

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My Voice Nation Help

I see that SFWeekly deleted all of the responses I had to this fictional article that is almost SEVENTEEN YEARS OLD!


I also see that SFWeekly wouldn't do an FOIA and print my letter to the FCC.  My question was related to Dr. Edel claiming that the male anus was as clean as the female vagina.  I also questioned whether Edel could practice medicine in all fifty states, which he was essence....with his medical advice program.


Next time, practice proper journalism and don't restrict freedom of speech.

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