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Bob & Tom to tone down show?

February 27, 2004

Prominent broadcast personality Tom Griswold says he has no intention of testing a "zero-tolerance" edict on indecency issued Wednesday by the country's largest radio conglomerate.

Clear Channel Communications announced plans to make certain that material aired on its 1,200 stations doesn't run afoul of the Federal Communications Commission.

Griswold and co-host Bob Kevoian have made careers out of sexual innuendo and double entendres on morning airwaves, as their "Bob & Tom Show" is syndicated from Indianapolis to more than 130 radio stations coast to coast.

Clear Channel owns the program's home station, WFBQ-FM (94.7).

"We're going to do a show that a soccer mom can listen to with her kids in the car," Griswold said.

While Griswold and Kevoian have incurred one FCC penalty in more than 20 years of broadcasting, Clear Channel announced its new policy a day after it severed ties with a Florida disc jockey whose sexually explicit work prompted a proposed fine of $755,000.

Clear Channel also announced Wednesday that shock-jock Howard Stern's show won't be heard on any of its stations unless it conforms to the new policy.

"Clear Channel is serious about helping address the rising tide of indecency on the airwaves," Mark Mays, president and chief operating officer, said in a statement. "As broadcast licensees, we are fully responsible for what our stations air, and we intend to make sure all our DJs and programmers understand what is and what is not appropriate."

The company's action comes three weeks after the uproar created by the partial nudity that aired during CBS' Super Bowl halftime show featuring Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson.

Griswold notes, however, that the radio industry received its wake-up call before the Timberlake-Jackson debacle. The FCC issued its ruling against Tampa, Fla., radio personality "Bubba the Love Sponge" on Jan. 26, six days before the Super Bowl.

The penalized segments included graphic discussions about sex and drugs that were "designed to pander to, titillate and shock listeners," the FCC said. One segment featured cartoon characters, such as George Jetson and Fat Albert, discussing sexual activities.

Griswold and Kevoian, each in their 50s, don't fit the typical descriptions of "shock jocks," despite a 1985 advertising boycott of their show led by a group called Decency in Broadcasting.

A panel of five FCC commissioners, headed by chairman Michael Powell, determines if broadcast content is "patently offensive" as measured by contemporary community standards.

Griswold said a standard represented solely by previous fines makes it difficult to know what material is off-limits.

"The rules are very vague," Griswold said. "I'm not going to take the chance of being anywhere near the line. We have pulled way, way back."

Griswold said he and Kevoian asked comedian Rodney Carrington, one of the show's most-frequent guests, to refrain from playing a handful of questionable songs in Wednesday's broadcast.

"We have to make this decision at 6:30 in the morning, talking to some comedian," Griswold said. "The FCC has months or years to read transcripts and listen to tapes to decide, after talking to 16 lawyers, what is or what isn't acceptable."

Clear Channel's new policy will include companywide training, possible fines against DJs and automatic suspensions for anyone accused by the FCC of violating indecency rules on the air, company officials said.

Griswold predicted a chilling effect that may lead to tape-delay broadcasts of all sporting events and newscasts.

Rick Cummings, a Butler University graduate who serves as president of Emmis Communications' radio division, said the loss of a broadcasting license can cost a company millions of dollars.

"We don't look at fines as a cost of doing business," he said.