The Federal Communications Commission appears to be losing patience with
Viacom Inc.'s Infinity Broadcasting Corp., which has employed some of the
industry's most notorious shock jocks and has been ordered to pay millions of
dollars in fines over the past decade for indecent programming.
Regulators threatened Thursday to launch a license-revocation proceeding for
future violations by Infinity, the country's second-largest radio group, as part
of an order explaining a potential $27,500 fine against Infinity's WKRK-FM
The fine was levied for the Jan. 9, 2002, 'Deminski & Doyle Show,' in which
nine callers described a variety of extreme or violent sexual acts.
Infinity has the right to appeal before the sanction becomes official.
'Additional serious violations by Infinity may well lead to initiation of a
revocation proceeding,' the FCC warned.
Although many radio groups have absorbed FCC indecency fines as a cost of
business, threat of a license revocation may create more worry among company
WKRK, an FM talker doing roughly $8 million in annual revenues, could be worth
as much as $45 million, estimated one industry analyst who asked not to be
The decision also could lead to much larger indecency fines, especially for
raunchy call-in shows.
The FCC said that going forward, it holds the right to treat indecent material
aired from each caller as a separate violation of agency rules, rather that levying just
a single fine for the entire program.
'We could have found Infinity to have engaged in apparent repeated
violations,' the agency added.
In this case, the FCC found WKRK's transgression so great that it bumped up
its standard $7,000 indecency fine to the maximum $27,500 permitted by law for a
WKRK could have been fined as much as $243,000 if the nine calls had been
treated as distinct transgressions.
Officials from Infinity had little to say about the revocation
threat or the fine.
'We've been offered an opportunity to respond and we intend to do so,' Infinity spokesman Dana McClintock said.
During the initial investigation, Infinity argued that the FCC's indecency
rules violate free-speech protections.
Despite the stepped-up penalty and revocation warning, commissioners Michael
Copps and Kevin Martin said their colleagues were not stern enough.
Both said a higher fine was warranted and Copps argued that a revocation hearing
should be initiated immediately. 'I wonder when this commission will finally
take a firm stand against broadcast's 'race to the bottom' as ... the public's
airwaves get progressively coarser and more violent,' he added.
One of the sex acts described on the WKRK program was called the 'Tony
Danza,' which calls for a male partner to smack a woman to 'show her who's the
boss' -- a reference to Danza's former TV show.
Some other described acts were even more violent or
involved defecating on a partner.