Satellite-Radio Petition Targets Stern

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It turns out that a petition asking the Federal Communications Commission to regulate indecency on satellite radio was aimed directly at Howard Stern.

Saul Levine, whose attorneys filed the petition Oct. 29 on behalf of his L.A.-based Mt. wilson Fm Broadcasters, says he was at the NAB Radio Show in San Diego last month when Howard Stern announced that he was going to move to Sirius satellite radio and crush traditional broadcasters. Stern cited the indecency crackdown and some broadcasters acquiescence as one reason for the move.

Levine took it personally. "When I heard him say he was going to destroy radio, that he was going to kill it, I decided I had to fight back to protect the radio industry. I have three stations and over a million listeners a week."

While Levine says a court will eventually need to decide what indecency powers the FCC can flex, in the meantime he is looking for a level playing field, which means either a reigned-in satellite radio, or "If they can say dirty words, we want to be able to too." Not that he ever would, he adds. But, "everybody else in the radio industry is running around like scared sheep," says Levine. "I am not going to just sit back."

Well, almost everybody. Levine has the support of other Southern California broadcasters, who agree that the regulatory disparity between traditional radio and satellite is unfair and plan to weigh in once the FCC puts the petition out for comment.

Attempts to regulate indecency on subscription cable services have failed, most prominently in the Playboy case. Levine says this is different because 1) the FCC in creating satellite radio saw it as a potential mix of subscription and free services 2) because the FCC already applies some public interest obligations to the service  and left the door open for more, and 3) because the law talks about indecency via "radio communication."

Levine says he expects the FCC to put the petition out for comment and for other broadcasters to weigh in on his side.

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