FCC obscenity regulations...penalties for violating them?

…I just read a Snopes article, which confirmed that the FCC ruled that an isolated use of the “F” word on-air didn’t violate their restrictions on broadcast “obscenities.”

My question is…what would have happened if they had ruled it to be an “obscenity regulation” violation?

Jail time? The network getting their broadcast license revoked? A “slap on the wrist” fine? None or all of the above?
("The revolution WILL be televis"—TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES. Please stand by!)

A slap on the wrist fine. Getting a broadcast license revoked would require something extremely seriously bad, and has never happened to a TV station, AFAIK. It has happened to radio stations a couple times.

In any event, you could swear up a blue streak as long as no one complains to the FCC. They’re reactive, meaning they don’t care unless there is a complaint. However, since you don’t know if someone is going to complain, you still can’t do it.

Believe me, FCC regs are a powerful motivating factor to keep things clean.

Host, My Inner Spoiled Child
WSYC-FM, Shippensburg, PA

Whaaaa? You have a radio show? :confused:

I am a Communications/Journalism major at Shippensburg University, and I currently have two two-hour radio shows. Basically, they’re the same general format (80s music with some eclectic stuff thrown in for fun).

Because WSYC-FM broadcasts over-the-air and not over a closed-circuit system, we are required to be licensed by the FCC and thus must abide by all applicable regulations. Furthermore, because the station is owned by the University, we are expected to abide by those regulations as well, which means we have a policy of absolutely no obscenity. This means the DJs can’t swear and all music played has to be screened for content.


Ms Robyn is correct, the FCC reacts to citizen complaints. The FCC has four levels of penalties. All are directed at the license holder(the owner of the staion).
A warning letter that goes in the station’s public file.
A fine.
Denial to renew the station license.–Every few years, the owners apply for a renewal of the station license which the FCC can deny if it finds the license holder an irresponsible broadcaster.
Immediate revocation of license.

If anyone remembers last year’s Opie and Anthony’s ‘Sex for Sam’ stunt, Infinity Broadcasters were levied a fine. Last week, attorneys for Infinity ‘repectfully declined’ to pay stating that the stunt contained no obscenity-only innuendo. An FCC commissioner responded that they might hold license revocation hearings for Infinity and it’s 11 network stations that carried the stunt.

That sounds really nice, Robin. Good work landing that opportunity!

A related question: are the rules governing obscenity different on the radio between midnight and 6 AM? When I was in eighth grade, I had to take a test to get an FCC license so I could be a DJ on my high school’s radio station. (Oh, and MsRobyn, if you ever want to tune into my old station, I’m pretty sure you can catch it from Chocolate Town, USA [definitely not Ship, though]. It’s 91.1 FM)

Anyway, one of the questions on the test concerned the use of foul language at night. It said that certain words that weren’t allowed during the day were fine at night. I thought that was wrong and indicated as much on my test. I got the question wrong.

So, if this is indeed the case (and I acknowledge that it may not be, as that test was administered to me by a teacher at my school - a teacher that got forced onto a sabbatical that same year for making lewd comments to 12 year-old girls), how far can they go with this? Could someone just get on the radio and swear all night and get away with it, regardless of the number of complaints, since it’s apparently kosher with the FCC?

Yes, I know 91.1, WMSS, Middletown. :slight_smile:

AFAIK, the language standard is the same, regardless of time of day. I think some DJs push things a bit because of the smaller audience during the graveyard shift. Just to be sure, however, I e-mailed the grad student who is in charge of WSYC and asked him.

When I get an answer, I’ll post.


SUPER 91: your home for Blue Raider football on Friday and prerecorded church services on Sunday. :slight_smile: Glad you’ve heard of it. I had a lot of fun there. The freedom to play (almost) whatever I wanted over the airwaves for anyone to tune into was awesome. Alas, I got banned from the station for smoking a cigarette on the way out of the school parking lot. I ended up really regretting not waiting that extra 30 seconds to light up.

Anyway, thanks for sending off that email. My pervert teacher was probably wrong, but confirmation would be great.

I got an answer from Dr. Joe Borrell, Professor of Communications at Shippensburg University and faculty advisor to WSYC-FM.

I’m going to cut and paste the e-mail in its entirety.