You might have heard that the Supreme Court recently made a very narrow decision refusing to strike down the FCC’s enforcement of fleeting expletives on TV, such as when U2’s Bono dropped an f-bomb on a live Golden Globes broadcast a few years back. The justification always given for prohibiting so-called indecent words like “fuck” and “shit” on the broadcast airwaves between 6 AM and 10 PM is that we must protect the children from these horrible, brain-altering, growth-stunting, cancer-causing dirty words.
So what about the children who might have been listening to Sacramento, CA station KRXQ on May 28 when morning show hosts Rob Williams and Arnie States went on a hate-filled bigoted tirade against children who question their gender? Anyone, including children, tuning in would have heard that if States’ son ever put on high heels, he would beat him, saying
“If my son, God forbid, if my son put on a pair of high heels, I would probably hit him with one of my shoes. I would throw a shoe at him. Because you know what? Boys don’t wear high heels. And in my house, they definitely don’t wear high heels.”
States went on to advocate and encourage the humiliation and abuse that transgendered young people experience:
“You got a boy saying, ‘I wanna wear dresses.’ I’m going to look at him and go, ‘You know what? You’re a little idiot! You little dumbass! Look, you are a boy! Boys don’t wear dresses.’…
“You know, my favorite part about hearing these stories about the kids in high school, who the entire high school caters around, lets the boy wear the dress. I look forward to when they go out into society and society beats them down. And they end up in therapy.”
If you happened to be a young person or teenager hearing this, you might actually laugh, given the degree of uncertainty most young people feel about their sexuality and gender identity. It might also contribute to feeling justified in having disdain for other children who are gay or transgendered. And, unfortunately, it might also make you feel entitled to act violently towards someone whose sexual identity differs from yours, to hit a person with a shoe, or worse.
And what of the child who is questioning his or her own sexuality or gender who hears this? The message she or he will receive is that according to the show’s two most prominent hosts that child is a “freak” or “abnormal,” worthy of ridicule and deserving of violence. Given that suicide is a real pervasive problem amongst transgendered teens, this is a truly destructive message to broadcast at 9 AM in the morning.
In the reaction to this story I’ve read many people on social networks questioning how this station can keep its license. Of course the answer is simple: nothing legally qualifying as indecent was said on the program. Now, if Arnie States had said that he’d “throw a fucking shoe” at his son, or called transgendered children “fucking freaks,” well then a $15,000 fine would be on its way to KRXQ right now. That’s because that “fuck” would have destroyed the children listening in ways that the advocacy of violence and ridicule could never do, at least in the eyes of the FCC.
In the usual lame defense that comes from talentless, ignorant morning DJs, Arnie States said on air that “I know a lot of people don’t understand this…. That’s a joke.”
In the comment sections of Sacramento news sites the debate over this incident generally devolves into a shallow debate over supposed calls for free speech. Defenders of KRXQ and the hosts call detractors “politically correct” and lament that there’s no tolerance for free speech. Myself, I’m leery of having the FCC step in to regulate speech, also. Yet, the Commission already does step in to protect children from speech, but only if the speech is about fucking or shitting. Speech about beating up people who are different than you is A-OK, even if the people being rhetorically beat up are children.
The real issue is not free speech but the responsibility broadcasters have to local communities as the quid pro quo for having a monopoly over a particular frequency of the airwaves. Not everyone can have an FM station in Sacramento, and therefore KRXQ and Arnie States have a bully pulpit that still outclasses most people in Sac, even in this age of blogs, Twitter and podcasts. The real question is: is this the kind of broadcast the people of Sacramento would want if they actually had a choice or any control over what is broadcast over their airwaves?
As of now KRXQ only has to appeal to narrow demographic of white men 18-35 in order to satisfy its advertisers. So it panders to what it perceives that audience wants, regardless of what the rest of the community might want. It can continue to do this, and will suffer very little for these sorts of incidents because the station actually has nearly zero accountability to the people of Sacramento, due to the wholesale gutting of public service requirements for broadcast stations, combined with thirteen years of industry consolidation.
The likelihood of the FCC taking any sort of effective action against KRXQ for advocating violence against transgendered children is next to zero. I won’t be surprised if one or more commissioners chooses to speak out on the subject if the outrage reaches a louder volume. But don’t expect fines or any real jeopardy to the station’s license to be forthcoming. No, that jeopardy would require an assload of shits and fucks; nothing else will do.
However, because KRXQ panders to a particularly narrow audience in order to satisfy its advertisers, that’s where the station is most vulnerable, especially in this rotten ad climate. KRXQ boasts a large slate of both local and national advertisers, including such well known brands as Sonic Drive-Ins, Snapple, State Farm Insurance, Albertson’s, Carl’s Jr, Nissan, McDonalds and Wells Fargo. I wonder what they’re ad buyers would think about the station’s advocacy of violence towards children?
Sure, it’s not as effective as real local accountability. But hitting KRXQ and its owner Entercom in the pocketbook by haranguing their sponsors is at least one tactic that has a little promise. Another is to stop listening to KRXQ and all of Entercom’s stations in 23 different markets. And, then, let local advertisers know that you’re not listening, and why you’re not listening.
Such a boycott may or may not work, though I think it’s worth trying. However, this won’t be the last incident of this type so long as commercial radio continues its sprint to the bottom, both financially and ethically. The root cause of the promotion of this sort of ignorant, homophobic bigoted advocacy is greed, pure and simple, and the selective regulations that promote this kind of reductive, destructive greed.