Radio shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge Clem, who was once tried for animal cruelty for broadcasting the castration of a pig, returned to controversy Tuesday when his program triggered the highest fine ever for indecent broadcasts.
The Federal Communications Commission proposed a $755,000 fine against Clear Channel Communications for the broadcast of "Bubba the Love Sponge" on four Florida stations in 2001.
The stations, including WXTB-97.9 FM (98 Rock) in Clearwater, violated the law by airing shows that pandered to, titillated and shocked listeners, the FCC said.
The fines stemmed from seven segments that included skits in which famous cartoon characters talked about drugs and sex. One segment featured a man calling a model search hotline and giving graphic descriptions of his anatomy. Another segment discussed masturbation at length.
The seven segments aired a total of 26 times in July, November and December of 2001. Regulators hope to fine Clear Channel a maximum of $27,500 for each airing, or $715,000.
Additionally, the FCC wants to charge Clear Channel $40,000 for not maintaining proper public record files.
Clear Channel, the nation's largest radio chain, has 30 days to respond.
The company did not directly address the allegations Tuesday, and instead called for the FCC to convene a values task force to develop decency guidelines for all media, including television, radio, cable and satellite networks.
"We work hard every day to entertain, not offend our listeners," said John Hogan, CEO of Clear Channel Radio. "None of us defend or encourage indecent content - it's simply not part of our corporate culture."
The FCC, however, admonished Clear Channel for its "history of violations" in airing indecent material. And regulators warned that continued violations could lead to license revocation proceedings.
One commissioner thought the fines should be higher - more than $1-million. Another said the FCC already should have started license revocation proceedings against the stations, saying that "Bubba the Love Sponge" has been the subject of at least three previous fines for violating national indecency laws.
"How many strikes are we going to give them?" Commissioner Michael J. Copps said in a statement Tuesday.
Clear Channel would not say whether it will reconsider airing Clem's radio show. Clem could not be reached for comment.
The other stations involved are WRLX in West Palm Beach, WCKT in Port Charlotte and WPLA in Callahan.
Also on Tuesday, the FCC levied a rare indecency fine against a television station, assessing a $27,500 penalty to San Francisco's KRON for allowing a performer to briefly expose himself in a segment on the "Puppetry of the Penis" stage show.
The fines were announced a day before a congressional subcommittee planned to examine the FCC's enforcement of indecency rules.
Critics say the FCC moves too slowly to address complaints and that its penalties are not severe enough to dissuade broadcasters from airing objectionable material.
FCC Chairman Michael Powell last week called for Congress to increase the maximum fine for indecency from $27,500 per incident to $275,000.
In Tampa Bay, Clem's program ranks first in his time slot among listeners 18 to 54. After a broadcast that included the live castration and slaughter of a wild boar, Hillsborough County prosecutors charged Clem with animal cruelty. He was acquitted in February 2002.
Clem is from Warsaw, Ind., the son of a school bus driver and factory worker.
"I can be a perfect gentleman," Clem said in a 1999 interview with the Times. "I was raised in the Midwest. I have strict family values.
"Nobody gives me a fair shake."
In evaluating his shows, the FCC looked at whether Clem's show contained indecent speech, defined as language that "depicts or describes sexual or excretory activities or organs."
Also, the FCC evaluated whether that speech was "patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards."
It was, the FCC ruled, noting that the broadcasts included conversations about "oral sex, penises, testicles, masturbation, intercourse, orgasms and breasts."
Clem came to the attention of the FCC after a Jacksonville man, Douglas Vanderlaan, filed a complaint in 2001. Vanderlaan, a scientist, first heard Clem's broadcast while driving to work at Johnson & Johnson one morning.
"I was angry that people would be so irresponsible, so mindless of the welfare of the young folks that listened to that station," said Vanderlaan, who had two teenagers at the time. "I know my son listened to that station, as did his friends."
Vanderlaan called the station manager and asked that he remove the program. After the manager politely refused, Vanderlaan began calling advertisers and asked them to stop supporting the program. Dozens did, he said.
Vanderlaan later met a Washington lawyer who offered to help draft a complaint to the FCC. The lawyer's staff transcribed tapes of seven segments that formed the basis of the FCC complaint.
"I feel a mix," Vanderlaan said on Tuesday. "I'm disappointed, because I hoped the FCC would revoke licenses. That being said, I'm pleased with the large fine."
The fine Tuesday was the largest the FCC ever has proposed against a broadcast licensee.
In 1995, Infinity Broadcasting paid $1.7-million for because of violations by radio host Howard Stern. But those fines accrued over time.
- Information from the Associated Press and Cox News Service was used in this report. Jamie Jones can be reached at 727 893-8455. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org