NEW YORK – Government censorship was the topic du jour for radio talk-show hosts from around the nation – both liberal and conservative – gathered here to discuss the implications of the Federal Communication Commissions recent crackdown on obscenity.

“This is the new McCarthy era!” declaimed Tom Leykis of Los Angeles and the Westwood One radio network.

“It’s an election year, so the Federal Communications Commission is taking action that has nothing to do with protecting children,” he declared to hundreds of his fellow radio talk show hosts at Talkers magazine’s annual New Media Seminar over the weekend.

Leykis, who is one of the comparatively few liberal hosts in the business, called on all his colleagues to take to their airwaves on the following Monday and deplore what has been done to shock jock Howard Stern.

Stern has been dropped from six stations on the Clear Channel Network, and stations who broadcast his obscenity-strewn shows, in which he continues to violate the licensing agreement against obscenity, have had the amount of their fines so substantially increased by the FCC as to constitute far more than loose change for many broadcast empires.

While Leykis’ speech was something of a spellbinder, it was decisively deflated by talk-show host and columnist Michael Medved of Salem Radio Network and program director Jim Horn of WSBA in York, Pa.

Medved noted that some government involvement in radio licensing is essential so the broadcast area of one station not be invaded by other stations.

In reaction to theories that government action against pornography and obscene speech on the air can lead to censorship of all political or ethical statements on the air – or a revival of the so-called “Fairness Doctrine” (requiring equal time for any political controversy expressed by hosts) – Medved declared:

“This is crying wolf. There must be some government involvement to protect your station’s frequency. There should be some standards for every broadcaster, such as no kiddie porn. Or, how many of you are in favor of racist radio?”

Said Horn: “I have heard a number of people say if you don’t like hearing certain words, you can turn it off. Is that what we’re broadcasting for? To get people to turn off their radios? What about responsibility in broadcasting?”

There was further dissent from what Talkers magazine headlined on its cover page as THE FIRST AMENDMENT’S LAST STAND?

Radio Business Report, which was circulated at this talk-show convention, quoted Bob Brinker of the ABC Radio Network as saying:

“The First Amendment does not provide on-air talent with a license to say whatever they please regardless of how offensive it may be. The laws of common decency must also apply, and on-air talent that has no respect for the laws of common decency should find another line of work.”

And New York’s Mike Gallagher of Salem Radio Network said:

“I’m surprised that many of my colleagues act as if indecency guidelines established by the FCC suddenly appeared after the Super Bowl incident. Surely they realize that restrictions against indecent broadcast material have been in place for years. As a result of high profile cases, the American people are expecting those guidelines to finally be enforced.

“This isn’t a ‘free speech’ issue – none of us own the airwaves or even the radio networks or stations that employ us. Like it or not, radio and TV licenses are issued by the government, and the free and public airwaves are regulated by the government. The only shocking aspect of that fact is that it’s taken so long to start enforcing these rules.”

Related stories:

Rush Limbaugh warns free speech threatened

Howard Stern booted off air

Group asks for Stern’s hide

FCC chair ‘outraged’ by breast ‘stunt’

FCC fines stations $755,000 for indecency

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