Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Posts Tagged ‘FCC

Goddamn, Goddamn, Goddamn

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goddamn

Three goddamns.

That’s how many were in an interview between OPB’s “Think Outloud” host Dave Miller and “Eat, Pray, Love” author Elizabeth Gilbert in their rebroadcasted interview today from September 2015.  Although not one of George Carlin’s original “Seven Dirty Words”, the trifecta reminded me of a 2009 interview NPR’s Madeline Brand had with Jeremy Renner, who had starred in “The Hurt Locker”.  Words were bleeped but his use of “goddamn” wasn’t, which prompted a listener to ask the NPR Ombudsman why not?

The Ombudsman replied that “using god damn it” is not legally profane, according to the FCC.  The phrase is not, in legal parlance, “actionable”.  The federal agency defines three standards for language; obscene, profane and indecent:

1. Obscene content does not have protection by the First Amendment.  For content to be ruled obscene, it must meet a three-pronged test established by the Supreme Court: It must appeal to an average person’s prurient interest; depict or describe sexual conduct in a “patently offensive” way; and, taken as a whole, lack serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.

2. Indecent content portrays sexual or excretory organs or activities in a way that does not meet the three-prong test for obscenity.

3. Profane content includes “grossly offensive” language that is considered a public nuisance.

However, a training pamphlet from KBOO Community Radio in Portland, Oregon, identifies words and contexts that apparently are to be avoided just in case an official decided to interpret the law a little more broadly.  These include not playing certain songs or repeating certain song titles, sexual jokes or innuendo, creative editing of profane or indecent words or fleeting references, such as “Oh Shit!”

KBOO giving the realm of questionable language such a wide berth might have something to do with the fact that the station was fined $7000 in 2001 for violating community standards on its “Soundbox” program.  The station had broadcast a poem by performer Sarah Jones that included lyrics the FCC considered indecent.

From the FCC lawsuit:
Radio Station:  KBOO-FM, Portland, Oregon
Date/Time Broadcast:   October 20, 1999, on the “Soundbox,” between 7:00  and 9:00 p.m.
Material Broadcast:  “Your Revolution”

(Various female voices)

Your revolution will not happen between these thighs
Your revolution will not happen between these thighs
Your revolution will not happen between these thighs
Will not happen between these thighs
Will not happen between these thighs
The real revolution ain’t about bootie size
The Versaces you buys
Or the Lexus you drives
And though we’ve lost Biggie Smalls
Maybe your notorious revolution
Will never allow you to lace no lyrical douche in my bush
Your revolution will not be you killing me softly with fujees
Your revolution ain’t gonna knock me up without no ring
And  produce little future M.C.’s
Because that revolution will not happen between these thighs
Your revolution will not find me in the back seat of a jeep
With L.L. hard as hell, you know
Doing it and doing and doing it well, you know
Doing it and doing it and doing it well
Your revolution will not be you smacking it up, flipping it or rubbing it down
Nor will it take you downtown, or humping around
Because that revolution will not happen between these thighs
Your revolution will not have me singing
Ain’t no nigger like the one I got
Your revolution will not be you sending me for no drip drip V.D. shot
Your revolution will not involve me or feeling your nature rise
Or having you fantasize
Because that revolution will not happen between these thighs
No no not between these thighs
Uh-uh
My Jamaican brother
Your revolution will not make you feel bombastic, and really fantastic
And have you groping in the dark for that rubber wrapped in plastic
Uh-uh
You will not be touching your lips to my triple dip of
French vanilla, butter pecan, chocolate deluxe
Or having Akinyele’s dream, um hum
A six foot blow job machine, um hum
You wanna subjugate your Queen, uh-huh
Think I’m gonna put it in my mouth just because you
Made a few bucks,
Please brother please
Your revolution will not be me tossing my weave
And making me believe I’m some caviar eating ghetto
Mafia clown
Or me giving up my behind
Just so I can get signed
And maybe have somebody else write my rhymes
I’m Sarah Jones
Not Foxy Brown
You know I’m Sarah Jones
Not Foxy Brown
Your revolution makes me wonder
Where could we go
If we could drop the empty pursuit of props and the ego
We’d revolt back to our roots
Use a little common sense on a quest to make love
De la soul, no pretense, but
Your revolution will not be you flexing your little sex and status
To express what you feel
Your revolution will not happen between these thighs
Will not happen between these thighs
Will not be you shaking
And me, [sigh] faking between these thighs
Because the real revolution
That’s right, I said the real revolution
You know, I’m talking about the revolution
When it comes,
It’s gonna be real
It’s gonna be real
It’s gonna be real
When it finally comes
It’s gonna be real

In 2003, a more forgiving FCC, after hearing from Jones herself and the station, chose to rescind the fine.   Fortunately for KBOO, both the fine and the rescision were before the Janet Jackson “wardrobe malfunction” during the 2004 Superbowl.  The public outrage which followed caused the FCC to jack up fines per violation from $32,000 to $350,000.  Such a fine would’ve been like a planet killing asteroid smashing through KBOO’s tiny 8th Avenue studio.

The FCC determined that community standards were not violated.  It is an example of how the law regarding obscenity, indecency and profanity, whether gratuitous or not, is and isn’t written in stone.  There may be several standards at work when stations chose to allow or restrict language that may or may not cost them big bucks, public support or both.

Hitting the &$%@#* Button!

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Red Button

Today, while listening to Oregon Public Broadcasting’s midday news magazine/talk show, “Think Outloud”, I heard something that I don’t often hear.  As Mark Zusman, publisher of Portland’s “Willamette Week” newspaper, praised the work of the late Oregon writer, Catherine Dunn, he recounted a story of a lapel button she frequently wore as she wrote for the paper.  Mr. Zusman presaged the comment by saying, “I don’t know if I can say this”, and Think Outloud host Dave Miller recommended he edit his memory for a radio-friendly audience.

Apparently, Mr. Zusman chose not to do that because the next thing I heard was Mr. Miller translating the button into, “The Meek shall Inherit Bupkis”.  Bupkis, for those who don’t know, is Yiddish and means, “nothing”.  So, with Ms. Dunn’s flair for the English language, it’s safe to assume the button said something like, “The Meek Shall Inherit Not Shit”.  And I know I didn’t hear Mr. Zussman say it because after the translation, Mr. Miller said he thought he saw his producer “Hit the Button”.

“The Button” is slang for the more technical term, “Broadcast Delay”.  Whenever something is said that could possibly offend either community standards or the FCC, stations and hosts have the responsibility to use technology that makes certain the offending word never makes to the public airwaves.  To a listener, it might sound like a bad audio edit; one second, the person talking is about to say whatever they’re going to say and the next second, they are saying something completely different.  This happens because all radio broadcasts operate on a delay of between seven and 30 seconds.  That means what you, the listener is hearing, is actually seven to 30 seconds after when it was actually said.  If there is something stations have to cut, they trigger a circut that removes the offending audio in real time at the station but what you hear is the edit.

Why some guests speak the profanity anyway is partly the fault of the stations  themselves.  The “beep”, or the sound that many producers have used for years to indicate the place where the profanity was, has itself become iconic.  To be “beeped out” is kinda cool, like it gives you radio street cred.  Guests know cursing on the radio is frowned upon, so that might be another reason – they get to be a little “bad”.  They don’t always realize this doesn’t work as well for a live rather than a pre-produced program.  Or, maybe guests figure they have the literary license to speak truthfully about whatever it is and leave it to the stations to sort it out.

This technology varies depending on what stations can afford.  Because it is expensive, some systems have a limited capacity to do this, meaning, if there are more than, say, three such oopsies in one conversation, the system might stop working and then the station is in danger of a fine.  And after the 2004 Super Bowl “Wardrobe Malfunction” incident involving Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake, that fine went from about $35,000 per violation to about $350,000.  So stations are really, really paranoid about profanity.

However, I have noticed some very interesting exceptions to that rule.  I’ll be talking about those in a later post.

You Gotta Be Schitting Me

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Shit Creek

American culture can be weird.  For example, the second season of the CBS comedy, “Schitt’s Creek” was previewed in an interview with its two top billed stars, Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara on CBS This Morning.  The show name was plastered on plasma TV screens all over the studio.  Yet everyone at the table, including three professional journalists, were straining to avoiding saying the title, which is a wordplay on a profanity.

Americans love to be tittilated (whoopsie).  Whether it’s going to the ballet to see who’s going to fall, watching sports waiting for the next big hit or following political debates to see who is going to have the next Lloyd Bentsen moment.  But this is a little confusing, because in this case, tittilation would be if the actual word, “shit” was being used or skirted, not a substitute for the word.

I used to live in Utah, and its residents had the same relationship with the word, “fuck”.  In my twelve years there, I saw the substitutes for “fuck” mutate from “flip” to “frick” to “fudge” – all “f” words.  It seemed that as a version got too closely associated with the real profanity, a new one replaced it and moved into the vocabulary.  I used to fantasize that someday, it would return to “fuck”.  I wonder what it is now.

The late George Carlin, a master at comedy that emphasized such wordplay, used to eat this stuff for breakfast.  Carlin, as you may remember, was named in a 1978 U.S. Supreme Court case between the FCC and the Pacifica radio network that forever enshrined the seven dirty words you couldn’t say in broadcasting.  They are, for the record and in mostly alphabetical order, “cocksucker”, “cunt”, “fuck”, “motherfucker”, “piss”, “tits” and of course, “shit”.

In an HBO comedy special, Carlin himself made fun of people’s discomfort with the actual words, commenting that at one point, a man asked him to remove motherfucker from his routine.  Carlin said, “He says motherfucker is a duplication of the word fuck, technically, because fuck is the root form, motherfucker being derivative; therefore, it constitutes duplication. And I said, ‘Hey, motherfucker, how did you get my phone number, anyway?'”

He later added the word back to his routine, claiming the bit’s rhythm didn’t work without it.  Carlin made fun of each word; for example, he would say that tits should not be on the list because it sounds like a nickname for a snack (“New Nabisco Tits! …corn tits, cheese tits, tater tits!”).

Maybe, after the Janet Jackson “wardrobe malfunction” during the 2004 Superbowl and the subsequent hiking of indecency fines by the FCC from 35-thousand dollars to more than 300-thousand dollars per violation, U.S. radio and TV networks got religion and all forms and flavors.  But it’s a little like the Simpsons episode where Bart is in the back seat yelling the word “bitch” and Homer grits his teeth because Marge says, “Homey, it is the name of a female dog.”

Hey CBS, own it.

What Time is it Really?

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WWV

We have all been conditioned to believe that when a TV or radio program begins at the “top” or “bottom” of the hour, it means the program is starting at exactly 1 p.m. or 5:30 a.m. or whenever.

But it’s not that simple.

First, understand that official United States civilian time is maintained by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Boulder, Colorado.  Those are the people who are responsible for ensuring the official weights and measures for the US, including time.  And precision is important to these folks. Time, i.e. the length of a second, is determined based on the vibrations of Cesium 133 atoms.  This was represented by a clock NIST called the “F1”.  But in 2014, they supplemented the “F1” clock with the “F2”, which unlike the previous clock, will not lose one second in 300 million years, making it three times more accurate than the F1.

Meanwhile, US time is synchronized with the rest of the world via something called Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), although it used to be commonly referred to as Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). Greenwich, by the way, is a real place. It is the location of the Royal Observatory in a municipality of London. GMT was the international civil time standard until recent years when there has been a hot debate about what GMT is and whether it deserves to be the standard it has historically been.

These two may not seem to have much in common; the measurement within time versus coordination of the World’s clocks. But they are intimately connected. To demonstrate this, imagine hearing a band playing Beyonce’s “Single Ladies”. Then imagine another band starts playing it, but is one beat off from the first band. The beat within both songs is the same length but the starting point of the song is different. Which beat should each group of musicians keep time to, their own or that of the other band?

That can be a problem for time keepers and, coincidentally, broadcasters. For decades, FCC regulations required holders of broadcast licenses to announce who and where their stations are before beginning a program. If you are watching KOIN in Portland, Oregon, when the previous program ends but within a minute of so of a new program, you see promos for upcoming local and network shows. Then, there will be a graphic somewhere on the screen that says you are watching KOIN 6 in Portland, Oregon. Or, if you’re listening to KOPB, you’ll hear promos, then the list of affiliate stations of Oregon Public Broadcasting and their individual locations. By law, you must see and hear these very close to “top” of the hour.

Then the next program begins, supposedly, “straight up”. But if you open the NIST’s time widget before the stations identify themselves, you notice that neither the radio or the TV program starts at the NIST’s official “top” of the hour. In the accompanying video, the CBS and NPR networks the locals go to are about 12 seconds behind the NIST. Twelve seconds might not seem like a big deal. But since billions of dollars are invested in advertising, technology and legislation for time to be both accurate and consistent, why isn’t it a big deal? Otherwise, why have a standard at all?

From simply an economic standpoint, how can stations afford to be off by up to 12 seconds an hour considering how important every moment is for generating revenue from commercials. I blogged about that a few years ago.

Anyway, I’ve had the larger question since my amateur radio days when I used to “DX” WWV, an NIST radio service that used to broadcast official time. If the NIST is the “official” US civilian timekeeper, why don’t broadcasters follow it?

*Accompanying audio and video are used under the Fair Use doctrine for the purposes of criticism, comment and news reporting.

Written by Interviewer

June 5, 2015 at 05:53

Gannett No Good for Portland

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TV Tower

This was the title of a press release issued by three union locals representing professional broadcasting; the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and the Screen Actor’s Guild – American  Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA). I called IATSE spokesperson Dave Twedell to learn more.

Essentially, these unions are worried by changes media corporation Gannett wants them to agree to, primary of which is allow “amateurs” or people not represented by the union to do union jobs.  This means, according to Mr. Twedell, bloggers, podcasters and possibly independent videographers would begin doing the work of professional writers, producers and field camera operators under what’s called a “Non-exclusive jurisdictional contract”.   And this is feared to lead to other changes, including:

(1) The firing of local television engineers at Channel 8 and turn local engineering responsibilities over to Gannett’s automated Master Control facility in Jacksonville, Florida,

(2) The possible elimination of Ch. 8 news altogether because Gannett may sell away the station’s bandwidth (including part or all of Ch. 8’s frequency) at the next FCC auction.

Mr. Twedell said the purpose of a planned rally at Pioneer Courthouse Square on Saturday is to distribute information on the proposed changes by Gannett and give the public a chance to make their concerns known to Gannett.

I asked Mr. Twedell if he expected any of the “talent” (any of the Channel 8 anchors or reporters) would show up.  He said he can’t speak for the SAG-AFTRA part of the coalition, since this event focuses more on the photographers and video editors side of TV operations.  But he said several SAG-AFTRA members are “active participants in our campaign” and we’ll see what we’ll see.

The release was issued on April 20th.  Let me know if you’ve heard anything about it on any news broadcast.

———————————————————————

Here is the full text of the release:

“Ever since Gannett took over KGW in late 2013, things have progressively gone downhill, including cost-cutting by bringing in amateurs and outsourcing work to machines located thousands of miles away.  That isn’t right”.

“KGW is a vibrant part of the community.  Because KGW is licensed to broadcast in the public interest, the public has a right to know what the new corporate owner, Gannett, wants to do with KGW”.

“The city goverment relies on Channel 8 to provide reliable real time information during emergencies.  The station’s advertisers rely on it to provide a large audience and the large audience is made up of stakeholders who can and we believe should speak up about the Gannett business model”.

“On Saturday, April 25, join us for a rally and celebration of KGW in Portland’s iconic Pioneer Courthouse Square.  Help us protect quality broadcasting and family-wage jobs, and stand up to corporate media.  KGW must maintain its standards and identity.  This is OUR air”.

——————————————————————–

The rally takes place Saturday, April 25th at Pioneer Courthouse Square from Noon until 2 p.m.