The indecency fines just keep on comin'. According to the New York Post, the FCC is preparing to slap Infinity with an approximately $1.5 million Notice of Apparent Liability as early as next week for The Howard Stern Show.
When the Commission hit up Clear Channel for $495,000 on April 8, a corresponding fine against Infinity for the same April 9, 2003 Stern broadcast was considered a fait accompli. The Clear Channel fine was for 18 total violations across six stations. Infinity carries Stern on 18 of its stations. That's 54 violations at $27,5000 each for a grand total of $1,485,000.
Based on past experience, it's unlikely Infinity will succumb and pay the fine. Viacom COO Mel Karmazin has repeatedly said he doesn't believe the Stern show is indecent -- even to barking dogs like Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS). Although Karmazin settled with the federal government in '95 for a series of Stern-triggered indecency fines dating back to 1988, the $1.7 million he paid was termed a "voluntary contribution" to the U.S. Treasury. The result: Infinity's indecency file at the Commission was purged. With a clean record, Infinity was free to take advantage of the consolidation gold rush just around the corner.
Karmazin is expected to defend Stern again, not only on First Amendment grounds, but by arguing that the cited Stern material isn't legally indecent. We'll get a first peak at Infinity's case soon -- its response for the first Stern fine this year -- a $27,500 NAL against WKRK/Detroit-- is due at the FCC on April 18.
Reactions to the indecency clampdown from radio's two largest companies are playing out like A Tale of Two Cities. Clear Channel suspended Stern even before they were fined, and permanently dumped him and two of its own biggest morning shows. Infinity says it has no plans to drop Stern, and has allowed him to use the airwaves to fight the indecency battle in the court of public opinion.