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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

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Radio sex contest earns $357,500 fine

Washington (REUTERS) — A radio contest challenging listeners to have sex in public places for a free trip to Boston’s Sam Adams Brewery has won the broadcasters a $357,500 fine, federal regulators said Thursday.

The Federal Communications Commission proposed the fine after ruling that 13 stations owned by a Viacom Inc. unit violated federal indecency standards when they aired, the Aug. 15, 2002 episode of the “Opie & Anthony Show,” which ran the contest.

The show was canceled almost immediately after the contest aired, which included broadcasts of five couples purportedly having sex and descriptions of other sexually explicit activities in famous New York locales like St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Rockefeller Center.

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“The premeditated nature of the decision to encourage sexual activity in locations that would surprise and shock passers-by and attract attention at risk to the participants … was plainly reflective of a transparent effort to pander and titillate for marketing purposes,” the FCC said.

Federal law bars the airing of obscene material and limits broadcasting indecent material that contains sexual or excretory references in a patently offensive manner. Indecent material can only be broadcast before 6 a.m. or after 10 p.m.

The FCC defines indecent speech as that which depicts or describes sexual organs or activities, and a broadcast must be “patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium.”

The proposed fine issued by the commission amounts to $27,500 per station, the maximum the agency can issue in such cases. FCC officials have pleaded with Congress to increase the size of fines they can levy for such cases.

The contest led authorities to charge a Washington, D.C.-area couple caught in St. Patrick’s Cathedral with obscenity and public lewdness. Brian Florence, the 38-year-old man charged in the case died last week of a heart attack, according to local media reports.

Infinity Broadcasting, the Viacom unit that runs the radio stations, told the FCC that the “Sex for Sam” program was unacceptable and contrary to its own programming standards but that the aired material was not obscene and did not fall within the agency’s indecency definition.

“We’ve been afforded an opportunity to respond and we intend to do so,” said Infinity spokesman Dana McClintock. He declined further comment.

FCC Commissioner Michael Copps dissented, arguing that the agency should hold hearings to determine whether the stations’ broadcast licenses should be revoked.

“Station owners aren’t given licenses to use the public’s airwaves to peddle smut,” he said in a statement. Copps also noted that Infinity has previously run afoul of indecency rules.

Two months before the radio contest, the FCC proposed fining the New York station that airs the “Opie & Anthony Show,” WNEW-FM, $21,000 for airing sexually explicit material.

FCC Commissioner Kevin Martin had encouraged the agency to up the fine for each time the radio hosts discussed an act.

Thursday the agency also proposed fining two radio stations owned by Clear Channel Communications Inc. a total of $55,000 for broadcasting high school students discussing sexual activities at school.

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