Believe it or not, the next indecency battleground could be in Chicago’s African-American community.
A group of activists calling themselves The Clear The Airwaves Project are targeting Crawford’s WPWX-FM (Power 92) and Clear Channel’s WGCI-FM for playing salacious hip-hop and rap music targeting children and teenagers (both stations target the adult 18-34 demo.) According to the Sun-Times, the group has been staging protests at a McDonald’s restaurant in Chicago’s Woodlawn neighborhood every Saturday morning for the last few months, which is owned by The Black McDonalds Operators Association, a major advertiser on both stations.
Core artists on Urban radio include controversial acts including Rick Ross, Lil’ Wayne, Snoop Lion (nee Snoop Dogg), and Nicki Manaj.
The protests come as many of Chicago’s neighborhoods are under siege from gun and gang violence, giving the city an international black eye and drawing negative headlines worldwide.
Clear founder Kwabena Rasuli told the Sun-Times’ Mary Mitchell why their group is protesting: “We feel that the music being played on the radio is influencing our children and is detrimental and should be for adults only. This is music that encourages girls to be strippers and young men to kill each other, to pop mollies or Ecstasy pills, and to be unrealistically materialistic.”
Dwight Taylor of the Concerned Citizens Against Violence in Gary, Ind. (which like Chicago, is dealing with a lot of gang and gun violence), pointed out to Mitchell: “If any child hears these lyrics 24/7 — lyrics about carrying guns, shooting n’s and calling women b’s… this has to be psychologically damaging to them.”
Of course, the expletives are bleeped out, in compliance with Federal Communication Commission regulations – including the “n” word and the “b” word, but any listener can easily detect them.
This isn’t new: radio stations playing such fare were regularly targeted by protesters in the early 1990’s, when the genre finally emerged into the mainstream. In 2007, raunchy hip-hop and rap music and videos returned to the spotlight after Don Imus was fired from New York’s WFAN-AM after making unflattering comments about the Rutgers women’s basketball team – the same kind found in hip-hop music videos.
Mancow Mueller, who ripped Chicago earlier this week for being “unlivable”, has criticized the FCC in the past for failing to take action against radio stations who played hip-hop music who cater to minority audiences while targeting his old Q101 (WKQX-FM) show instead.
The indecency radar has been ratcheted up in the decade, starting with the Super Bowl Halftime Show debacle in 2004, which led to a crackdown on indecency led by the FCC, fueled by complaints from the conservative Parents Television Council and American Family Association.
While the competition for young urban listeners between Power 92 and WGCI draws little attention (compared to anything WGN-AM does), it’s fierce nonetheless: during the October ratings period according to Nielsen Audio (formerly Arbitron), WGCI finished fourth overall with a 4.3, while Power 92 finished twentieth with a 2.2, considered respectable for a not-quite full-signal station. In the 18-34 demo, the numbers between the two narrows significantly.
Crawford Broadcasting nor McDonald’s had no comment. WGCI officials only released a written statement to the Sun-Times, stating WGCI “is always open to having dialogue with members of the community and listening to their concerns.”
While this does seem like a David vs. Goliath battle, The Clear The Airwaves Project may be heartened by action the FCC took recently.
Liberman Broadcasting agreed in a consent decree to pay the federal agency $110,000 to settle indecency complaints stemming from the airing of Jose Luis Sin Censura, a Jerry Springer-like talk show in Spanish, which was removed from the airwaves permanently in August 2012. Airing daily on the Liberman’s Estrella TV network (including low-power WESV-TV in Chicago), Sin Censura – meaning uncensored in Spanish, often featured pixilated nudity, violent fights between guests, bleeped and unbleeped profanity, and audience members and guests hurling racist, sexist, and homophobic slurs. The salacious content drew the attention of GLAAD and the National Hispanic Media Coalition, who jointly filed a 200-page complaint with the FCC in 2011 against Spanish-language KRCA-TV in Riverside, Calif. (serving the Los Angeles area.) Other organizations joined them though curiously, the PTC wasn’t one of them.
Several advertisers pulled their spots from Sin Censura, while WSVN-TV in Miami (over its digital 7.2 channel) pre-empted the show. The recent voluntary decision made by Liberman didn’t signal any kind of direction new FCC chairman Tom Wheeler is taking over indecency; the FCC still has years of complaints backlogged as his predecessor chose not to vigorously pursue them.
To anyone’s knowledge, The Clear The Airwaves Project has yet to file any complaints with the FCC over Power 92 or WGCI’s music programming.
These developments come as a backlash is brewing over negative images of minorities in the media – especially against BET (with their racy hip-hop videos) and in reality TV programs such as Basketball Wives, Love and Hip-Hop, and The Real Housewives Of Atlanta. While the shows are popular with black audiences, all are accused of portraying African-American women as negative stereotypes, as detailed by Essence magazine last spring. Much like SinCensura, altercations and physical fights are the status quo with one major difference – all of these shows air on cable and out of FCC jurisdiction. In addition, the PTC has called out BET over its airing of sensational music videos.
And despite the departure of Sin Censura, racy programming still airs on Spanish-language networks. One show is from former Peruvian lawyer Laura Bozzo, who hosts a now-toned down version of her old Telemundo show (yeah, right) for Telefutura.
And yes, video clips of Sin Censura are still available on YouTube.
It remains to be seen how successful the Chicago protests will be. While decade-old Sin Censura had little audience interest in a crowded daytime field – even in Spanish-language television, there are far more adult fans of hip-hop and rap who are not going to compromise their tastes to accommodate children. And radio is not the only place to get hip-hop music: keep in mind many young listeners don’t even listen to the medium. Even if WGCI or Power 92 dropped all their hip-hop music, it won’t make much of an difference as listeners would get it elsewhere. Children can simply download the songs uncensored – either legally or illegally.
What activist groups – from the left and the right – really need to do is to figure out how to make salacious programming less accessible to children without encroaching on free speech and ask why minority communities are always targeted for such fare. The well-organized protests against Sin Censura were very effective. Maybe it could also work for The Clear The Airwaves Project.
In this crazy business, you’ll never know what will happen.