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Stern starts trend away from regulation

By Ryan Johnson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, January 12, 2006
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During his first satellite radio broadcast Monday, Howard Stern promised a new breed of radio. He declared himself free from the federal regulators who hounded him during his terrestrial radio days and vowed that his new show will be wild.

With no censors to stop his cursing, he announced that he would pursue previously banned acts, including live sex, on the show. For Michael Powell and others who had badgered Stern from the Federal Communications Commission for two decades and fined him $2.5 million, it was time to cringe.

But for a growing population of nearly 10 million satellite radio subscribers, it was time to rejoice. When Sirius announced its $600 million Stern deal in 2004, satellite radio gained new legitimacy and is now culling creative content from traditional radio.

Whether you're someone like me and listened to Stern during high school or someone who thinks he's a chauvinistic asshole, this push toward less regulation should be welcome.

The main difference between satellite radio and AM/FM, besides the ability to access it anywhere, is that it is subscription-based. This means that companies such as Sirius derive their revenue from users rather than advertisers, leaving music stations commercial-free.

But equally important is that the FCC doesn't regulate content on satellite radio; according to Stern, that's what drew him away from his 8 to 12 million-listener base to Sirius' mere 3.3 million.

Want to have racier content? Find the least restrictive government.

It's not that the FCC is regulating less. In fact, it has been increasing the stringency of its regulations for a decade, though its pace was quickened by 2004's infamous Super Bowl halftime show. As an illustration, when Stern broadcast "greatest hits" episodes that weren't restricted when they first aired, stations had to censor significant portions to fit today's standards.

No, the trend away from regulation is because of the fact that users are migrating to media forms that aren't tightly monitored. This isn't a new trend, either - look at the long-running success of HBO.

People are moving to unregulated outlets at an accelerated rate because of novel technologies.

And it goes beyond television and radio. Not even satellite radio is as unfettered as the Internet radio stations, which can be broadcast from anywhere in the world. Want to have racier content? Find the least restrictive government.

Regulators need to realize that if they don't wise up, they will become a dying breed.

Just look at gambling regulators.

Internet gambling is outlawed in the U.S. Lawmakers thought it should be restricted to casinos, and worried about its influence on children. But instead of journeying to casinos, millions of users flock to online gaming sites based in England and other foreign countries.

Of course, this only adds insult to injury for the federal government: Not only are they unable to regulate it, they can't even tax it.

Many in favor of stricter regulations argue that they are merely watching out for kids. But that responsibility should fall to parents. A more valid cause would be technology that allows parents to censor what their children see and hear.

But something tells me this isn't the true aim of organizations such as the American Family Association. Based on the vigorous campaign they unleashed after "Nipplegate," it seems they simply want to dictate content for all Americans.

After all, most children now have access to the Internet, which has content far worse than that of Howard Stern.

Even so, Stern isn't 100 percent safe yet. The FCC does regulate satellite in one respect: It controls the bandwidth, and presided over its sale to the two highest bidders, XM and Sirius. Every 8 years the terms are renegotiated, and the FCC could threaten content by saying decency will influence bandwidth decisions.

And many are pushing lawmakers to give the FCC more power to censor satellite radio. They may succeed, but will still ultimately fail. For those who like creativity and dislike regulation, the trend toward new technologies is already set. Strict media regulation is a goner, one way or another.

Ryan Johnson is an economics and international studies senior. He can be reached at

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