The FCC's war on dirty words is having a chilling effect — even WBAI Pacifica, the radical radio station in NYC, is scared of airing Allen Ginsberg's magnificent poem, Howl.
"Why, 50 years later after a judge ruled that children could read this poem, people are afraid the courts will say that their ears shouldn't hear it," said Ron Collins, a constitutional law instructor and First Amendment advocate who is leading a small group of authors, broadcasters and free-speech advocates pushing to broadcast the poem eventually. "Yet they can go on the Internet and see far, far worse things."
Another irony: WBAI, the Pacifica Foundation station in New York that plans to post "Howl" online, is the same station that took on the FCC more than 30 years ago over the right to air George Carlin's comedy routine featuring the "seven dirty words." The challenge led to a 1978 Supreme Court decision governing what naughty words can be broadcast and when.
Pacifica's attorney for FCC issues, John Crigler, thinks airing "Howl" would be "a great test case" in the current environment. But he understands why WBAI won't broadcast "Howl," even between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., the hours the FCC has cordoned off for rougher language.
WBAI program director Bernard White fears that the FCC will fine the station $325,000 for every one of Ginsberg's dirty-word bombs. If each Pacifica station that aired the poem – and possibly repeated it – were to be fined for airing "Howl," it could mean millions of dollars in fines.