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'Shock Jocks' Have a Problem


In the 1970s, a new and outrageous kind of radio disc jockey began to appear on many American radio stations. Wildly creative, often pushing the edges of acceptable taste, "shock jocks," as they were called, attracted a big following. But their radio days may be numbered. You see, Mancow has been put out to pasture.

Erich "Mancow" Muller, a loud, confrontational morning-show host, has been fired by his Chicago radio station -- not for any one rant on the air, but on general principles. Like many other U.S. stations, WKQX-FM grew weary of listener complaints, threats from the federal agency that regulates broadcasting, and nervous phone calls from the advertisers who pay the station's bills. These companies just don't want their products associated with ribald humor or politically raw commentary. It was Mancow, after all, who one day last year called the chairman of the Democratic Party a "bloodthirsty" and "evil" fellow who "should be tried for treason."

But a much more telling reason why Mancow was kicked off the air -- and why even more scandalous shock jocks like Howard Stern have moved to satellite radio, out of the reach of government regulation -- is that it's simply hard to shock an audience any longer.

"Look at the Internet," the Chicago Tribune newspaper quotes Michael Harrison, the publisher of a talk-radio trade magazine. "Look at billboards. Look at movies. Look at cable television. . . . There's nothing shocking any more."

Besides, as a competing Chicago broadcaster points out, when federal government fines for indecency are starting to reach into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, "that can certainly be the death knell for shock-jock sorts of antics."

"Mancow" Muller says he'd be willing to, as he puts it, "redefine himself" in light of today's touchier sensibilities.

Might it even be possible to be entertaining without being offensive, as generations of commentators and humorists were able to do? Now THAT would be provocative!

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