The complaint, filed by an anonymous Templeton resident, alleged that the 2014 Grammy awards were indecent for the following reasons:
“Beyonce opening the ceremony was pornographic,” the complaint begins. “Gay wedding ceremony was revolting and the song lyrics were an attack on Christianity and should be considered hate speech. Shame on CBS and shame on you for allowing it.”
The complaint was one of 23 that New Times obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request to the Federal Communications Commission, spanning 2011 through 2014, with one complaint included from September 2008.
Templeton’s complaint was the sole example from that city, while farther to the south, Atascadero residents had more complaints—six, in total—than any other city in San Luis Obispo County.
Arroyo Grande residents landed in second place with four complaints, while three complaints were submitted out of SLO.
But if any conclusion can be drawn about local FCC complaints, it’s that what constitutes indecent broadcast behavior varies widely from person to person.
Another conclusion: Rush Limbaugh pissed off a few people.
“Rush called a young woman who testified to Congress a slut and then went on about how he wanted her to become a ‘porn star’ by videoing herself having sex,” one Shell Beach resident wrote in a complaint in March 2012. “I don’t want to have kids hear this kind of talk on an AM stations [sic].”
The complaint referred to a much-criticized segment on Limbaugh’s syndicated talk show in which he referred to then Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke as a “slut” and a “prostitute” after her congressional testimony to mandate contraception under medical insurance.
Advertisers fled Limbaugh’s program, and Limbaugh even offered a rare apology, saying his “choice of words was not the best.”
But even Limbaugh escaped FCC reprimand or fines.
According to FCC guidelines, broadcast content is considered indecent when it contains “language or material that, in context, depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium, sexual or excretory organs or activities.”
Courts have ruled that the First Amendment protects even indecent material. However, the FCC is able to restrict content “in order to avoid its broadcast during times of the day when there is a reasonable risk that children may be in the audience.”
“You know, if [Limbaugh’s] not pissing off somebody, he’s not doing his job,” said Andrew Cannon, operations manager and IT director for KVEC 920 AM, which broadcasts Limbaugh’s show locally.
The station prepares for FCC audits, but in his 35 years in broadcast, Cannon said he’s never been through one. The FCC audits and scrutinizes every aspect of a station, from its towers to making sure the station properly identifies itself, but indecency complaints seemed less of a worry for Cannon.
For example, KVEC’s live broadcasts run on a seven-second delay. If something is said on air that shouldn’t be said, station operators can skip ahead seven seconds, effectively washing away the naughty bits, and allow the delay to build back up over the course of about a minute. But in his 2 1/2 years with KVEC, Cannon said the station has had to use its delay system fewer than half a dozen times.
Other local complaints to the FCC often centered on such topics as sex, vulgar language, and a hodgepodge of offensive radio personalities.
Three complaints were made over Mike Calta’s—formerly “Cowhead”—mid-2012 broadcast in which he reportedly referenced placing Linda Blair, Shorty Rossi, and all pit bulls in an Olympic-sized pool to be set on fire.
Eight complaints were made over Limbaugh’s comments about Fluke.
Other complaints varied widely. One Arroyo Grande resident said his or her children watched NickJr, but the station automatically switched to NickMom at 7 p.m.
“The content on NickMom is crude, profane, and inappropriate for children and should be pulled,” that person wrote.
Another Arroyo Grande resident complained of “a commercial with an obscenely violent image of a woman, mouth taped shut, tied.” The commercial was for the movie Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
“This is SO sick! I choose not to see those movies, yet the FCC allows those images to be broadcast on my TV, in my own house.”
But the local complaints are a small fraction of those sent to the FCC. Over the first three months of 2014, the FCC received 267 complaints of indecency/obscenity.
Asked about complaints he receives, Cannon said there aren’t many. Some locals have complained about Dave Congalton’s show by email or by phone, but usually people who have complaints call into the show to talk directly on air.
“As long as he’s not breaking any FCC rules and not slandering anybody, he’s doing his job,” Cannon said.
Senior Staff Writer Colin Rigley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.