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Dr. Demento's Blog - November 19, 2011
First, a correction: “Have a Peanut Butter Sandwich” by Art Paul Schlosser, featured in the Nov. 19 show, was released in 2001, not 1991 as I said on the show. Thanks to Edwin Harvey Jr.
Among the comments about the Nov. 12 show featuring marijuana songs (still available at www.drdemento.com, of course) was this one:
This was a very good show, Doctor. You also filled us in with behind-the-scene information, good work there. I am interested in how you were saying the network placed restrictions on your choices in this area in the past. Were there any tricks you used to get around this and were there other subjects that you had to be restricted with? –Kevin J
Kevin – thank you!
Drugs could be a very controversial subject, especially in the 1960s and 70s. Other controversial subjects include religion, race and ethnicity, and sexual orientation. I have played songs and comedy touching on all these areas, and during my 39 years in commercial radio I became highly aware of what I could get away with and what I couldn’t. These standards would change from time to time and from station to station.
However, the majority of censorship issues in radio are simply a matter of language. Long before I began my show, I knew that one was not supposed to say “fuck” on the radio, or “shit,” or various other words. George Carlin’s “Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television,” released on records in 1972, provided a handy guide, especially after the recording was played on radio and the Federal Communications Commission (more about that later) took action. There are other objectionable words Carlin didn’t mention, though (racial slurs, for instance). On the other hand, since 1972 some of those seven words have become acceptable under certain conditions. Like I said, things keep changing. Our flagship station in L.A., KMET, found “titties” permissible, though it would not allow “tits.” Then they got some complaints and said “titties” had to go. On the other hand, “fart,” which was a no-no when I started in radio, gradually became acceptable, as did “piss.” The word “ass” has several distinctly different meanings, so it’s acceptable in certain contexts but not in others.
I got to be quite an expert at bleeping those nasty words on the reel-to-reel tape we used in those days, using razor blades and splicing tape. (It’s much easier now with a computer). I came to realize that with the word “shit,” if one cuts out just the voiced vowel sound but leaves the “sh” and the “t”, it’s acceptable to many stations yet is perfectly understandable and doesn’t sound awkward. “Fuck” can be handled the same way, but being a more objectionable word in our culture, I had to bleep a little more of it, perhaps leaving the “f” or the “ck” but not both. Sometimes I used sound effects rather than bleeps; a cuckoo clock sound effect worked nicely for “titties” (in Frank Zappa’s “Titties and Beer.”)
Why are radio stations so concerned with these things? They are in business to please the public, and most stations believe that a majority of the public feels that there should be some restraint on language and subject matter in a medium that is readily accessible to children.
In addition, a commercial station has to keep its sponsors happy. Companies that sell cars, fast food, soft drinks, beer or whatever are often quite sensitive to what sort of content surrounds their commercials. Our show once lost a station affiliate in Wichita because one of their major sponsors, a car dealer, heard “Vatican Rag” on my show, and it offended the dealer’s Catholic faith.
Finally, there is the FCC. The Federal Communications Commission was originally created to keep radio stations from drowning out each other’s signals, but before long it also got involved in content. Some of the first FCC actions to restrict content came in the 1930s, when certain stations were accused of promoting racial and/or religious bigotry. The FCC continues to monitor station content, and now and then issues fines or other punishments against stations that broadcast material it considers objectionable, such as Carlin’s “Seven Words.” Under extreme circumstances the FCC has the power to take away a station’s license, worth many millions of dollars, without recompense. That hasn’t happened for many years, but even the remote possibility is a powerful tool for keeping stations in line. Adding to stations’ anxiety is the fact that the FCC has often seemed arbitrary, even capricious, in its standards for what constitutes objectional content. (The FCC does not constantly monitor stations for content, as is often believed, but acts in response to complaints from ordinary citizens).
Now, of course, I don’t have to worry about the FCC, or station owners or sponsors...that’s one big advantage of Internet radio. (There’s a new song on today’s show that I wish George Carlin were around to hear!)
Dr D, I have always enjoyed the bleeped versions of the bits on your show--Religon and Politics, Titties and Beer, etc. I think they are actually funnier than hearing the actual words.
I always remember Mel Brooks obersavation that comedy is tragedy revisited--always made me feel better about laughing at things...l
From: Dr. Demento
A song I'd like George Carlin to hear
Eric - you're absolutely right, it is the new Steve Goodie. -DrD
From: Dr. Demento
Off Limit Topics
Dr. Al: I share your admiration of artists who "work clean." You can add "Weird Al" Yankovic to that list, and also the late Logan Whitehurst.
On radio I felt some pressure to avoid certain kinds of ethnic humor, and also humor making fun of gays and lesbians. I had to agree that some of that humor was hurtful, though in the case of older humor I believe that it should be judged by the standards of its own time, not ours.
I have not been pressured to avoid political humor. By my own choice, I use only a limited amount of it. -DrD
From: Dr. Demento
Bleeps in songs
Johnph46: Thanks for your comment. Many songs and comedy routines exist in bleeped versions produced by record companies or the artists themselves, usually available only as promotional DJ copies. In recent years, bleeped muted or altered versions, especially of hip-hop items, have been made available for public sale, mainly because stores such as Wal-Mart refuse to stock recordings with lots of profanity. In many other cases I had to do the bleeping myself. "Religion and Politics" by Scott Beach came out on a 7" that was bleeped on one side, unbleeped on the other. I decided the bleeped version had more bleeps than necessary, so I made a compromise version myself. "The Smoke-Off" by Shel Silverstein has one "fuck" and one "shit." All manufactured copies of this have the "fuck" bleeped and the "shit" left intact. For radio I had to bleep the "shit." When we produced the "Very Best of Dr. Demento" album, Shel's record label sent the original master tape, and we found (to our dismay) that the "fuck" had been bleeped on the master; we saw the actual tape splice. So that's the way it is on "Very Best."
I totally agree with you about the Eric Idle, Gilda Radner and Adam Sandler songs, though I think I did a pretty good job of editing the Radner for radio. I even made sure that the fairly long bleep in the last line was in tune with the music. -DrD
From: Dr. Demento
Thanks for the comments! I'll respond as soon as I can...but wanted to clear up an ambiguity in the penultimate paragraph...The FCC does not monitor stations 24/7. It does, however, pay attention to what they're doing, mainly by means of citizen complaints and comments.
On the topic of putting the bleeps in songs, I had wondered if it was your job to put them in or if the song came to you with the bleeps already in place. It is nice in a way that you do not have to play the bleeped versions of songs anymore. I think some songs are funnier with out the bleeps, like Eric Idle's "Fuck Christmas" or Gilda Radner's "Let's Talk Dirty to the Animals". But I find Adam Sandler's "Piece of Shit Car" more hilarious with the car honks in place of the expletives.
From: Dr. Al
Off Limit Topics
Doctor D. - I have always appreciated artists who did not use profanity, perhaps because those who stayed clean worked a little harder to avoid the cheap laugh. They had to improve their talent and skill to make the innuendo, double entendre, or clever turn of a phrase to reach their goal. For example, Bill Cosby or Bob Newhart's comedy material is not necessarily pristine but most can be aired without censoring. Titties and beer, ironically, does not use the previously unairable language in a gratuitous manner. It all works within the context of the song. Along the lines of censorship, have you been pressured to avoid other subject matter (e.g., politics)?
Patuxent River, MD
Let me guess ... Steve Goodie's new song is the one that you would like George Carlin to hear? 8^)