Monday, July 25, 2011

Radio Self-Censorship

In 2001 it was widely reported that Clear Channel banned 150 songs in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11th. (I claimed that here too.)  Snopes currently lists this as false. That's a bit cut and dry considering the actual turbid tale. Snopes goes on to admit that
"...several of Clear Channel Radio's stations, compiled an advisory list of songs which stations might wish to avoid playing in the short term..."  
Perhaps in their free-wheeling dot com world they don't realize that in the corporate world... that's the same things as a ban. When you get an email from corporate making a gentle suggestion, you obey, or you seek employment elsewhere. To their credit, perhaps that wasn't the right day to play Van Halen's "Jump." Whatever. Snopes did what snopes does. Even if their verdict was dubious, they gave an honest back story. What I want to get to is  a historical precedence for this type of action. It's called self-censorship, and unless you're really dogmatic about free-speech (like me)  it makes some sense.

So let me tell you about the deaths at The Who concert on December 3, 1979. It was in Cincinnati, Ohio at the Riverfront Coliseum.  It had the highest body-count of any  rock concert incident in the United States. Eleven rock fans were crushed to death and 26 were seriously injured. the youngest was only 15. It was not a riot, or a stampede. In the mad rush to get good seats in the "festival seating" about 18,000 people tried to push to the front of the line.  Two objects things cannot occupy the same space at the same time. It's called the continuity principle of fluid dynamics. When 18,000 people try to occupy the same space at the some time some of them get compressive asphyxia (the mechanical limitation of  lung expansion.) More here.

The video above is from an actual 102.7 WEBN-FM newscast following the event. WEBN first went on air in 1967, owned by Frank Wood. (The calls previously were in Buffalo) It started as a classical and Jazz station but slowly became an AOR station, though still owned by Mr. Wood. This is important as Wood was still the owner  well into the 1980s. his son Frank Wood Jr. had moved on to WLS-FM by 1971. In the aftermath of the tragedy WEBN The book Are The Kids Alright? (1981) by John G. Fuller explained
"Frank Wood worked with WEBN staff to assure that programming remained at low key. Album selections for the next day were carefully screened. One song was quickly removed from the list. It was Led Zeppelin's Trampled Under Foot."
WEBN had been promoting the show, and maybe they felt some guilt, or remorse. Or maybe they just thought they were being considerate. Regardless, The Who continued on tour, WEBN continued broadcasting and strangely both exist today much as they did then. Today WEBN is a clear channel owned station and have have been since the Jaycor acquisition in 1999. To my knowledge, they had no air staff remaining from 1979 in 2001 to tell them about the last time they felt the need to self-censor.