Jul 17, 2012

January 1970: Garcia on the Radio


WASHINGTON, D.C. - The FCC, newly-toughened watchdog for the public interest, convenience, necessity, and morality, has ruled that Jerry Garcia was "obscene" on radio and slapped a fine on an educational FM station for broadcasting an interview with him.
This despite the fact that the FCC received not so much as one complaint from a listener about the show, aired on WUHY-FM in Philadelphia on Sunday night, January 4th.
The decision, handed down April 3rd on a 4-2 vote, says a lot of things for the first time, and, if it stands unchallenged, it may well affect other small stations, in the worst ways.
WUHY was shot down for a show called Cycle II, a one-hour show described by the station as "concerned with the avant-garde movement in music, publications, art, film, personalities, and other forms of social and artistic experimentation."
The January 4th show featured a taped interview of Jerry Garcia, recorded in Garcia's hotel room in New York the day before.
In its decision ("Notice of Apparent Liability"), the Commission charged that "his comments were frequently interspersed with the words 'fuck' and 'shit,' used as adjective, or simply as an introductory expletive or substitute for the phrase 'et cetera.'"
The FCC listed examples:
"Shit man.
"I must answer the phone 900 fuckin' times a day, man.
"Right, and it sucks it right fucking out of ya, man.
"That kind of shit.
"It's fuckin' rotten, man. Every fuckin' year.
"...this shit.
"...and all that shit...
"...and shit like that..."
However, in an appendix to the decision, larger quotes were cited, making clear that the "patently offensive" words, as the FCC called them, were hardly noticeable. The subject was ecology:
"For example, I have friends who I've known since like they started college, you know, and like now it's eight years later and they're all called Ph.Ds - stuff like that. It's just coming out in those terms... I know quite a few of these people who have switched their major in the last year to Ecology and that kind of shit, because it's like really important right now. It's a big emergency going on. Okay, so - and their approach to it is generally to get together on the level of bodies of influence - that is to say, governmental shit, you know, things like that business and so forth, and stuff like that."
This kind of rap, the FCC ruled, is "patently offensive to millions of listeners." Shit...
The FCC fixed a $100 "forfeiture" on WUHY for the crime, citing its obscenity statutes. Specifically, the FCC called the broadcasted material "indecent," using the argument that if Garcia was allowed to say "shit" without penalty, then Top 40 jocks could start saying things like "listen to this motherfucker" (FCC's example). This was, the Commission noted, the first time a station was being punished for violating obscenity laws, rather than the usual "not adhering to its stated policies."
The FCC wouldn't have known about the Garcia interview except for having received letters about Cycle's immediate predecessor, Feed, a hip-oriented one-hour show that ran on Sunday nights for a year and a half until last November. The FCC didn't notify WUHY of any complaints, but instead chose to monitor the station instead. In effect, the Commission, sitting in Washington listening to an aircheck, decided "community standards" for Philadelphia and WUHY's audience. [. . . .]
[WUHY manager Mason Shaw said the station] "would have responded to listener complaints or inquiries about this. But there were none."

(by Ben Fong-Torres, from Rolling Stone, April 30 1970) - excerpt

1 comment:

  1. A few paragraphs not concerning Garcia were omitted.

    I wonder if Garcia was a bit disgruntled with his New York visit during this interview...the brief quotes sure sound crabby!

    As far as I know, no tape of the interview survives. But it's interesting that the FCC transcribed it (and even included some "larger quotes" in their decision), so perhaps a copy of it is still sitting in the FCC or WUHY archives somewhere!

    I'm reminded of a frequent occurrence in ancient history, when a lost book is known only by the brief random quotes from it by other authors, and we have to reconstruct what it was about from the quotes...

    With that in mind, this was a pretty funny little portrait of Garcia, for me.
    And I'm still waiting for radio DJs to say "listen to this motherfucker!"