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Shock jock is a slang term used to describe a type of radio broadcaster (sometimes a disc jockey) who attracts attention using humor that a significant portion of the listening audience may find offensive. The term is usually used pejoratively to describe provocative or irreverent broadcasters whose mannerisms, statements and actions are typically offensive to many listeners.

Contents

Background

The idea of a performer or entertainer who breaks taboos or adopts a career in the realm of the currently offensive is not a new one. Despite insistences of some decency activists, there are few eras of history in which there have not existed notoriously offensive performers (Petronius, Benny Bell, Le P├ętomane, Redd Foxx and Lenny Bruce for example). Shock jocks, as the current incarnation of this phenomenon, entered the American radio scene during the 1970s, and are still common into the 2000s.

Shock jocks may be informally identified by a number of common behaviors or conditions. Many such broadcasters revel in the fact (or belief) that a good portion of their listening audience consists of people who strongly dislike them; which of course, is an ironic but welcome boost to the broadcaster's ratings.

Shock jocks also tend to push the envelope of decency in their market, and generally show a lack of regard for communications regulations (e.g. FCC rules in the U.S.) regarding content. It is not at all uncommon for a shock jock to be fined by regulators for "going too far"; in fact, some broadcasters consider such an incident as a "badge of honor". Also, such incidents are typically followed by a media circus, which of course provides more promotion for the broadcaster and brings more attention to their antics.

Popular envelope-pushing areas for shock jocks include sexual (especially kinky) and/or scatalogical (toilet humour) topics, or just unabashed innuendo.

Many shock jocks have been fired as a result of such punishments as regulatory fines, loss of advertisers, or simply social and political outrage. On the other hand, it is also not uncommon for such broadcasters to be quickly re-hired by another station or network.

Shock jocks in the U.S. are under greater pressure since the introduction of the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act of 2005, which increased the fines on radio stations for violating decency guidelines by nearly 20 times.

Famous incidents

Some major popularized incidents involving shock jocks:

  • February 1974: Larry Lujack of WCFL Chicago responded to a fan's letter on-air by stating he'd play more Jim Croce records "when Croce goes back into the studio and makes some more." (Croce had died in a Louisiana plane crash five months earlier.) The resulting protests from Croce fans led to an apology and an on-air admission by a Lujack a few days later that the statement was inappropriate.
  • July 12, 1979: WLUP Chicago disc jockeys Steve Dahl and Garry Meier staged "Disco Demolition Night" at Comiskey Park between games of a scheduled Chicago White Sox-Detroit Tigers double-header. Fans were granted admittance to the games for 98 cents if they also donated unwanted disco records to be blown up at Comiskey's second base during the event. After the records were blown up, fans spilled onto the playing field and rioted, causing the White Sox to forfeit the scheduled second game.
  • October 1993: Mancow made national headlines while working for radio station KYLD in San Francisco, California. At the time, a story had been circulated that President Clinton had tied up traffic on an LAX runway for over an hour because of a haircut on Air Force One. Mancow staged a parody of this incident on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge during rush hour, using vans to block the westbound lanes of the bridge, while his sidekick Jesus "Chuy" Gomez got a haircut. Muller was convicted of a felony by a San Francisco Municipal Court and sentenced to three years probation, ordered to perform 100 hours of community service and fined $500, while KYLD settled a lawsuit filed by a bridge commuter for $1.5 million.
  • April 1995: On the Don Imus radio show, US Senator Al D'Amato put on a comical Asian accent and criticized judge Lance Ito for personal interest in allowing television cameras in the O.J. Simpson murder trial; Imus was criticized for keeping D'Amato on air because of the shock value of the senator's comments.
  • September 2000: New Zealand radio personality Iain Stables appeared in court in a Superman outfit over a stunt where Stables successfully had his workmates strip searched at Los Angeles International Airport. Stables called the security at Los Angeles Airport, stating he was from Interpol New Zealand, and he believed that certain passengers on a flight from Auckland to Los Angeles were carrying Kiwi eggs up their rear cavities, these passengers being Stables's work colleagues at The Edge FM. He was fined $1,100 for the incident.
  • February 27 2001: Bubba the Love Sponge had a pig castrated and killed on the air. Bubba was charged with animal cruelty, but was acquitted.
  • June 12 2001: Dallas-Fort Worth based radio duo Kramer and Twitch of KEGL told listeners that Britney Spears and then boyfriend Justin Timberlake were involved in an auto accident, leaving Spears dead and Timberlake in a coma. Distraught fans flooded local emergency and law enforcement agencies. The duo were fired from the station on June 18.
  • August 16 2002: Opie and Anthony sponsored a contest where the goal was to have sex in notable public places, called Sex For Sam. The contest went without a major outcry until Sex for Sam 3 after a couple had sex in a vestibule at St. Patrick's Cathedral. The resulting controversy led to Infinity Broadcasting cancelling the Opie and Anthony Show. Infinity was fined $357,500 USD for the incident.
  • December 12 2002: Porn actress Mary Carey submitted to an IQ test on the Howard Stern show. She was forced to put her head in Howard's toilet bowl after she flunked the test.
  • January 27 2004: Clear Channel was fined a total of $755,000 USD for an airing of radio personality Bubba the Love Sponge, which included, amongst other things, a scene involving explicit sexual conversations between children's cartoon characters. Bubba was fired on February 25.
  • April 8 2004: Howard Stern's show was cancelled by Clear Channel Communications after they were fined $495,000 USD for a number of statements made during a Stern show. Stern later used his remaining market share to criticize Clear Channel and the Bush Administration, and left the public airwaves to move to satellite radio, which is not subject to the same FCC decency regulations.
  • April 9 2004: The Regular Guys of WKLS 96 Rock in Atlanta, Georgia were fired after a graphic interview with porn movie actress Devin Lane was accidentally aired over a Honda commercial. That interview was intended to be played backwards when they returned from the break, mocking the FCC indecency crackdown at the time.
  • May 12 2004: Portland, Oregon disk jockeys Marconi and Tiny played the audio portion of the video of Nick Berg's murder on their morning program several times, accompanied by music, jokes, and laughter over the scenes. The pair were fired on the same day.
  • April 4 2007: Don Imus referred to the Rutgers women's basketball team as "nappy-headed hos" on his morning radio show. On April 9, MSNBC and CBS Radio suspended Imus from his radio and television shows for two weeks, and MSNBC canceled its simulcast of "Imus in the Morning" on April 11; Imus was fired from CBS Radio the following day.
  • May 11 2007: The Dog House with JV and Elvis was cancelled by CBS Radio after they re-broadcast a prank call to a Chinese restaurant in which the caller placed an order for "shrimp flied lice", claimed he was a student of kung fu, and compared menu items to employees' body parts in an exaggerated accent. JV and Elvis were also fired.
  • May 15 2007: XM suspended Opie and Anthony for 30 days after a homeless man making a guest appearance described how he would like to have a threesome with the United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and First Lady Laura Bush, and abused Queen Elizabeth II.
  • October 18 2008: (UK) BBC radio 2 host Russell Brand was fired for calling Fawlty Tower's Andrew Sachs house and leaving an answering machine message claiming that he had had sex with his granddaughter (in the derogatory sense) and that he should kill himself as a result.
  • July 29 2009: On his morning breakfast radio show, Kyle Sandilands provoked outrage when his "Lie Detector" segment featured a 14 year old girl who, when quizzed on her sexual history by her mother, broke down, revealing she had been raped at the age of 12. Kyle then blew this off saying her mother meant any intercourse other than rape. The show was suspended for one week.
  • September 8 2009: Kyle Sandilands provoked further outrage three days after his suspension expired when he made a slur about Jenny Craig ambassador Magda Szubanski, saying she could have lost more weight in a concentration camp. Sandilands was suspended for ten days without pay, and after a review on September 18, had his suspension extended by three weeks. Sandilands returned to air on October 8, apologized for the incident, and was blessed by a priest at the start of the show.

Noted shock jocks

Evocative or outspoken broadcasters have been branded with the "shock jock" label across all ends of the spectrum of radio (and TV) broadcasters. Most range from the sexually indecent to the politically offensive.

Further reading

  • Rory O'Connor, Shock Jocks: Hate Speech and Talk Radio: America's Ten Worst Hate Talkers and the Progressive Alternatives, AlterNet Books, 2008.

External links








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