Shock-jock Stern taken off airwaves in 'decency' crackdown

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Howard Stern, America's most notorious shock-jock DJ, has been pulled off the air by the nation's largest radio station network as part of an apparent crack-down on sexually explicit and politically incorrect broadcasting.

Clear Channel Communications said it had decided to axe Mr Stern, one of the country's most popular radio presenters, after his show on Wednesday in which he interviewed Rick Solomon, the ex-boyfriend of Paris Hilton, the hotel heiress. The pair famously featured in a homemade sex video that appeared on the internet, and during the programme that discussed the video a caller to the show used a racial slur.

In a statement, the Texas-based network's president John Hogan, said: "Clear Channel drew a line in the sand today with regard to protecting our listeners from indecent content, and Howard Stern's show blew right through it. It was vulgar, offensive, and insulting, not just to women and African Americans but to anyone with a sense of common decency."

Clear Channel, which owns 1,200 stations across the US, appears to be cleaning up its act ahead of tougher federal regulations over indecency in broadcasting. Executives from broadcasters ABC, Fox, NBC and Pax, as well as Clear Channel, yesterday testified before the House Energy and Commerce telecommunications sub-committee. The committee has recommended increasing the maximum fine for indecency from $27,500 (£14,700) to $275,000 in the wake of the controversy surrounding the exposure of Janet Jackson's breast during the Super Bowl half-time show on 1 February.

Mr Stern's suspension is the second time in two days that Clear Channel has acted to protect its reputation and pre-empt federal action. On Tuesday it fired a DJ known as "Bubba the Love Sponge", whose show had previously received a record fine from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) after a discussion of sex and drugs that the commission said was "designed to pander to, titillate and shock listeners".

But Mr Stern has not been silenced. His radio show is distributed to dozens of radio stations by its owner Infinity Broadcasting and yesterday he remained completely unapologetic. "I could blow my stack," he told listeners. "To tell you the truth, I don't know what's going on. They are so afraid of me and what this show represents. Janet Jackson is now forgotten and I'm on the front page of every newspaper."

Mr Stern, who styles himself the "King of All Media", is no stranger to controversy, the vast majority of it deliberately created by himself to boost his publicity and lure more listeners drawn by his charmless brand of broadcasting that depends heavily on strippers and pornographic film stars for his studio guests. In his lengthy career, the broadcaster who claims up to 25 million listeners, has been dropped by numerous channels. In 1995, Infinity paid a record fine of $1.7m for violations by Mr Stern's show.

During his show on Wednesday Mr Stern asked Mr Solomon if he had engaged in anal sex and asked him about the size of his penis. At that point a caller to the programme used a racist term and asked Mr Salomon if he had ever had sex with any famous black women.

Broadcasters have been urged to clean up such acts by Michael Powell, the FCC chairman and son of the US Secretary of State, Colin. In a letter addressed to leading broadcasters, Mr Powell wrote: "True and lasting change will only be achieved if the broadcast community recommits to its public service roots and its tradition of abiding by community standards of decency."

Most commentators said yesterday that it was unlikely that Mr Stern, or other so-called shock-jocks, would change their style. Frank Wright, president of the National Religious Broadcasters, also questioned how long the concern of mainstream broadcasters would last.

"Some of this hand-wringing in public is from the very people who have brought us a rogue's gallery of shock jocks," said Mr Wright, whose association of Christian radio and TV broadcasters counts 1,700 station members.

Under FCC rules, radio stations and non-cable television channels are not permitted to air material that refers to "sexual or excretory functions" between 6 am-10pm.