“You Can’t Say Crap on the Radio”


I think the title is self-explanatory.

Unless it’s a conservative talk show, you really can’t say anything even remotely inflammatory on the radio.  Not anymore.  The FCC has rules about that, you know.

It got kind of silly for a while.  Right after the wardrobe malfunction (I still want to know how Justin Timberlake escaped the excoriation Janet Jackson got for that . . . oh, right; he’s a white man and she’s a black woman . . . forgot that for a second), everything that aired on commercial radio was scrubbed so clean it squeaked.  “Walk on the Wild Side”?  Forget it.  Tom Petty couldn’t “roll another joint” anymore.  The Who couldn’t ask “Who the fuck are you?”  Steve Miller couldn’t lament about the “funky shit goin’ down in the city.”  And Van Morrison suddenly had to stop “making love in the green grass” with his brown-eyed girl.

Editing that one line out of “Brown-Eyed Girl” was the only one that really perplexed me.  I mean, I get why songs about prostitution and drag queens might be a little offensive to some people (stupid people who don’t know a great song when they hear one, but still).  I understand you don’t want your five-year-old suddenly asking you what a joint was in the middle of the grocery store.  And, yeah, “fuck” and “shit” are not nice words (but they are useful).  I’m sure there were countless Rap songs that were suddenly either verboten, or just one bleep after another.  I could probably come up with a dozen more examples of questionable songs that got edited, and I might even be able to give you decent justifications for editing them.  But Van Morrison?

What was offensive about that song?  How could singing about being in love with someone–nice, decent, heterosexual love, probably in the missionary position–be considered the least little bit bad?  Okay, maybe they weren’t married.  But you could always lie to the kids and say they were, if you were really hardcore about “protecting” your kids from life.  It was just stupid.

Here’s the thing.  FCC rules clearly state that you can’t say certain things during certain broadcast hours, something that I think amounts to normal business hours plus prime time television.  And they make exceptions for “excited utterances” and context.  That’s the key word.  Context.  If you were listening to Dr. Ruth Westheimer, as I did for a while when I was a teenager, it was A-OK to talk about penises and clitoral stimulation.  It was a sex advice show, fer cryin’ out loud.  But don’t you dare play King Missile’s “Detachable Penis” at 3 o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon.  Even if it is funny.

The rules have relaxed somewhat over the years.  The FCC no longer gets wound up about words like “menstruation,” and flushing toilets are no longer considered either obscene or shocking (or funny, in case any sitcom writers out there still think they are).  But you still can’t say some things on the radio.

Although I think “crap” is acceptable now.  Which is good, since that’s what most stations play.