How I Lost My Radio Show

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These are tough times out there in the vast radio wasteland, what with the FCC threatening Serious and Longterm consequences for on-air personalities who take their rules of propriety in vain. For those of you scoring at home, here's a rogueís gallery of radio personalities recently dropped for on-air obscenity: Howard Stern, Bubba the Love Sponge and Sandra Tsing Loh.† †

Who? Allow me to introduce myself.† Iím a public radio commentator, a 42 year-old mini-van driving mother of two.† At the time of my firing — and I realize this may sound like a joke, a Saturday Night Live caricature of the nervous, twittering ladies of NPR but here goes . . . When fired for obscenity I was in the middle of a five-part series on knitting.† The kind of you do with yarn.

We live in surreal times, when fear of the FCC and fear of fear of the FCC swirl together to create a Perfect Media Storm. That's how a local commentator fired from a $150-a-week job can suddenly make Variety, NBC news, the Drudge Report, Reuters, the BBC, even the crawl on CNN Headline News: "RADIO COMMENTATOR SANDRA TSING LOH FIRED FOR OBSCENITY."† My supporters range from The National Review to Howard Stern.† I donít know whether my next invitation will be to the White House or to Larry Flyntís.† And then thereís the passionate outpouring of hundreds of e-mails on my behalf. I feel like Howard Dean without the vision. . . or the scream.†

Hereís what happened.† For the past six years, Iíve been doing autobiographical commentaries for KCRW in Los Angeles.†Widely regarded as L.A.ís most adventurous public radio station, KCRW is known for cutting-edge news coverage, arts coverage, and trend-setting music. When celebrities wish to discuss politics too thorny for primetime, they come to KCRW.† Israel/Palestine, Iraq, gay marriage — no one shrinks from hot-button issues.† Itís considered a bastion of free speech and independent thinking. Which was why I had no clue Iíd be fired for the following segment from my show:


My husband, my soul mate, my ROOMMATE of 15 yearshe sleeps LATE, doesnít LISTEN, moves my STUFF around. . . But he DOES play guitar for Bette Midler on her MASSIVE new STAGE showthere are TIMES when he STANDS within five FEET of her!. . . so I guess I have to (bleep should have gone here) him.† Because you know what?† Itís finally DAWNED on me, this tour, that Bette Midler. . .

Unfortunately the bleep — intended as a fleeting comic throwaway inspired by the famously blue-talking diva — did not happen.† My KCRW engineer — still employed at the station — forgot.† And this moment became what Ruth Seymour, my station manager, would describe to Reuters as my very own "Janet Jackson performance piece."†

Mineís not a pure FCC obscenity story.†Yes, the expletive is classified by the FCC as "strong" since it was used as a verb — as opposed to Bonoís euphoric Golden Globe exclamation last year , "Itís f___ing brilliant," which is considered OK because, well, he was just saying it for emphasis and not talking about an act of, um, love. But my outburst was never supposed to make it on the air. It was not part of a lewd series.† The FCC never even contacted the station to complain. KCRW called my firing a "preemptive distancing." Although they later offered me my job back, and even promised a better time slot, I declined.

While a policy of zero-tolerance regarding profanity was for my dismissal, this had not strictly been the stationís practice.† Case in point: A 2002 interview that Seymour did with Dennis Hopper regarding Andy Warhol.† While discussing the work of Helmut Newton, Hopper used the same strong obscenity I did, Ruth laughed, and it ran unbleeped.

But he's Dennis Hopper, and I'm — not. Iím a once-hip columnist on a still-hip station whose commentaries, since having children, have veered to knitting.† Iíve just been bumped from drive time to 7:25 Sunday mornings, a berth so sleepy no one even called the first time the expletive aired, enabling it — horribly — to air again two hours later.†

Yes, mine's a small, oft-told tale of inside baseball, office politics, double standards. . . but you know what?† My case also represents a troubling template for the future.†We know about Howard Stern, Bubba the Love Sponge and a Chicago DJ named "Mancow," raunch-shockmeisters all, awaiting FCC rulings. More insidious is a climate of fear so pervasive even public radio knitters are being axed.† While I wonít be sending KCRW any love letters soon, I understand their worries.† Now that the FCC has raised the fine per incident from $27,000 to $500,000, itís one slip-up and your small local station is out of business.†

†† Iíve seen the future and it is John Tesh. . . music.† Pre-recorded.

Loh is a radio commentator, writer and performer.† Her last solo show was "Sugar Plum Fairy" at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles.† Her series "The Loh Down" is heard monthly on Marketplace (PRI).