The Daily Stern: Howard Stern v. Michael Powell
: Michael Powell appeared on my Ronn Owens‘ KGO Radio show in San Francisco and Howard Stern called in to give him a proper piece of his mind. Many good readers sent me a link to the stream but because they said it would go down Wednesday, I transcribed the entire Stern/Powell segment. Stories here, here, and here.
Stern went after Powell for getting his job because of his father. Powell whined “unfair.” Stern said, no, it’s fair and relevant because broadcasters who’ve devoted their lives to this industry now answer to this First Amendment hypocrite.
Stern pushed Powell on fining him and Viacom over Jackson but not fining Oprah Winfrey because she’s beloved. Powell denied saying that (his aid did say it) and said the Winfrey case is still open.
Stern called the fines and the FCC’s holding station renewals hostage “racketeering.”
At the end, Powell admitted as the conversation continued without Stern that there’s worse on other stations.
My old friend Ronn (I used to appear on his air once a month when I worked in San Francisco) blew it by cutting Stern off at the end to get to commercials. This was news and they should have gone at it for the rest of the show. The transcript:
Stern: Ronn, hi.
Owens: Is this who I think it is?
Stern: Yeah, and I want to say hi to the commissioner and a friend of mine told me the commissioner said he was going to be on the show….
The commissioner has fined me millions of dollars for things I have said and consistently avoids me and avoids me and I wonder how long he will stay on the phone with me.
Owens: Go ahead and ask your questions.
Stern: Hi, Michael, how are you?
Powell: Hi, Howard, how are you?
Stern: Does it make you nervous to talk to me?
Powell: It does not….
Stern: All right, so well, I’ve got about ten zillion questions for you because you honestly are an enigma to me.
The first question being: How did you get your job? It is apparent to most of us in broadcasting that your father got you your job. And you kind of sit there:
You’re the judge, you’re the arbiter, you’re the one who tells us what we can and can’t say on the air and yet I really don’t think you’re qualified to be the head of the commission. Do you deny that your father got you this job?
Powell: Well, I would deny it exceedingly. You can look at my resume if you want, Howard. I’m not ashamed of it and I think it justifies my existence. I was chief of staff of the antitrust division, I’m an attorney, I was a clerk on the court of the United States I was a private attorney I have the same credentials that virtually anyone who sits in my position does and I think it’s a little unfair that just because I happen to have a famous father and other public officials don’t that you make the assumption that is the basis on which I sit in my position.
Owens: Caller already asked this question so move on….
Stern: So out of all the people that sit on the commission, you were moved to the head of the class. I don’t buy your explanation but OK.
You know, the thing that amazes me about you is, you continually fine me but you’re afraid to go to court with me and I’ll explain myself if you give me a second:
Fine after fine came and we tried to go to court with you to find out about obscenity and what your line was and whether our show was indecent, which I don’t think it is. And you do something really sneaky behind the scenes. You continue to block Viacom from buying new stations until we pay those fines.
You are afraid to go court. You are afraid to get a ruling time and time again.
When will you allow this to go to court and stop practicing your form of racketeering that you do by making stations pay up or you hold up their license renewal?
Powell: First of all, that’s flatly false.
Stern: It’s not false. It’s true.
Powell: I’m afraid it is. There’s no reason why Viacom or any other company who feels that they have been wrongly fined can’t sue us in court. We have no basis whatsoever to prevent them from going to court.
Stern: You’re lying. I’ve lived through your fines, Michael. And Mel Karmazin came to me one day and said, Howard, we’re gonna have to pay up some sort of cockamame (sp?) bunch of fines that we don’t we’re wrong because we can’t get our paperwork done. We are finding it increasingly difficult to boy radio stations. I know you’re not telling the truth. And I question why you are selected to be one who is the FCC commissioner….
I’m going to Sirius satellite radio….
Owens: That’s the question I was going to ask. Now he’s going to go to satellite. One of the things that I read is that there are people who said cable TV, satellite radio, that ought to fall under the aegis of the FCC that content there…
Stern: Nobody’s saying that… That’s not going to happen. Michael knows that. This is the guise of the public airwaves. Michael’s a Republican He knows that the marketplace….
Owens: By the way, weren’t you appointed by Clinton?… No, no, no, no, he was appointed head of the FCC by George W. Bush.
Powell: Howard, the only thing I would ask is that if we’re going to be fair is that the commitment to the indecency provisions is not Republican or Democrat. I have Democratic colleagues on the commission that argue for license revocation… You know the Congress just debated indecency fines in the United States Congress. It passed the Senate 99 to 1. There aren’t 99 Republicans and one Democrat. It was bipartisan.
I mean, I think you have a right to be concerned about the ways that the indecency fines are done but rather than attack me personally, you can challenge the regime. But the entire commission has voted on those fines. The commission has a statute that it’s required to enforce and I think that it’s a cheap shot to say that just because my father’s famous I don’t belong in my position even though I’ve served longer than any commissioner in decades on the commission.
If you don’t think the commission should have any rights to draw limits, I think that’s a respectable position but it doesn’t happen to be the law.
Stern: Well, Michael, it’s not a cheap shot to say that your father got you your position and I’ll tell you why:
Guys like me who came from nowhere out of nothing and worked their way up and committed themselves to broadcasting and making a career of broadcasting have to answer to you.
And it is a question as to how you got to where you got to. And let’s face it: You got to where you got to, you got to the head of the class the way George W. Bush got out of the draft.
And it’s completely fair to question because you’re the guy sitting there telling me I’m guilty of saying something and Oprah Winfrey isn’t. And I wish you’d address that.
Owens: We talked about Oprah, I brought it up…
Powell: One point I would make, Howard, if I could.
Stern: Make the statement that you made originally, which was that Oprah is, I guess, a beloved figure and Howard Stern is not.
Powell: No, I don’t know when I made that statement. I think Ronn might have made that statement. I don’t think I ever made that statement. Indeed my argument was, we’re going to enforce things fairly regardless of the noteriety of the personality involved. I mean the only thing I would say, and I respect your opinion, is that you personalize it about answering to me. You’re answering to the commission if anybody. All of these fines are voted by five members, Republicans and Democrats alike, and they have been unanimous. The only dissents in these cases have been from the Democrats who argued for even stricter fines and enforcement. So I don’t mind having an honest debate about the role of the commission in indecency. I think as a public institution we’re responsible to do that. But I don’t think I have been personally the one that you’re answering to.
Stern: Of course you are. Listen, Michael, if I were a friend of George W. Bush you know he’ll give you the word and you’ll back off from me….
Owens: Well, give him the chance to say know if that’s the case.
Powell: I think that’s just ridiculous.
Stern: Why don’t you fine Oprah Winfrey, then?
Powell: That case is still at the commission. I mean, if we don’t, then you can ask that question. But until we resolve it, I don’t think it’s fair to ask that question. And to be perfectly honest, you know, I’ve been chairman for four years and I think we’ve had fines against your station twice and I don’t think we have made any particular crusade of the Howard Stern show or you.
Stern: Yeah, OK, Michael, that’s why I’ve received the largest fines in history and I’ve said the exact, identical thing that Oprah Winfrey said and you said she’s beloved and I’m not….
Owens: Howard, I got some bills to pay. I’m thrilled you called.
Stern: Ronn, wait a second, let me say one last thing:
I invite Michael onto my show, which he won’t come on. Number two, I’ve been respectful, I hope there’s no sort of retribution as a result of my phone call, which I believe Michael’s capable of. I’ve been the victim of it. You can call me crazy, you can call me nuts, Michael knows what I’m talking about. I’ve been slammed. I’ve been not allowed to go to court over this thing and prove my innocence and I don’t think a court would have found me indecent at all. I’m not here to set upt he commissioner. I called because a friend of mine told me two hours ago that Michael Powell was going to be there and there’s about ten zillion questions and maybe you’ll ask this after I get off the phone:
Janet Jackson — do you really think that…
Owens: We talked about it. Next question.
Stern: What do you mean next question?
Owens: Because I asked him about Janet Jackson, pointing out the absurdity that if you’re going to get upset about anything it’s the ripping off of the bra, what’s the big deal about the nipple.
Stern: Not only that why would you blame Viacom for Janet Jackson going up there ripping off her shirt at a live event and then not fine people for using the F word and the S word during live events. What’s the difference? You really think that Les Moonves sat in a room and conspired with Janet Jackson….?
Powell: Can I answer part of that? …
Owens: Answer that and then, Howard, honestly, I got to go.
Stern: Why do you have to go, Ronn?
Owens: Because they’re paying for this thing and I’ve already cut out one commercial cluster…. Let him answer the question then.
Powell: Just two quick things. I don’t think we’ve been inconsistent. He says we do Janet Jackson but we let people say the F word. One of the most controversial decisions this year was we let Bono say the F word … I think we have been consisten across that line. Second what the order found on Viacom: Viacom is a big media conglomerate and it includes MTV and MTV produced the programming and it was our conclusion after investigating that it was not just a sort of passive…
Stern: Michael I know I’m going to get cut off. I absolutely don’t take this personally. I don’t think you personally hate me. I think that what you are doing is dangerous to free speech. I don’t think just against me. I think things have gotten way out of control. I am not personally vindictive. I’m happy to be going to satellite radio. I welcome the move. I think it’s a sad day, though, when the markeplace no longer determines what is indecent. I think that there’s tremendous hypocrisy that you allow late at night with teenagers calling into Love Line talking about blatant sexual acts. There’s a complete double standard here when it comes to me and morning radio when it’s probably the only time of day that parents listen with their children, 6 to 10 in the morning. I think there’s a lot of inconsistencies and I’m going to ask you while you’re still in office and, who knows, Bush’ll probably win and you’ll be there a while….
Owens: Awright, on that note, Howard, let me go…
Stern: Ronn, take a good look at this with the commissioner. Ask him about the billion dollars of computer equipment and he knows what they’re talking about. And good luck to Michael Powell and good luck to all of you.
[Stern is off]
Powell: Well, you know, I think it’s interesting. Howard has an argument and his argument is that there should be no limits on what he should be able to do on the radio. And if there are going to be limits, someone’s going to have to define them and someone’s going to have to enforce them.
Owens: He’s kind of the poster child, though. The truth is that you go to some major markets and there’s going to be some morning zoo that’s going to be worse.
Powell: Oh, I think, absolutely…
Earlier posts (not a complete list) here.