Thursday, September 20, 2001

Banned-songs flap downplayed

Clear Channel says list on Internet just reflects sensitivity

By Larry Nager
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Local and national radio programmers are weeding out “insensitive” songs because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and Clear Channel Radio finds itself in the middle of an international flap over a list of “banned” songs circulated Tuesday over the Internet.

        The list includes fist-shaking rockers such as AC/DC's “Highway to Hell” as well as such peaceful ballads as John Lennon's “Imagine” and the Youngbloods' “Get Together.”

The complete list of songs at Cincinnati.Com
        As a result, Clear Channel, the nation's largest radio station owner with 1,200 radio stations, including eight in Greater Cincinnati, is being accused by news media around the world of, at best, overreaction, and at worst, censorship.

        “The fact that Clear Channel could be accused of being oversensitive is sort of a laugh,” says Pam Taylor, corporate spokeswoman for the broadcasting company that's frequently criticized for offensive on-air humor. Wednesday, she spent the day fielding questions about the list from news outlets as far away as Australia.

        “Don't believe everything you read on the Internet,” she adds. “It was one program director's suggestions on songs that could be potentially sensitive. It was never a company policy.”

        Local Clear Channel employees agree.

        “I think the rough thing is when you start hearing the word "banned' songs,” says Michael Walter, program director for Clear Channel's WEBN-FM (102.7). “There's no censorship. The key words are sensitivity in any of those titles. I don't think corporate's telling us what to play or not to play.”

        During Tuesday afternoon drive time, for example, Clear Channel's local classic rock station, WOFX-FM (92.5), played two of the songs: Bruce Springsteen's “I'm on Fire” and James Taylor's “Fire and Rain.”

        WIZF-FM music director Terri Thomas has been pulling some songs from the playlist of the non-Clear Channel urban station. You won't hear the Gap Band's “You Dropped a Bomb on Me” or the Notorious B.I.G.'s “Juicy,” which contains the line, “Blowin' up like the World Trade Center.”

        “We're a little sensitive about that,” explains Ms. Thomas.

        But rather than just pull potentially offensive songs, WIZF is “trying to flip the script,” she says. “We're trying to add more positive songs to offer some sort of soothing and comfort to people in music.”

        Listeners to WNKU-FM, Northern Kentucky University's public radio station, chose their own comfort on the Sept. 14 all-request morning program, in a peaceful playlist that included “Imagine,” as well as Ray Charles' “God Bless America.”

        But, like his colleagues in commercial radio, WNKU program manager Grady Kirkpatrick is now giving serious thought to what's played.

        “We were playing the original ""Jet Airliner,” from Paul Pena (the writer of the Steve Miller hit, also on the Clear Channel list),” he says. “We probably won't play that for a while. A3's "Woke Up This Morning (Got Myself a Gun),' that's another one. And the Clash's "Rock the Casbah,' we wouldn't play that.”

        But for the most part, he's relying on his on-air staff. “I have pretty much left the selections, as usual, to the discretion of each individual producer. What I have said is, "Balance it out in context with the times. ... We don't want everything to be down.'”

        Such close examination is “just common sense,” says Tom Taylor, who publishes the M Street Daily radio industry newsletter. “This is the same thing that anybody in the media is doing....

        “Everyone who is in the creative community is looking at what's about to come out .... You want to be sure it's not something that seems insensitive, that might upset people.”


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