Racism gave way to rock 'n' roll months ago in Dodge City, Kan., but the reverberations of KTTL-FM's hate programming were still being heard across the country this week, following a Federal Communications Commission decision not to interfere with bigot broadcasting.
Dodge City's KTTL-FM, which rose to national notoriety two years ago after regularly airing the anti-black, anti-Semitic preachings of two openly racist radio preachers, is now Top 40 KMCS or "the Max."
According to Bob Kirby, general manager of Dodge City's rival rock station, KDCK-FM, the "Max" has undergone some tough economic times lately. Testimony before the FCC indicates that the station's owners violated Kansas state tax law, and Broadcast Music Inc. is allegedly investigating the station for failure to pay radio broadcast licensing fees.
The former KTTL-FM's operating license remains vulnerable to economic reality if nothing else.
The broadcast group that originally challenged the station two years ago on the grounds that station owners Charles and Nellie Babbs allowed racist broadcasting may still raise the issue of the Babbs' general good or bad character with the FCC.
But the issue of hate broadcasting has been ruled inadmissible as grounds for denying the couple a license. The commissioners voted 5-0 on Friday that such broadcasts fall within the First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech.
Actually, the paramilitary mix of tax resistance and racial hate-mongering preached over the Babbs' station by radio ministers William P. Gale and James P. Wickstrom was last aired over the station more than a year ago. Wickstrom's documented broadcast boast that "every rabbi in Los Angeles will die within 24 hours" if the anti-Semitic demands of his flock were not met, hasn't been heard on Kansas radio since 1983, according to Kirby.
But Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, was not appeased Tuesday. Cooper told The Times that the FCC's ruling not only invited more racist broadcasts, but also flew in the face of the FBI's stepped-up surveillance and arrests of neo-Nazi hate groups.
"Back in 1969 a guy by the name of Warren E. Burger who had not yet been appointed to the Supreme Court ruled that a Jackson, Miss., radio station had, and I quote, 'violated its public trust' by interjecting racial comment in its programming," Cooper said.
"What I find absolutely astounding is that the FCC commissioners either don't read the newspapers or don't stay in touch with other branches of the federal government. The FBI has spent the last year tracking down these people. They are a clear and present danger.
"Obviously, it's no secret that the trend over the past couple of years has been deregulation, but deregulation and irresponsibility are two different things.
"Everyone is certainly in favor of the First Amendment, but I hope we're still drawing the line at pornography and blatant racist attacks. I just wish the FCC would have contacted Mr. (FBI director William) Webster so they would have had a better idea of the violent nature of the threat."
Kirby said the Babbs' Cattle Country Broadcasting dropped its automated all-country format in November. The couple were also divorced at that time and the station is now operated by Charles Babbs, Kirby said. Several attempts by The Times to contact Babbs were unsuccessful Tuesday.
Rich Trank, a producer of a weekly half-hour public affairs radio show for the Wiesenthal Center, said a May 12 program will deal with the KTTL decision. The program, "Page One," airs locally over KMGG-FM (105.9) at 5:30 a.m. Sundays.
Trank said that "Page One" used to reach Dodge City until about two weeks ago when station KAKZ-FM in Wichita dropped the program. "Page One" is broadcast over 40 U.S. stations, he said.
"The whole thing is pretty much over with as far as the townspeople are concerned," Kirby said.
According to Kirby, the only other stations operating in this Kansas city of 20,000 are KDCK's sister station, KGNO-AM; a National Public Radio affiliate, and KEDD-AM, which is owned by former Kansas governor and one-time Democratic presidential candidate Alf Landon.