It's 8 a.m. Do you know where your children are?
If they're listening to "The Mark and Brian Show" on KLOS-FM (95.5) or to "The Howard Stern Show" on KLSX-FM (97.1), this is what they might have heard in the last few months during morning drive-time:
\o7 Monday, Oct. 21: Mark and Brian interrupt Chuck Moshontz's news report about Oliver North apparently implicating former President Ronald Reagan in the Iran/Contra scandal to go live with the sounds of a caller purportedly having an orgasm with her husband. When she finishes, Mark and Brian ask the couple if they could induce another one after the news. They say yes, the news continues and then she is heard again, apparently having another orgasm.
Friday, Dec. 13: In what is continually referred to as a Christmas party, Stern's show features a marathon spanking session. Women described as dancer\f7 -\o7 strippers come into the studio and are said to disrobe. Howard supposedly leans one of them over his lap and spanks her. Then two male dancers come in, apparently take off their pants and are said to be spanked by Robin Quivers, Stern's sidekick. Then another woman, Rachel, comes in and spanks Howard--although he claims to have left his underwear on, explaining\f7 , \o7 "I'm a married man." Rachel says she wants to try something with one of the other women. One volunteers. Howard asks her if she is a lesbian. "No, but I'm willing to partake if it's going to be fun," she says. From the comments and hoots of amazement that follow, listeners are led to believe that Rachel spreads a cream\f7 -\o7 like concoction on the other woman's breasts and licks it off.
Among casual station hoppers, industry veterans and even die-hard fans of these morning personalities, the reaction to much of what is being broadcast during morning drive time is the same: How do they get away with this stuff?
At a time of widespread protests by conservative organizations against a range of artistic endeavors, radio has remained unscathed. Indeed, radio programming seems to be going further than ever, pushing the envelope of acceptability--not merely with graphic discussions of all types of sexual behavior and bodily functions but also with occasional live "demonstrations."
"What you basically have is sex radio, much like X-rated movies," observed Ken Minyard, host of the popular "Ken and Barkley Show," which airs weekday mornings on KABC-AM (790) in competition with the shows hosted by KLSX's Stern and KLOS' Mark Thompson and Brian Phelps. "You can do things on radio now that you couldn't have done at all 10 or 15 years ago."
Industry consultants say this style of programming--a few notches beyond what passed as "shock radio" a few years ago--is growing in popularity around the country. Its presence in Southern California intensified with the arrival of Stern's controversial show last July, which seems to have spurred Mark and Brian to step up the frequency and explicitness of their sexual material.
Some listeners object and have voiced their complaints to KLSX and KLOS in letters and phone calls. But there has been no major outcry or organized protest.
"I get the impression from people I talk to in the radio industry--and not just in L.A.--that there is a bit of amazement that people on radio are getting away with as much as they are," said Ron Rodriguez, managing editor of Radio and Records, an industry trade publication. "There seems to be a trend toward racier radio in the mornings. And certainly the more successful Howard Stern becomes, the more he's going to be emulated."
Stern, whose 10-year-old show originates from New York, is the top-rated morning personality there; in Los Angeles, KLSX's ratings have jumped from 21st to 14th place since he was piped in. Thompson and Phelps' KLOS show, meanwhile, has been the No. 1 morning radio program for nearly two years.
"It's hard sometimes to compete with somebody (performing oral sex) on the other station," said Rick Dees, formerly L.A.'s top-rated morning deejay, whose program on KIIS-FM (102.7) also goes up against Stern and Mark and Brian. "It's 'poo poo ca ca' humor. I listen to it and say, 'Gee, there's so much more to talk about, so much more to make people laugh.' "
Though the raunchy segments in each of the shows are only one aspect of several hours of banter, comic bits, sociopolitical commentary and just plain silliness, they can come at any time, without warning, and for prolonged periods (more frequently on Stern's show than on Mark and Brian's). Not all of the material may be for real--even the hosts can't vouch for the truthfulness of what their callers are saying or doing--but the impact is the same.
"You wonder what the effect might be if 12- or 13-year-old kids are listening to the stuff that goes on--the sexism and the exploitation of sex to the degree they have it, the blatant language," Minyard said. "There is definitely a question there and it's a problem."