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KCRW Fires Loh Over Obscenity

California

March 04, 2004|Greg Braxton | Times Staff Writer

Sandra Tsing Loh's commentaries on KCRW-FM (89.9) bear little resemblance to the overtly outrageous routines that led to Bubba the Love Sponge's firing last week. But after she uttered a four-letter obscenity on the air Sunday, Loh joined the Florida shock jock in the ranks of radio personalities who have had their shows yanked off the air.

Loh, an author and actress whose monologues have been a fixture on KCRW for six years, was terminated for using a strong obscenity during her prerecorded segment that aired twice Sunday morning. The decision puts the public radio station better known for news and adventurous music programs incongruously in company with commercial radio powerhouse Clear Channel, which dropped shock jock Howard Stern from six stations last week.

The station's General Manager Ruth Seymour called Loh on Monday to inform her that she had been fired, effective immediately. In a phone interview Wednesday, Seymour said the use of the curse word violated federal broadcast law and the station's policy on language.

Seymour also said Loh's firing was a precautionary measure to show the station has distanced itself from Loh in case the FCC investigates the matter. Federal officials had not contacted KCRW as of Wednesday, Seymour said.

The fact that Loh used the word during a taped segment -- as opposed to a live broadcast -- made it "much more egregious," Seymour added.

"The actual use of the word can't be used in any way on our air," she said. "It has nothing to do with the Super Bowl or Howard Stern or anything like that. It's illegal."

Loh said Wednesday that she "never would have dreamed something like this would have happened."

"I'm heartbroken, and I'm angry. I've always thought of KCRW as a place of fresh air, a station that stood for free speech and independent thought. And I never intended that word to go on the air. It was a total mistake."

She said she told her engineer, Mario Diaz, to bleep the word before the commentary aired.

She added, "I suppose the sensitivity is really heightened because of the current atmosphere. Everyone is terrified."

The station's policy on program content states that inappropriate language may not be used on the air. "The only time actionable language is permitted on KCRW," the policy says, is in a "news actuality," the radio equivalent of a quotation in a printed story.

"If a programmer violates this policy, management will cancel the program and end the relationship with the programmer," the policy adds.

Loh will remain as a periodic commentator on public radio's "Marketplace," which is produced at USC and is heard locally on KCRW as well as Pasadena City College public radio station KPCC-FM (89.3). "We're happy with her, and this incident won't affect her standing on our program," "Marketplace" executive producer J.J. Yore said. "We're sorry this is happening."

KCRW and KPCC are affiliates of National Public Radio, but are owned and operated independently. "The Loh Life" has aired solely on KCRW.

News of the termination came the same day that the House Energy and Commerce Committee voted to approve legislation raising the maximum fine for a broadcaster or on-air personality for an indecent broadcast to $500,000 per violation.

Loh's commentary centered on a Bette Midler concert at Staples Center in which Loh's husband, a musician, performed with the singer.

With her characteristic jerky style of rushed speech and emphasized words, Loh said she was so excited to see her husband so close to Midler that she wanted to have sex with him.

Nic Harcourt, KCRW's music director and host of its weekday show "Morning Becomes Eclectic," called Loh's firing "a one-off thing," and not the fallout from a climate that has seen shock jocks Stern and Bubba the Love Sponge taken off stations for ribald talk.

KCRW has long had a policy about the song lyrics that get on its airwaves, he noted.

"We always try to be careful with the music," Harcourt said. "The thing about KCRW, because we're a free-form station, the occasional thing slips through. The onus is on the DJ to be aware of what they're playing.

"Sandra, for whatever reason, stepped over the line," he said. "People are aware you shouldn't say that. It's a really unfortunate mistake."

Seymour said she hopes Loh finds another radio home.

"But you know, being part of the broadcast medium implies a certain responsibility," Seymour said.

"And if Sandra says she's angry, how do you think we at the station feel? Apart from endangering the license, we could well incur a heavy fine. We really are serious with her, that with such a trivial, self-serving piece, she put us all in danger."

Times staff writers Lynn Smith and Richard Fausset, and contributor Steve Carney contributed to this report.

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