I’ve had my “Chuck returns to college radio” stint for the past 18 months, and it’s been a total blast. The return of the Nightowl Radio Show is a chance to return to one of my “happy places” in college life – a place where I felt like I wasn’t an outsider or an outcast or a misfit.
Now, since my return to the station, I’ve had a wonderful time playing songs and telling stories. But here’s the thing. Sometimes the songs have some language in them that – well – has some problematic lyrics that either would violate FCC rules, or violate specific norms.
I shall explain.
A song like the Nails’ “88 Lines About 44 Women” has two “shits” and one “fuck” in the lyrics, and the record company that sent the song to WHCL back in the day never provided a clean radio copy for broadcast. At the time, we had to make our own edit by superimposing a drum snare over the offending words.
So yeah, with my show airing at 7pm Eastern time, there’s no way I can play anything that even name-checks a George Carlin routine.
But it’s not just songs with those seven words in them. I’ve also tried to find clean versions (or made my own, when possible) of tracks like Elvis Costello’s “Oliver’s Army,” in reference to Costello using the compound of “one less white nigger.” Yeah. It was a problematic lyric in the 1970’s, and it isn’t any less problematic today.
So songs with that word don’t get played on my show, or they get edited so that the word isn’t used. You have a problem with that? Tough.
Same thing with the word “retard.” If you have a song that uses that slur in your lyrics, you’ve got no chance for a spin on my show. Trust me. Eleven years ago, I called out a fellow Times Union blogger for dropping that slur in his blog, and excoriating him for using it as a “I know people, so it’s okay to use it” excuse.
But now, back to the point of our blog today.
This Friday, I’ve got Arlo Guthrie’s classic story-song “Alice’s Restaurant” lined up. All 18:30 of it. You know, the story about two counter-culture dudes dumping trash in a ravine, getting caught by the cops, arrested, and then later using that arrest to escape military service? Yeah, that story.
Well, near the end of the song, Arlo suggests that those who wish to avoid the draft should go to their local draft board and sing the refrain of “Alice’s Restaurant” to the draft board examiner. Well, let me quote Arlo at this point.
“One person, just one person does it they may think he’s really sick and they won’t take him. And if two people, two people do it, in harmony, they may think they’re both faggots and they won’t take either of them.”
Yeah, sorry, no. I’m bleeping out the word “faggots.”
“Faggot” is a slur against gays, and that word has no place in our modern society. And it doesn’t need to be glorified as part of a song lyric. So when I play “Alice’s Restaurant” on the radio, just be prepared for a tonal bleep at that point in the song.
See, I’ve got plenty of reasons for bleeping out that word. I find the term “faggot” offensive. And I also find it offensive that people will say, “On, it’s okay, ‘fag’ is another term for a cigarette.” Right, you’re calling two gay men cigarettes. No, you’re not.
And another thing. WHCL has to operate under the guidelines of two separate organizations – the Federal Communications Commission and the Hamilton College trustees. It’s best not to push the issue when it comes to songs with questionable lyrics or content.
Let’s put it this way. I don’t normally play ultra-lengthy songs on the Nightowl Radio Show to begin with. I mean, you throw in a 22-minute version of Kraftwerk’s “Autobahn” maybe follow it up with the first side of Mike Oldfield’s ‘Tubular Bells,” and then your hour is done, thanks for playing. So putting on a song that’s as long as the gap in the Watergate tapes is already breaking boundaries for me.
But in the end, I realize that although this is my show, I’m not broadcasting it on my personal platform. I’m doing this as a guest of my old college radio station and those who listen to it. And I have to be personally respectable and responsible to those listeners and operators.
Because the last thing I need right now in my life is to lose my show, and have twenty seven eight-by-ten color glossy pictures with the circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was to be used as evidence against my broadcast.
If you know what I mean.