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CULTURE DIGEST: Stern sheds restrictions, moves to satellite

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Howard Stern has long battled with the Federal Communications Commission over the content of his racy talk show, and now the so-called “shock jock” is making plans to disregard FCC regulations altogether by taking his show to satellite radio — an emerging medium that is free of the decency restrictions that govern AM and FM radio.

Citing constant complaints from the government and “religious fanatics,” Stern announced Oct. 6 he will move from commercial radio giant Infinity Broadcasting to Sirius Satellite Radio starting in January 2006.

“I have to get away from all these restrictions,” Stern said, according to The New York Times. “Between the government and the religious fanatics, they are ruining what has been exciting about radio.”

Since 1990, radio stations carrying Stern’s popular show have been fined more than $2 million, The Times said. In April, the FCC leveled $495,000 in fines against six stations that are part of Clear Channel Communications Inc. for broadcasting “repeated, graphic and explicit sexual descriptions” from Stern’s show. Clear Channel, the country’s largest radio chain, promptly removed Stern from its stations.

In addition to the freedom Stern will have with Sirius, he will also be paid $100 million a year for five years, compared to the $20 million a year he currently makes with Infinity. But he will give up a substantial number of listeners, dropping from 12 million to Sirius’ 600,000 current listeners.

But Stern is certain he will be the cause of a mass departure of listeners from conventional radio to satellite radio, which is comparable to network television broadcasting versus cable channels such as HBO.

“Satellite radio became a business today,” he said upon announcing his move, according to USA Today. “When radio’s biggest star voluntarily takes himself off terrestrial radio and an empire, you know it’s the real deal. I’m saying to the medium, I’m saying to the industry, I’m saying to my fellow broadcasters, ‘We do have a choice.'”

The rapper Eminem said satellite radio’s looser restrictions prompted him to become a host of shows for Sirius to begin later this year, according to The Times. And New York radio personalities Opie & Anthony, who were taken off the air in 2002 for broadcasting commentary of a couple having sex in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, have signed on to satellite radio.

‘CHOOSE LIFE’ PLATES SIDELINED — Abortion rights activists are still fighting against specialty license plates that say, “Choose Life,” after the plates have been allowed in states like Louisiana and Florida but denied in states like South Carolina and Tennessee.

Last month, U.S. District Judge Todd Campbell said Tennessee’s Choose Life plate was unconstitutional because it promotes only one side of the abortion debate. Campbell deemed it “viewpoint discrimination” and said the same assessment would apply to a pro-choice plate.

Like many states, Tennessee offers a variety of specialty plates, such as the “Animal Friendly” plate to benefit the Humane Society or the plate to “Preserve and Protect” Great Smoky Mountains National Park. But the state’s Democratic governor said in response to the Choose Life ruling that a review of the license plate program is in order.

“I think the court has been very clear that there are forms of political speech they’re not going to permit on the plates,” Gov. Phil Bredesen said, according to AP. “So I think it’s an opportunity for us to step back and take a look at how we’re doing this.”

MICHAEL W. SMITH MAKES ACTING DEBUT — Contemporary Christian music legend Michael W. Smith is branching out into the realm of acting, starring in a feature film called “The Second Chance” about two passionate pastors who are completely different.

Smith plays a white and well-to-do pastor who is comfortable in his music ministry at a media-savvy suburban mega-church, according to an Oct. 6 news release, while actor Jeff Carr plays a street-smart African-American who ministers to the gang members, teen mothers and drug addicts of the urban Second Chance.

The film follows the two pastors as they are forced to minister together in a tough neighborhood where there is no boundary between the streets and the sanctuary, the release said. The two men must use their common faith to overcome the prejudices that divide them.

Preliminary filming for the movie began Sept. 29 in Nashville, Tenn., and will continue during the month of October. The film is set for a fall 2005 release.

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  • Erin Curry