June 25th, 2010 5:33 pm | by CASEY JARMAN Music | Posted In: Columns

KPSU Gets Yanked From AM Airwaves [Updated]

Picture 4For the past 15 years, PSU radio station KPSU has been rebroadcast on evenings and weekends at 1450 KBPS, a Portland Public Schools-run AM station. The relationship between the two stations has apparently come to an end after a segment run on KPSU last night, which involved a brief discussion of "sodomy." KBPS General Manager Bill Cooper, who declined to comment via cell phone (he's currently attending a conference in Kansas City), referred us instead to his comments on the PDX Radio Message board:

"A programming note. Because of last night's on-air incident you will no longer hear KPSU programming on AM 1450 KBPS. For now, most of the airtime that had been devoted to KPSU will be programmed with music. Very soon we will begin airing a number of Portland School District programs that are currently under development.

KPSU has been aired on KBPS for over 15 years. Most of the shows on KPSU stayed within the guidelines we set for them that pertain to FCC rules, and just the common sense of what should be allowed on a school district owned radio station. Its unfortunate that a small percentage of KPSU hosts decided to "push the envelope" and air content not in keeping with our directives.

KPSU is still available for those who wish to listen by tuning into their campus low power fm at 98.1 or online at KPSU.ORG. We wish them well in their future endeavors."

The offending content, aired on a show called The Debate Hour last night around 10:55 pm, can be heard at the end of this podcast. We've done our best to transcribe the content:

"What we need to do is 'make pee illegal'," one host says.
"That, and it interferes with all the sodomy," another comments, somewhat nonsensically.
"I don't even know where that came from? What are you talking about," the other replies.
"I have a hard time...with all the sodomy," the first host continues.
"You need an anatomy lesson," a third host chimes in.
"This is a lively discussion, and I'm glad it ended in agreement," a fourth adds.
"I think we can all agree that sodomy is great, and we should do everything we can to encourage it," someone says.
"...And apparently Brendan needs a crash course in sodomy."

The rest is pretty innocuous, with the exception of a line saying that someone would "rather have sex with the horse boy," and host Aaron Baker's later comments that "I've decided that you can do anything you want as long as you have money to pay FCC fines."

We were tipped off on this whole ordeal by KPSU's Cody Austin Rich. His blog can be found here. His email read as follows:

It has come to my attention that KBPS - KPSU's parent station, that owns the license we broadcast on - just pulled the plug on our ability to broadcast. Apparently, according to the information I received, the person that runs KBPS (a notorious and vindictive man by the name of Bill Cooper) became enraged last night when there was a discussion of sodomy broadcast after 10 PM. (This discussion avoided the seven words that are forbidden by the FCC.) It should be noted that the FCC does not regulate this kind of content after 10 PM and before 6 AM. Bill merely took it upon himself to drop us, merely because he was unhappy with the kinds of things we broadcast.

KPSU will continue to air on 98.1 FM (on the PSU campus), and will stream live at kpsu.org. We will also continue to offer shows as a podcast. (You don't need up to update anything to keep receiving the shows.) But if you are tuning in at 1450 AM, you will not be able to hear us, or any KPSU show, anymore.

If you would like to contact Portland Public Schools - who own KBPS - to tell them how you feel about Bill Cooper's decision, you can call them directly at 503-916-5828, or e-mail them at pubinfo@pps.k12.or.us.

This is a very, very sad day.

At first this doesn't look like a free speech issue so much as an issue of taste, but as KBPS is a school-run station—run as a program of Benson High Polytechnic school—some might argue that point. 1450 AM is the easiest way for most listeners outside of KPSU's own limited FM broadcast signal (98.1 FM) to hear KPSU, and it would be a shame to lose the re-broadcast (on this, all sides agree). >It's unclear at this time whether KBPS had given KPSU more stringent guidelines than those that the FCC requires (i.e. avoiding the "Seven Deadly Words") (they did: see update), but we're looking into the details of the two stations' agreement and will report more on this whole mess as it plays out.

You can find out more about KBPS here, and hear KPSU online here.

UPDATE (jeez, already!?):
KPSU Program Director Devin Henke had this to say on the PDXRadio message board. Bolding is ours:

I am the Programming Director at KPSU, and I thought I'd add a few things here, for clarification. I'll ignore the reactionary posts in favor of addressing a few brief points that don't have to do with anyone's value set.

First of all, I'd like to thank Mr. Cooper for dealing with this professionally. It would have been very easy to throw all of us at KPSU under the proverbial bus while addressing this, and I thank you for your gracious post. I wish the best to KBPS as well. This parting of ways may yet prove beneficial to both our organizations.

The full broadcast of the offending program (The Debate Hour) can be heard here: http://archive.kpsu.org/node/32409
It's easy to jump to conclusions about the intentions of the commentators, especially for those who do not understand sarcasm or irony. Feel free to listen to the comments in context, and make your own judgments. I will briefly state that, having talked with the panel members on The Debate Hour several times, I can comfortably say that nobody there honestly believes that "you can do whatever you want as long as you can pay the FCC fines" in reference to our programming. That statement, unfortunately, does convey a simple fact about the presence of the FCC in most commercial radio scenarios.

In reference to Alfredo and Skybill's last comments, that isn't quite the case. PPS had given the PSU contract office a 30-day notice of their intent not to renew their contract with KPSU back on June 1st. PPS felt that the time that we were leasing could be better used promoting PPS "public outreach." We never heard about this. There are numerous steps along the bureaucratic chain where the ball may have been dropped, and my intent isn't to place blame anywhere. What I'm saying is that we're merely exiting KBPS less than one week early, so to be honest, this all feels sort of like water under the bridge at this point.

One of the aspects of our contract with KBPS that caused a lot of friction was the "obscenity clause." This was a clause in our contract stating that, in addition to FCC compliance, KPSU was expected not to broadcast anything deemed obscene by the KBPS Station Manager (Bill Cooper). This made my job as Programming Director rather tricky, and sparked some anti-censorship outrage from our DJs. All of our AM content has been held up to this entirely subjective standard. There is no way that I can tell DJs what they can and cannot say when that's defined by one man's standards. We were reduced to giving DJs vague warnings such as "just be really careful," or "don't say anything you wouldn't say in front of your grandmother." We can make armchair judgments about content after the fact, but the bottom line is that our DJs in AM timeslots have never had clear guidelines on what not to say.

But like I said, it's water under the bridge.

It's unlikely that I will follow this thread further, but I welcome any questions or comments at my email address below.


Devin James Henke
KPSU Programming Director
programming [at] kpsu [dot] org

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