Radio Censorship

In 1978 a radio station owned by Pacifica Foundation
Broadcasting out of New York City was doing a program on contemporary
attitudes toward the use of language. This broadcast occurred on a
mid-afternoon weekday. Immediately before the broadcast the station
announced a disclaimer telling listeners that the program would
include “sensitive language which might be regarded as offensive to
some.”(Gunther, 1991) As a part of the program the station decided to
air a 12 minute monologue called “Filthy Words” by comedian George
Carlin. The introduction of Carlin’s “routine” consisted of, according
to Carlin, “words you couldn’t say on the public air waves.”(Carlin,
1977) The introduction to Carlin’s monologue listed those words and
repeated them in a variety of colloquialisms:

I was thinking about the curse words and the swear words, the cuss
words and the words that you can’t say, that you’re not supposed to
say all the time. I was thinking one night about the words you
couldn’t say on the public, ah, airwaves, um, the ones you definitely
wouldn’t say, ever. Bastard you can say, and hell and damn so I have
to figure out which ones you couldn’t and ever and it came down to
seven but the list is open to amendment, and infact, has been changed,
uh, by now. The original seven words were shit, piss, fuck, cunt,
cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits. Those are the ones that will curve
your spine, grow hair on your hands and maybe, even bring us, God help
us, peace without honor, and a bourbon. (Carlin, 1977)

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A man driving with his young son heard this broadcast and reported it
to the Federal Communications Commission [FCC]. This broadcast of
Carlin’s “Filthy Words” monologue caused one of the greatest and most
controversial cases in the history of broadcasting. The case of the
FCC v. Pacifica Foundation. The outcome of this case has had a lasting
effect on what we hear on the radio.

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