When is free speech too free?
Sitting in the Bulls Radio recording studio, looking out at the Marshall Student Center, a group of volunteer disc jockeys (DJ) created a show with shock value.
The “On Ya’ll Hoes” (OYH) radio show was an uncensored, online-only broadcast in which the host, “DJ Double Gulp,” along with his co-hosts and guests, “give it to you raw,” according to the Bulls Radio website.
Both the music and talk were uncensored versions of what many may have come to expect when listening to college talk radio. However, many of the conversations crossed over into indecent territory, using explicit, derogatory and gratuitous language and, in one show, commenting on unsuspecting women in Beef ‘O’ Brady’s.
During the Jan. 26 OYH show, DJ Double Gulp and his guests said the following: “Oh yeah, s— we can f—— cuss today,” “I’ma cuss all f—— night,” “There’s two b—— right there playing pool,” “When is it appropriate to say c—?” and “n—–,” among other topics.
Even the content warning, which should caution listeners, contained explicit language.
At least two other OYH shows with similar content were recorded and accessible through the Bulls Radio website. However, all OYH podcasts were removed from the site on Monday after The Oracle sent an interview request to Bulls Radio Station Manager Brett Farrar and Programming Director Greg Johnson, who made at least one appearance on the show.
Bulls Radio is a Student Government (SG) bureau and is funded entirely by student-paid Activity and Service (A&S) fees. According to their 2010-11 budget, the station received $113,554 – $22,425 of which was allocated specifically towards “program and operating expenses” and the production of shows like OYH.
Justin “DJ Double Gulp” Seow, a senior majoring in finance and civil engineering and a Bulls Radio volunteer for a year and a half, said OYH is really more about the music than the talk.
A “mantra” that he placed at the end of his Twitter and Facebook status’, Seow said OYH eventually developed into a show after he received numerous Twitter and in-person requests from listeners on his other shows to do an online broadcast.
He said there are many offensive things online that students have the choice of listening to or not listening to – “there’s an on and off button,” he said.
“If I cared I’d stay on air, but that’s why I chose to go online where I have no rules,” Seow said. “To challenge me more, to make it more, to push it a little bit more, since there are no limits now.”
He said that by not having to censor the music, it also makes his job a little bit easier. And to those who might be offended by the content of his show, Seow said, “I’d tell them to f— off.”
“Don’t listen to it,” he said of critics. “I’m the only show that’s online only. (I’d also challenge them) to get their own show and put what they want out there.”
Roxanne Watson, a communications law professor, said Seow was correct in saying that the broadcast was not a violation of the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) regulations on radio broadcasts.
“It’s perfectly protected under the First Amendment and it doesn’t fall under the FCC regulations because the FCC doesn’t regulate online broadcasts,” she said.
However, she said the indecent content may fall into a gray legal area.
“What is problematic, and probably most actionable, is the use of terms such as b—- and n—–,” Watson said. “The problem (would be classified under) hate speech laws, and I see this more as an ethical issue.”
According to the Bulls Radio DJ rules and regulations, all DJs are held responsible for the “conduct of their guests” and may not “say or wear or hold anything that says any words or terms that relate to anyone’s sex, race, ethnicity, religious background or sexual preference.”
Larry Leslie, a communication ethics professor and former radio DJ of 12 years, said the broadcast raises several ethical questions.
“(I think it violates) the policy which regulates all human speech and activity to treat them with dignity, to respect differences among all peoples of the world and to not use a platform that you might have as your own personal playground to broadcast things that are inappropriate,” Leslie said.
He said his concern is that student broadcasters have lost their common sense and don’t realize that what they say can have a negative impact that cannot be comprehended.
“Here you’ve got people broadcasting who may not have been trained in broadcasting,” Leslie said. “So they’re going in there thinking, ‘Hey, I’m on the radio, I can do whatever I want.’ Media is kind of like a drug. And when you are on a medium, like radio, it can be pretty intoxicating. And when you think you think you have people listening, when you have this forum, it can be a heady experience. You think of yourself as one of the elites.”
In addition, the public airways belong to the people, he said, and because the show uses the University’s facilities and student money they don’t get a “blank check to say whatever (they) want.”
“This goes beyond law and ethics,” Leslie said. “In times of tight budgets and in times when we’re trying to get the support of external funding, it does not seem to me to be very productive to engage in inappropriate behavior, language that may be hurtful to some individuals at the University.”
Farrar and Johnson said that even though radio DJs are only volunteers, they are still considered members of SG and are expected to uphold the SG code of ethics.
Johnson said that online broadcasts haven’t been explicitly defined in their rules and are in a “different spectrum” from their regular broadcasts.
He said no staff employees typically stay in the studio overnight, only volunteers do. Yet, Johnson played a prominent role in the Jan. 26 OYH show.
Johnson said if any students have an issue with the content being broadcast they should get their own show.
“The way I see it, is that in that lump sum of (fee) money is the money from the individuals who are also hosting the show,” he said. “Our stance on it is that BR has a show for everyone on this campus.”
In the meantime, OYH and Seow have both been suspended pending an investigation into the content of the show, according to Seow’s Twitter page.
“Greg’s dealing with a number of new shows right now, so it’s a matter of us being able to review all these shows,” Farrar said. “Until we can review all of them, and we will examine (OYH), and assuming that this one doesn’t violate all of the rules and doesn’t slander USF, it will be allowed to remain on air. How one student (is) bigger than another student is kind of the situation here.”
Jennifer Belmont, SG Senate president and member of the Activity and Service Recommendation Committee, which allocates A&S fees to all student organizations that are funded by those fees, said it will be up to Farrar to determine if the DJs were going “too over the top” in the broadcast, especially since they were targeting specific student populations.
“There are two sides of it. I think it’s great that we have the freedom of speech element to it that someone can do such a show and do whatever they want and of course it’s a learning experience,” Belmont said. “But, I don’t like that they’re commenting on students in Beef ‘O’ Brady’s (who) are funding the radio station.”
If students have a problem with the broadcast, Belmont said they should contact their SG representative in the executive and legislative branch.
“It’s cool we have our uncensored show and we’re expanding,” she said. “But at the same time we have to be really careful because it is A&S funded and that could probably pose a problem in the future.”
Click here to listen to clips from the Jan. 26 OYH broadcast