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A Toast -- Using Every Word -- To George Carlin

A Toast — Using Every Word — To George Carlin

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George Carlin performing in 1981. Source: Ken Howard/Hulton Archive/Getty hide caption

toggle caption Source: Ken Howard/Hulton Archive/Getty

George Carlin was on the air the very first time I walked into a radio station. It was the tiniest, teeniest radio station ever, a tenth of a watt FM run by Peter Michael Hayes, a high school classmate with wealthy parents — Peter Lind Hayes and Mary Healy — who did a double act on AM radio in New York for many years. As a friend and I delivered a tape we'd produced, one of Carlin's records spun on a turntable. There couldn't have been many at that time, 1967. All I remember is "...and here's a partial score from the west coast: Dodgers 5." Long pause. Laffs.

If memory serves (as it does less and less often) I was signed on as the board operator at WBAI-FM the day that program host Paul Gorman played Carlin's "Seven Words You Can't Say On Television" uncensored, prompting a complaint to the FCC and, eventually, the Supreme Court decision that you can't say them on the radio, either. I was somewhat more involved in the case that changed that: I was the producer at All Things Considered when NPR's Mike Shuster sent in a piece on the trial of John "The Teflon Don" Gotti. The story included excerpts of FBI wiretaps, where the mobster used just one of the seven words, but repeatedly and with considerable vehemence, to threaten an associate. Mike argued, and later the Court agreed, that the usage was not gratuitous or salacious, indeed, that it was critical to the understanding of the story. The one word I edited out of Mike's piece, was "mother." The decision was that sometimes you can use the F word, and by extension the other six, and sometimes you can't. Which is the mess we're in now.

I spoke with George Carlin a few times, but can't say that I knew him at all. He was, needless to say, a terrific guest. He has been there all my life to poke his bony finger at pretension and arrogance, yes, but at the strange and the wonderful, too. He was just as honest about his own mistakes in life - the one thing he was never funny about. I miss him already.

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