Station's Commemoration of 'Howl' Ruling Stifled

Public radio station WBAI in New York wanted to mark the 50th anniversary of the the court ruling that said Allen Ginsberg's poem Howl was not obscene. But fears of an FCC fine forced the station to run its reading online instead of on the air.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

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SIMON: This week, Pacifica's New York radio station WBAI decided to mark the 50th anniversary of the court ruling that Allen Ginsberg's poem "Howl" was not obscene, but they couldn't do it by playing the poem on the radio. WBAI says that recent FCC fines for obscenity, such as the one levied against CBS after Janet Jackson bared a breast during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show, got their lawyers worried that broadcasting a recording of "Howl" between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. could earn WBAI a ruinous fine.

So radio station decided to offer "Howl" only online. Al Bendix(ph), an attorney who helped argue the "Howl" case 50 years ago, told the New York Times, it seems like deja vu all over again. Allen Ginsberg's poem famously begins: I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving, hysterical naked.

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SIMON: Coming up on Lee's new film "Lust, Caution" is so explicit, some critics howl, yuck, why?

Stay tuned.

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