Brother Wease is worried about his livelihood. Sure, the longtime on-air personality for Radio Free Wease (6-11 a.m. weekdays, 96.5 WCMF-FM) isn't announcing "it's over" like Howard Stern so gloomily declared in early March. But the FCC's latest focus on decency --- and the hefty fines it levels to broadcasters of inappropriate content --- has Wease questioning his every on-air move. Following is an edited transcript of a recent conversation with Wease about decency, the FCC, right-wing radio, and left-wing deficiencies.
City: Are you watching what goes on your program more carefully now?
Wease: One hundred million times more carefully. We've been given many, many directives, some of which are so vague that I'm second-guessing a million things. For instance, this morning we had a newspaper story from the Democrat and Chronicle about that weird kid who worked at Clover Lanes. Well, in that story is the word "masturbate." And this is news. I've got to be paranoid this morning and didn't even use the word. I used "auto." I mean, that's how paranoid we are because we are being threatened with many, many, many things, and I have four kids at home who need me to make a living.
City: How do you evaluate your show's liability for airing certain things?
Wease: Well, I know what my show's liability is. The liability is 100 percent. We've already been told that if certain things happen --- and I don't even want to tell you what they are, because I don't want to open myself up --- I'm done. That's it.
Right now they're working on having these losses be not only for the companies but for the actual DJs, the on-air personalities. And this is an atmosphere that can make it impossible to do any kind of a show except for a conservative talk show.
So, right now, I just try as best I can to keep the show legit. Now, we do talk about sex, because sex is in the news. And, like Howard Stern says, sex is on Oprah Winfrey's show. It's on Dr. Phil. My show is about life. And sex is a part of life. I try not to have any gratuitous sex on the show, which I did have years ago on my program. But years ago I was aimed at a younger audience. I wanted to grow with my audience, which I feel I've done. I used to do strippers and the whole thing.
City: Yeah, I remember that. So you really shifted away from that because you wanted to grow up with your audience?
Wease: Yeah. I mean, in the past five years, we've had strippers maybe once, twice? And we didn't even get them naked. But that had nothing to do with censorship. That was self-censorship.
City: You never feel any pressure to reach out to a younger audience?
Wease: Never. That's not my target. My show is number one in Rochester 25-to-54 by a mile. By a mile. Now, WHAM can claim their 12-plus number, which is not a number you sell, just a number you brag about. And WHAM's 12-plus number is completely loaded with people 35-to-death. And that's a fact.
City: What does '12-plus' mean?
Wease: That's the number of all your listeners together, 12 years old and older. WHAM wins that right now because they've got everybody who's over 50. They've got nobody at all on the younger end. Howard Stern is 18-to-34. My show is 25-to-54, which is the finest money demo you can find. And at 25-to-54 I kill WHAM.
I've grown with that audience from 18-to-34. I was number one 18-to-34 years ago. But now we're number one 25-to-54. And I find what Howard does --- to be honest with you, I don't hear it all because I'm on the air at the same time, but I often hear about the repeated strippers, the same questions to people about sex --- I find it moronic.
We talk about sex, but in a different way. I just don't make that same joke. I just think it's repetitive and silly. And I see no reason to get chicks naked up in my studio like I once did years ago.
City: FCC aside, what sorts of decency standards do you feel there should be for people in your profession?
Wease: Well, you know it's so hard for me to say. Because for years I was so free. One of the words that really kills me that we're not able to use anymore is "asshole." I used to use a Denis Leary tune called "The Asshole Song." It's a great tune.
Now it's a backlash. I mean, everything has been taken away. Up until a few weeks ago we couldn't say "handjob" but we could say "knobjob." How stupid is that? The words we could say were worse than the words we couldn't say.
Of course, now I've lost all of those because now it's just vague. But, you know, the funny thing is that newspapers can print "f---." And there's nobody who reads that who doesn't know what the fuck that is. So if your brain knows what it is, how are you getting hurt? I mean, Goddamn!
Look, in this day of cable TV and satellite radio, why can't we let the parents themselves judge? That's number one. Number two: I personally find Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and Michael Savage way more heinous and hurtful, and I mean hurtful, with their lies and deceit, than any dirty words about sex on the radio.
I think the cumulative effect of this silly censorship goes back to witch burnin' and book burnin', and it's ignorant. But I'm gonna follow the rules because I like to eat. I'm going to continue to fight for free speech, but free speech doesn't govern the airwaves, and I can understand that also. I can understand a certain standard. I just think the standard needs to be better defined. And I've always thought dirty words don't hurt anybody.
City: How are these standards presented to you by the FCC?
Wease: Well, it's funny. Right now it's pretty vague. But before the brouhaha since Janet Jackson, before Howard was knocked off Clear Channel and the rest of it, we had a whole list of words we couldn't say. Not the seven. I mean way bigger than the seven. But since then it's worse and more vague.
City:How do you mean?
Wease: I'm not really at liberty to talk about it. You'll get me in trouble. [Democrat and Chronicle music writer] Jeff Spevak did an interview with me recently about the previous list. And we're not allowed to show him the list, even though that list doesn't exist anymore. I'm just making a point that I've got to worry about this even. I mean, we are at this place now that I can't believe I'd ever be in.
City: Critics have said that radio and TV content lowers "societal standards." They say the mere fact that shows like Howard Stern are on the air lowers the standards of discourse. How do you respond to those types of criticisms?
Wease: Well, I'm gonna look like a huge hypocrite, but I agree with that. And I agree with that especially because of MTV and Fox TV. And I'm not saying that because I'm on the radio. It's just that, as a parent, what I see on MTV now, I mean... if children lived on a strict diet of MTV they're gonna be products of that. And it's scary what you see there. And how can it not lower the discourse in this country? I mean, pretty much everything's about fuckin'.
But I want to make sure that people understand that's not what I'm about. You know, your newspaper seems to be from the left. And I'm the only voice from the left on local radio. And the left seems to think --- and I think this is what's wrong with the left, even though I'm deeply into it --- that people like me are a joke. And that's the point where they lose. Because I'm the guy who's reaching the truck drivers who need to hear this message.
Your newspaper does not reach those people, and never will. If they [the left] hears me says that, it'll just piss them off more. But I'll debate any one of them motherfuckers --- with my non-educated ass --- on the radio anytime they want to debate. And I'd love you to print that and face your readers with that.
City: But the problem is there's not a lot of places on the radio for these truck drivers you're talking about to turn to.
Wease: But listen: If [City Newspaper senior writer] Jack Spula had a radio show, truck drivers aren't going to listen to him. Because he's a fucking geek and he's boring. I'm not saying this in a bad way. I'm saying it as a fact. And it's a proven fact. That's why liberals couldn't have radio shows before, and that's why the right wing makes fun of the liberals.
Mario Cuomo is boring. Is he smart? Absolutely. Does he have the truth? To me, absolutely. But he can't reach the truck driver. The right wing is reaching the truck driver. So when the people from City Newspaper discount Brother Wease because I'm dirty, then they're fucking losing the fight, and it infuriates me that I'm fighting on their side.
I mean, you guys did a cover story on Bob fucking Lonsberry. And that's the guy who I fought constantly and I would debate any day. He's a guy who's on the opposite side of the political coin as your newspaper, and who promoted him? Your newspaper! When did you do a cover story about the only motherfucker who fights for the liberal side on the radio? And I've converted people. I've got mail from them. Your paper ain't converting shit. Your paper -- I love it --- but it speaks to the choir.
City:Those stories are profiles, not promotions.
Wease: But anything is promotion. Like, right now, Howard Stern's problem is hugely in his favor. I mean, the guy's a fucking martyr, he's huge. So he's a winner-winner on that situation. And when you put Bob Lonsberry on your cover, it's a humongous win for that guy. And I read the article and it wasn't even that bad.
What's good about you guys is you've got the cool music stuff, and you'll hit the young people. So they'll check the politics out, which they should. But the scary part is there've been newspapers like yours since the beginning of time. And the fact is the music and stuff you cover is for hipper people too. So the same hip kids that might be on the left are reading the paper. You've got to somehow --- and all you need is one fucking brainstorming meeting or something --- figure out how you can get to the point where you can appeal to the middle guy, so they can start seeing another side of the coin.
I've seen letters to your newspaper from the right. So at least that means they are looking at it.
City:We have a lot of readers on the right.
Wease: That's great. See, the reason why right radio is so huge is because it's great radio. And I mean great radio. So on the one had I appreciate that, but on the other it infuriates me.
I was talking today to a debate coach from the UR. He also listens to right radio. He understands that it infuriates you, but it's great radio.
City: What is it that makes it great?
Wease: The fact that I listen but I hate their guts. If I'm listening to something I hate, that's great radio. When I get hate mail from people on the right, I write them back and piss them off to death. Because I explain to them that I'm doing great radio. And the truth is that I move them to a typewriter. They didn't write Chet and Beth, because they didn't move them. I move them to write me, and that really pisses them off.
City:Would you let your kids listen to shows like Stern?
Wease: I believe if you're old enough to listen to Stern and enjoy it, then to me, you're old enough to listen and enjoy it. Because I come from a different place. I don't think sex is bad. I don't think dirty talk is bad. I'd feel worse knowing my kids were listening to Hannity. Because then you're being filled with hateful lies that will shape your thought patterns on social issues. Howard Stern and those other guys are just doing jokes. And the worst part about them is they're about sex, and I don't believe sex hurts anybody. I mean, he's not telling people to go do crack. He's not telling people to go rob a bank.
This is a bad time, man. We've got McCarthyism coming back, and the right wing has got a boner. I have never wanted anybody to win an election more in my life --- and I don't necessarily like the guy. But when you say "Anybody but Bush," I ain't kidding, you give me a monkey. We're just trying to beat the right wing. He's just a figurehead. This is insanity going on.
City:Your show has taken flack over the years for what critics call sexism in the terminology you use -- words like "broads," that kind of thing. What kind of feedback have you personally gotten for that stuff?
Wease: The bulk of the listeners think it's a joke when people get upset over that stuff. It's funny you mention "broads," because that's one word in particular that I've been using for 150 years. It's not meant in any way that an uptight asshole would take it. The same people would love Frank Sinatra if he said it, but would kill me if I said it. I just figure that the way we use it, if you use it enough, the people who listen regularly to the show would realize it's nothing. I just don't understand any humans at all that take offense to terminology. But there's nothing I can do about that. So I'll accept any of those rants because the people who know us know we're the opposite of that, that we come from the opposite side of the coin from where some of these people may think.
And that's what used to kill me about the difference between Lonsberry and myself. How this works psychologically I'll never understand. But the people who listen to a show like Lonsberry are middle Americans who think they're all moral. He's still on a station in Salt Lake City that's "family values talk radio." It freaks me out that the average Bob Lonsberry fan sees me as a scum bag. But I fight for human beings.
City: So do you think all this decency stuff is a big smokescreen?
Wease: Yeah, it's more forced morality that's not even moral. People who listen to Hannity or Lonsberry think I'm a scumbag, but I'm on the air fighting for gay marriage. I'm fighting for affirmative action. I fight for all the liberal social causes. I'm against the war. These people are for wars. It's all good: Kill people.
The funny thing about Clear Channel is that's it's a known fact they're in bed with George Bush. And they were dirtier than Infinity by a mile before this thing happened.
City:Clear Channel has received its fair share of fines from the FCC.
Wease: Oh, Clear Channel was dirty, man. Before this thing here they were way dirtier than Infinity. That's why it's so funny that they let Stern go. We kept him on Infinity, where he comes out of, because we were cleaner than them to start.
City:And Clear Channel is like Ground Zero for all the conservative talk shows.
Wease: Oh, that's where they all is. That's their place, man. They're Bush people.