- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 31, 2005

Opie & Anthony admit they went a little crazy — even by their raw standards — during their first few days on XM Radio last fall. No Federal Communications Commission nanny. No bosses breathing down their necks. Who could blame them?

To hear the unapologetic shock jocks tell it, the novelty soon wore off, and it was back to business as usual — dishing comedy with heaping helpings of smut.

“We weren’t going to change how we do a radio show just because we could curse now,” Opie says. “Talking around subjects is more entertaining.”

Curious about what Howard Stern could sound like when he moves to FCC-free Sirius Radio in January (or sooner, if a deal can be struck)? Opie & Anthony are the nearest approximation.

An O&A; broadcast earlier this month from XM Radio’s studio in Northeast, where the team occasionally visits, is typical.

After coaxing an auditioning newswoman to reveal her sexual peccadilloes, the two air a no-holds-barred report on celebrity hound Pat O’Brien’s explicit phone messages.

The pair rarely curse this morning. They’re too busy throwing ideas around the glossy XM studio and seeing what sticks. Some clever bits emerge, including a dead-on Don Imus impersonation by Anthony. Other gags are downright distasteful.

While Mr. Stern’s show has calcified into a series of bleeped-out conversations and anti-FCC tirades, Opie & Anthony let loose without a care. XM’s 3.2 million subscribers aren’t shielded from a single word.

Monday, the team becomes part of XM’s basic service. Once listeners buy this package, they can opt to block the duo without changing the rest of XM’s programming.

Two layers of insulation. Sounds as if it could be the basis for a reasonable compromise between free-speech advocates and the guardians of impressionable young ears.

Not if Sen. Ted Stevens has his way.

The Alaska Republican has publicly discussed — just how seriously isn’t altogether clear — legislation that would expand the FCC’s regulatory supervision to cover satellite radio and cable television.

So long, “Sex and the City.” Ta-ta, “Nip/Tuck.”

Of course, even the best-intentioned censors can, ahem, abridge too far, and the first dim outlines of an anti-censorship backlash are appearing on the horizon.

Already, Rep. Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent, has introduced a bill to block the FCC from extending its reach to cable television and satellite radio. (Don’t judge a book by its cover — or a bill by its sponsor.)

Michael Harrison, editor of Talkers magazine, decries the threats to broaden FCC oversight as “dangerous hot air,” predicting such a move would provoke a backlash.

Anthony predictably labels the current censorship climate as “knee-jerk” political demagoguery.

“It’s a no-lose scenario for them,” he says. “Who’s gonna say, ‘No, we want indecency?’ There absolutely does need to be some regulation in terrestrial radio … but the reasons they’re regulating it is ridiculous.”

Opie, the boyish one of the twosome, swears they could go back to terrestrial radio tomorrow and comply with all the myriad rules.

They just don’t want to.

“It’s the most fun I’ve ever had in radio,” Opie says. “It took so much time to set up bits and talk around subjects. Now, you just go. The phone never rings, and bosses aren’t saying, ‘Get in here; let’s discuss this.’”

Opie & Anthony — real names Greg Hughes and Anthony Cumia — got fired in 2002 for airing a live sex act being performed in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. After waiting out some contractual restrictions on their freedom to broadcast for other outlets, they enlisted on satellite radio.

It’s often hard to defend Opie & Anthony’s material, even if the rules on just what constitutes offensive broadcasts tend to be somewhat elusive. The pair reach deep into the gutter for subject matter, sparing no one in their unexpurgated rants.

They’re not even sorry for two of their biggest radio blunders — the notorious St. Patrick’s broadcast and a previous prank in which they falsely reported that Boston’s mayor had died in a car crash. The stunts boosted their visibility and ratings, Opie boasts even now — whether with real or feigned bravado is anybody’s guess.

Mr. Harrison insists Opie & Anthony are more than just the sum of their wildest broadcast parts.

“There’s more to Opie & Anthony than their shocking stuff,” Mr. Harrison says. “They know they can’t rely on just being dirty.”

One reason the pair resonate with young listeners, he suggests, is because they’re more in touch with popular culture than some cultural critics.

Mr. Harrison says terrestrial radio is “out of step with the times,” one reason satellite radio is rapidly finding its niche.

“Radio has historically been the street medium, on the cutting edge,” Mr. Harrison says. “For terrestrial radio to be suddenly hamstrung is a terrible handicap.”

It couldn’t have happened at a better time for the upstart medium of satellite. Perhaps the lasting legacy of the crackdown on indecency over the public airwaves will be a permanent new adult market for a permanent new adult medium.

Talk about unintended consequences.

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