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Blacklisted, But Why?

Christen M. Gray

For those of you who listen to pop radio, what songs have you heard lately? Have you heard “Falling for the First Time” by Barenaked Ladies? Or maybe Fuel’s new song “Bad Day?”

Depending on which station you turn the dial to, you may not have heard these songs and many others in the last two weeks if your station is owned by Clear Channel Communications, Inc. Clear Channels owns and operates 1213 radio stations and 19 television stations around the country from its headquarters in San Antonio, Texas.

A couple of weeks ago, the company sent out a list of about a hundred and fifty songs to all of its stations. This list contained songs the higher-ups felt should not be played after the World Trade Centers were destroyed on September 11th. While they are not forcing any of the radio stations to follow suit, the pressure from on high would cause most to play along.

One can expect that the entertainment industry and media should be sensitive at a time such as this and take off songs with obvious implications and literal analogies such as “Jet Airliner” by Steve Miller or “Seek and Destroy” by Metallica. Some stations may even want to avoid playing depressing songs altogether.

However, the list made up by Clear Channels does not simply recommend overtly connected songs or even just songs about death. Many of the songs would even comfort people and give them hope. Peter & Gordon’s “A World Without Love,” “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong, and “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas are all on the list.

Other music on this list includes patriotic, All-American songs like Don McLean’s “American Pie” and Neil Diamond’s “America”.

Much of the music has no other offense than to be general peace-nik anti-war music. Why else would you ban The Beatles’ “Obla Di, Obla Da”, Cat Stevens’ “Peace Train”, and “Imagine” by John Lennon? In fact, “Imagine” was the first song to be played after MIT’s rally for peace. The song “War” by Edwin Starr and Bruce Springstein, is also included. For those of you unfamiliar with the song, the chorus goes: “War, what is it good for?/ Absolutely nothing.” No matter what your political beliefs, there is no reason to take all songs encouraging peace off the radio.

Other songs were taken off the air for their Arabic affiliations. After all, the song “Walk Like an Egyptian” by the Bangles is certainly offensive, right? And the upbeat party song “Rock the Casbah” by The Clash has to go. The song is filled with Arabic references. In fact, a casbah refers to a castle or the old part of a Middle East town. The song really makes reference to history that goes back to the Ottoman Empire. Especially considering the miniscule number of people who know this trivia, must it really be swiped from the radio? “Rock the Casbah” was even the first song played over Army radio during Operation Desert Storm.

While the list mainly targets particular songs from various artists, there is one listing that says, “All Rage Against the Machine songs.” Why is this one particular band so offensive to them? Certainly there are more objectionable groups in general. Marilyn Manson is, in fact, mentioned nowhere on the list. Could it have something to do with the group’s overt political views? Perhaps the company took offense at the fact that the lead singer is openly communist. This could even relate back to an incident from several years ago, when the group criticized the New York Police Department for putting 41 bullets into a possibly innocent and unarmed black man. Whatever the rationale, it is not reasonable, it is censorship.

Locally, the radio stations owned by Clear Channel Communications are Jamn945, a hip-hop station, and KISS108, a pop music station. Normally KISS108 ought to be playing some of the more recent songs mentioned on the list. I tuned in to that station for an entire day, and did not hear one song from the list. During their request hour, I requested Rage Against the Machine’s “Renegades of Funk.” Though I was obviously one of the first to make a request, it was never played. Other songs from that genre were played, but not the one I requested from the list. Admittedly it could be just bad luck, but still there were no other songs from the list played.

According to Clear Communications itself, these songs are not “banned,” the list is simply a recommendation. After the bad press started rolling in concerning the use of censorship, headquarters sent out a release saying, “It is up to every radio station program director and general manager to understand their market, listen to their listeners, and guide their stations music selections according to local sensitivities.” If they really wanted program directors to take charge and just “take the pulse” of the locals, why even make such a list at all, especially if you insist on including anti-war, Arabic-related, and classic American songs?

In times like these, when our national security and peace of mind is important, we must not lose sight of what makes us different from regimes like the Taliban. We are a free people. We have the right to disagree and to criticize our military and government. It is the duty of a citizen to do so. We also have a right to criticize companies for public wrongdoing. Additionally, we cannot allow corporate censorship in any way shape or form. This list should never have been made, but I’m glad that its presence still gets some attention.