Do You Want Swearing in Your Music or Not? Now You Have a Choice

In my business, there is something called the “radio edit.” This is a version of a song (usually supplied by the record label) that surgically excises any dirty words in the lyrics. This sort of self-censorship is necessary if the song has any hope of getting on the radio.

Swearing in songs is a big deal for radio folks. Regulators like to point out that AM and FM frequencies are public property and broadcasters only rent those frequencies through a federally-granted license for specific periods of time. Every so often (usually around seven years), that license has to come up for renewal, which means the regulators get to say whether or not you get to stay in business. Their big concern is that the license holder–i.e. the station–completed their obligations and followed the rules while using public property. This includes refraining from what could be construed as “offensive” programming. And that extends to playing songs with swear words because, well, what about the children? Won’t someone please think about the children?

In Canada, just one complaint about an errant swear word to the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council can unleash a torrent of paperwork. No fines are ever levied by the CBSC or the CRTC,  but the hassle is tremendous and no broadcaster ever wants to see any kind of points against its license. Over the years, a form of detente has been created: swearing on the radio (at least in songs) is okay after 9pm, the time after which all children should be tucked in bed. The ban goes back into effect at…well, I’ve always treated 4am as the time we go back to safe, censored music.

In the US, swearing on the radio is an even more serious offense. The Federal Communications Commissions has the power to fine broadcasters thousands, tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars per infraction. Talk about guns and killing and weirdo conspiracy opinions as much as you want, that’s okay. First Amendment, right? But allow the f-bomb in The Who’s “Who Are You” slip through and look out.  (For further study on the American squeamishness regarding swearing on the radio, please refer to the story behind George Carlin’s “Seven Dirty Words.”)

The ban on swearing–or as some people like to say, “explicit material”–extends to stocking CDs. For example, Walmart won’t sell CDs with dirty words, saying that contravenes the chain’s family values. And now the problem has come to streaming music services.

Although not regulated in the same way as radio and TV, companies like Spotify, Apple Music and others have to worry about what people might think if they think precious little snowflake children are listening to songs with bad words. What to do?

Enter Dash Radio, a new filter that allows anyone to switch between censored and uncensored music in real time. If you’re a parent, you’ll immediately understand the appeal. If you’re worried about what grandma might think as you’re taking her to the doctor, you can filter out the stuff that could give her a stroke.

Dash Radio also filters radio announcers, too. Some 80 stations have been endowed with this ability with Dash.

A patent has been filed and will soon be available in Dash Radio’s iOS, Android and web apps. Cars that have infotainment systems with this capability are also coming, probably by next spring.

(Via The Verge)

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38031 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

One thought on “Do You Want Swearing in Your Music or Not? Now You Have a Choice

  • Oh how I miss swearing on CFNY!!! So many great songs I have to find elsewhere because the station has wimped out these days. I miss when CFNY had balls. It was 1979 when I heard
    Magazine’s Permafrost on the Spirit of Radio. The first of hundreds of songs I bought because they were good and had swear words in them. They used to at least play these songs after 7 pm or so. Anyway just my two cents.


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