Now that the federal courts have struck down the government's zero-tolerance policy on broadcast indecency as "unconstitutionally vague and chilling," you'd think that Mancow Muller would be feeling a sense of vindication at last.
But for the controversial Chicago radio personality and longtime target of the Federal Communications Commission, Tuesday's ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals comes as too little, too late.
"It's like telling me they've found the cure for cancer after my father's dead," Muller said. "Radio's dead. Nobody cares about radio. The patient's dead. Now they've got the cure. So what?"
During his eight-year run as morning personality on Emmis Communications alternative rock WKQX-FM (101.1), Muller became the target of some 70 indecency complaints -- all filed by one disgruntled listener, David Edward Smith, executive director of the Illinois Family Institute and aide to a South Side alderman. Although Muller's record of FCC fines was not specifically cited in his dismissal from Q101 in 2006, it clearly had an adverse impact on his employment and syndication efforts industrywide.
Tuesday's ruling reversed the FCC's aggressive stance banning foul language on radio and television -- even in the case of a slip of the tongue -- essentially striking down the strict Bush-era regulations as violations of the First Amendment. "As I'm still here burning on a funeral pyre, sacrificed to this, it's little consolation to me," said Muller, who added:
"It cost me millions upon millions of dollars. It gave power to lone kooks. I had one guy who worked for a Democratic politician's office who decided he didn't like what I had to say. If it were some mother who heard my show and was offended, that would have been different. It wasn't. It was a politician that didn't like what I had to say. I'm sitting here doing radio in Chicago, and they're going to talk to me about community standards? And I have to talk like I'm talking to a 2-year-old child -- because one guy didn't like the show? Listen to your radio. Listen to how boring and "Ëœsafe' it is. They have destroyed open debate."
Muller, whose Chicago radio comeback on Citadel Broadcasting news/talk WLS-AM (890) was cut short last February after 16 months, continues to host a syndicated morning show from studios there. It's worth noting that his replacement, Cisco Cotto, still has not exceeded the ratings Muller garnered on WLS with his midday co-host, Pat Cassidy.
For now, Muller, 44, is seen and heard only occasionally in his home market. On Friday, he'll fill in for co-host Mike Hegedus on "Monsters and Money in the Morning," which airs from 5 to 7 a.m. on CBS-owned WBBM-Channel 2.
Although it appears his FCC battles are behind him, Muller insists the real issue was never really anything more than pure politics:
"The liberals say it's the conservatives. The conservatives say it's the liberals. It's not true. Both sides had a vested interest in silencing free voices on radio. They can't allow a free people to have that kind of speech. And now, of course, it's gone into Wild West territory with the Internet, and they can't stop it. There are just too many holes to plug. . . . But notice the shows they went after. They didn't go after the urban or Latino shows, because they didn't view those audiences as voters. They didn't view El Pistolero cursing as a big threat. They didn't view the filth on 'GCI as a big threat. But the big national shows that had people listening to them -- that moved voters -- like me and [Howard] Stern, I guess, those were the threats."