Mr. Carlin Has Left The Building

by

There is hardly a person around today who does not recognize the name of George Carlin. The man has been raising eyebrows, causing fists to clench and eliciting uproarious laughter since the early 1960s. His recent passing is mourned by many.

So why am I writing about George Carlin on a radio blog? After all he is famous for his ongoing series of HBO specials and a variety of socially conscious, profanity-riddled routines that would even today be out of place on broadcast radio. There are a number of reasons.

Firstly, in the year 1956 George Carlin began working in my home state of Louisiana as a DJ at radio station KJOE, in Shreveport. This was the beginning of and association with radio that would undergo many strange permutations over the coming six decades. According to the bio on his website, he moved on to a little radio station in Boston (WEZE) as an announcer, but was fired a mere three months later for driving the mobile news van into New York City “to buy pot.” Later that year he assumed the 7pm -11pm slot at KXOL in Ft. Worth, Texas. His bio notes the KXOL job as one he was not fired from…

While trying to get his nightclub career off the ground Carlin continued to work in radio as a morning host for KDAY in Hollywood, CA. His stand up partner and old radio compatriot Jack Burns was his co-host for this show, dubbed The Wright Brothers. A few months later Carlin quit to pursue full time stand up comedy.

In 1972 he released his Grammy Award winning Gold Album, FM and AM.

Then came 1973. This was the year that George Carlin made a huge and lasting impact on the verbal limits of broadcast radio. You see this was the year that New York listener-supported radio station, WBAI-FM (owned by the Pacifica Foundation) aired his now legendary routine Seven Words You can Never Say on Television.

WBAI was fined after a father whose son had heard the broadcast levelled a complaint with the FCC. (Carlin refers to the man as a “Lone professional moralist,” on his website.) The station’s appeal went all the way to the Supreme Court, where in 1978 the FCC ruling was upheld. The decision was made 5-4 and referred to Carlin’s routine as “indecent but not obscene.”

FCC vs. Pacifica Foundation was an important moment in radio history, one that launched George Carlin into the public consciousness with its high profile and colorful back story.

Is is probable that this adventure is what caused the elaborate “language disclaimer,” that preceded his first HBO special to years later.

George Carlin was not only a brilliant comic and social critic, he also was responsible for helping to shape the radio environment of the modern day. While some younger readers may not see the significance of a story like this in the modern age of Howard Stern and talk radio pundits, I remember it being all over the news in my youth. Carlin paved the way for those who come after him in much the same way Lenny Bruce paved the way for him.

I am sure that Mr. Carlin will be pushing the boundaries in whatever afterlife he may find himself in. (The Baltimore Sun has collected a variety of videos about Mr. Carlin and his career here.)

Image courtesy of Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com, used under its Creative Commons license

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