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Explicit Lyrics: freedom of speech or a dangerous precedent?

Music executives worry profanity has become the new normal

Carol Ozemhoya | OW Contributor | 9/19/2013, midnight
Today’s modern music is often laced with material that was not so long ago considered taboo. Profanity, sexual content and ...

Radio programmers, though, are moms and dads, too, and the choice between playing a song with nasty lyrics or not is an issue that goes beyond ratings for many. Some programmers have to find a balance between playing what is popular, being responsible yet not letting outsiders dictate song choice. Indeed, they walk a fine line.

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Cedric Hollywood

“The real challenge in programming current music is to make sure that the profane lyrics have been taken out by the record company before the song gets on the radio. So you have to listen to every song you want to play,” reveals Cedric Hollywood, former programmer of WEDR-FM (99 Jamz) in Miami. “Sometimes you do get calls from parents and you have to make a judgment call, because sometimes they have a point, but you can’t let them program your station.”

Hollywood adds that profanity in songs does seem to make them more popular. “Young people love to say and hear bad or profane words.”

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Don Cody

Don Cody, CEO of Moses Media Inc., which produces multi-media campaigns aimed at radio programmers to get them to play songs, is also a former commercial radio programmer.

“No it’s not too nasty,” he says. “This is 2013, soon to be 2014. We don’t live in the ‘Leave It To Beaver’ days anymore. Do we need to draw the line? Not really. People have a choice. If you don’t like what’s on the radio, you can switch stations or subscribe to satellite radio and get exactly what you want, or play your own CDs in your car.”

For a lot of music and radio industry executives, though, the issue is as much about creativity as it is about profane lyrics.

“A lot of today’s product simply isn’t worthy of Black radio’s former greatness,” says Mark Gunn, who has programmed multiple musical formats. “As a musician and producer, however, I’m more offended by the sheer lack of creativity. The fact that so-called beat makers have the nerve to call themselves producers is also part of the problem. In short, it’s not the obscenities that make the music profane, it’s the entire process.”

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Aundrae Russell

Aundrae Russell, who programs KJLH-FM (102.3) in Los Angeles, says no one seems to be policing today’s music. “Lyrics have gone too far. When you talk about commercial radio, the FCC was handling it. But now it seems it’s not being policed. We hear lyrics on the radio now and go, ‘Wow. Did he really say that in a song?’ I don’t understand why music has to have all the cuss words in it. It’s gone way too far.”

Adds Russell: “The creativity is gone. Some of these so-called artists are sampling great songs from the ‘70s and ‘80s and destroying them with the blatant lyrics and cussing. It’s going to get worse before it’s going to get better.”

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Bobby Holiday

Bobby Holiday, longtime Black radio personality (now in Philadelphia) and former program director, thinks much of today’s music does go too far. He also agrees with Gunn and Russell that a real creative process is missing in today’s tracks.