“Money for Nothing” ruling makes waves on radio
Reaction to the Dire Straits ruling mostly hostile as radio veterans wonder where the line is.
Last week’s ruling by the private radio regulator Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) to ban a Dire Straits song is “chilling” and effectively puts rock radio stations on notice, claims a longtime music industry expert.
Former Billboard Canadian bureau chief and current CelebrityAccess senior editor Larry LeBlanc says the fallout from banning Canadian private radio stations from airing the unedited version of the 1985 hit “Money For Nothing” — specifically for its repeated mention of the word “faggot” in a verse of the song — could resonate with music programmers for some time to come.
“It’s an interesting precedent,” says LeBlanc, who has conducted radio-content research for the federal government and private broadcasters during his 45-year career. “And if you’re an active radio station — particularly an active rock radio station — I would say it makes you very nervous about all the music that you’ve played over the years.”
The CBSC edict, prompted by a sole complaint from a Newfoundland listener (identified as a member of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community) is troubling, says LeBlanc, especially in light of the word’s context in Mark Knopfler’s song.
“This sets an alarming precedent, because this song is clearly not about name-calling,” he notes. “It was almost making fun of a redneck character” who speaks the offending word. “To me, the fine line should be, ‘Is there hatred intended here?’ And it’s clearly, ‘No.’ ”
David Marsden, free form radio guru and founder and creator of Canada’s first alternative station CFNY, called the ruling “the goofiest thing I’ve ever heard . . . There are other songs with much more offensive lyrics.”
Marsden, who will be inducted into the Canadian Music & Broadcast Industry Hall Of Fame in March, could only recall one controversy, from the 1980s when he played “The Boiler” by The Specials and Rhoda Dakar.
“This song, we only played it once. It’s about a woman who told the story of her rape . . . I felt it was a way for men to be able to grasp what abuse felt like from a woman’s perspective.
“A lot of women in particular protested. I never played it again, and I wouldn’t,” said Marsden, whose radio program The Marsden Theatre In Fabulous Free Form airs on Oshawa’s 94.9 The Rock on Saturday and Sunday nights.
In Toronto, listener reaction from the community that the Dire Straits song allegedly slurs has been “minimal,” says Bob Willette, program director for 103.9 Proud FM, the commercial radio station that caters exclusively to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community.
“We haven’t talked about it a ton on the air yet,” said Willette on Friday. “I’ve actually had requests from people to play it in its entirety from people who identify themselves as part of the community.
“I’ll read you what somebody just requested from our website: ‘As a faggot myself, I would like to hear this music totally unedited. Thank you.’ That’s the only reaction we’ve gotten so far from listeners.”
The CBSC has been regulating private broadcasters since 1990; it has made a few controversial rulings in the past, notably regarding infamous shock-jock Howard Stern.
Reaction to the Dire Straits ruling within the radio community has been almost uniformly hostile. Three Canadian rock stations — two in Alberta, one in Halifax and Cold Lake, Alta. — protested by playing the unexpurgated song continuously for an hour.
Even Dire Straits keyboardist Guy Fletcher weighed in on his website, calling the decision “unbelievable” and saying he had talked with Knopfler. “Mark tells me that due to the ban, he has now substituted the word faggot for ‘fudger’ . . . for Canada,” Fletcher wrote.
With files from the Canadian Press