“And bastard you can say, and hell, and damn, so I have to figure out which ones you couldn’t ever — and it came down to seven, but the list is open to amendment, and in fact, has been changed; by now, a lot of people have pointed things out to me, and I noticed some myself. The original seven words were: [expletives omitted]. Those are the ones that will curve your spine, grow hair on your hands, and maybe even bring us- God help us- peace without honor and a bourbon.”
~George Carlin performing his “Filthy Words” routine in 1973.
At 2:00 pm on Tuesday, October 30, 1973, WBAI 99.5 FM host Paul Gorman broadcast, unedited, George Carlin’s “Filthy Words” monologue, and Pacifica Radio listeners in New York City were treated that autumn day to a bold and controversial test of the First Amendment. Rich- very rich- with expletives, that first unedited public broadcast of “Filthy Words” would be become the genesis for one of the most important landmark Supreme Court decisions on free speech in the last 30 years. The fallout from that historic broadcast, as documented and preserved in the vault of the Pacifica Radio Archives, provides the inspiration for this week’s episode of From the Vault.
F.C.C. v. Pacifica Foundation, or the ‘Carlin Case’ as it is now commonly called, was really born from the action of a lone radio listener whom filed a complaint with FCC some weeks after the original “Filthy Words” broadcast in 1973 on WBAI. After a volley of threats from the FCC, Pacifica Foundation (which owns and operates WBAI) dug in its heels and fought back, in the name of protecting its Mission and the interests of free speech in the United States. After an initial court victory by Pacifica, the FCC appealed to the Supreme Court, which in 1978 rejected Pacifica’s arguments and effectively established itself as a moral authority on what’s decent and what’s not.
In the first half hour, we’ll dig through the vault and explore our wonderful collection of ‘Carlin Case’ interviews, produced for WBAI in 1978 by Joe Cuomo and Mickey Waldman. The interviews are with host Paul Gorman, former FCC Commissioners, a lawyer for the National Association of Broadcasters, and a minister. Then, we’ll hear a reading of the letter that started it all, followed by a healthy dose of Carlin’s “Filthy Words” (edited for language, of course!).
In the second half hour we will hear from George Carlin himself, in excerpts from two wonderful interviews he gave – one in 1970 before his “Filthy Words” routine was broadcast on WBAI, and the other conducted by Larry Bensky at KPFA in June 1997, nearly 30 years later. Together, they provide an interesting time-lapse perspective of one of the more controversial and brilliant comedians alive today.
Archival recordings used in this week’s episode, George Carlin, Pacifica, and the F.C.C.:
BB2893 Comedian in Transition / George Carlin MORE INFO
IZ0115 The Carlin Case MORE INFO
KZ0212 The Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television MORE INFO
PZ0315.46 Living Room: Interview with Comedian George Carlin MORE INFO
Click here to purchase a copy of this program or learn more about and purchase copies of the historic archival recordings used within this episode. To purchase a CD copy of this program by phone, please call Pacifica Radio Archives at 800.735.0230 x 262.
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