Shock jock  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Shock jock is a slang term used to describe a type of radio broadcaster (sometimes a disc jockey) who attracts attention using humor that a significant portion of the listening audience may find offensive. The term is usually used pejoratively to describe provocative or irreverent broadcasters whose mannerisms, statements and actions are typically offensive to many listeners.


The idea of a performer or entertainer that breaks taboos or places their careers in the realm of the currently offensive is not a new one. Despite insistences of some decency activists, there are few eras of history in which there have not existed notoriously offensive performers (Petronius, Benny Bell, Le P├ętomane, Redd Foxx and Lenny Bruce for example). Shock jocks, as the current incarnation of this phenomenon, entered the American radio scene during the 1970s, and are still common into the 2000s.

Shock jocks may be informally identified by a number of common behaviors or conditions. Many such broadcasters revel in the fact (or belief) that a good portion of their listening audience consists of people who strongly dislike them; which of course, is an ironic but welcome boost to the broadcaster's ratings.

Shock jocks also tend to push the envelope of decency in their market, and generally show a lack of regard for communications regulations (e.g. FCC rules) regarding content. It is not at all uncommon for a shock jock to find him/herself fined by regulators for "going too far"; in fact, some broadcasters consider such an incident as a badge of honor. Also, such incidents are typically followed by a media circus, which of course provides more promotion for the broadcaster and brings more attention to their antics.

Popular envelope-pushing topics for shock jocks include sex, especially kinky and/or scatalogical topics (toilet humour), or just unabashed innuendo.

Many shock jocks have been fired as a result of such punishments as regulatory fines, loss of advertisers, or simply social and political outrage. On the other hand, it is also not uncommon for such broadcasters to be quickly re-hired by another station or network.

Shock jocks in the US are under greater pressure since the introduction of a new law in March 2004 which increased the fines on radio stations for violating decency guidelines by a factor of nearly 20.

Famous incidents

Some major popularized incidents involving shock jocks:

  • February 1974: Larry Lujack of WCFL Chicago responded to a fan's letter on-air by stating he'd play more Jim Croce records "when Croce goes back into the studio and makes some more." (Croce had died in a Louisiana plane crash five months earlier.) The resulting protests from Croce fans led to an on-air admission by Lujack a few days later that the statement was inappropriate.
  • July 12, 1979: WLUP Chicago disc jockeys Steve Dahl and Garry Meier staged "Disco Demolition Night" at Comiskey Park between games of a scheduled Chicago White Sox-Detroit Tigers double-header. Fans were granted admittance to the games for 98 cents if they also donated unwanted disco records to be blown up at Comiskey's second base during the event. After the records were blown up, fans spilled onto the playing field and rioted, causing the White Sox to forfeit the scheduled second game.
  • October 1993: Mancow made national headlines while working for radio station KYLD in San Francisco, California. At the time, a story had been circulated that President Clinton had tied up traffic on an LAX runway for over an hour because of a haircut on Air Force One. Mancow staged a parody of this incident on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge during rush hour. He used vans to block the westbound lanes of the bridge while his sidekick, Jesus "Chuy" Gomez, got a haircut.
  • April 1995: On the Don Imus radio show, US Senator Al D'Amato put on a comical Asian accent and criticized judge Lance Ito for personal interest in allowing television cameras in the O.J. Simpson murder trial. Imus was criticized for keeping D'Amato on air because of the shock value of the senator's comments.
  • September, 2000: New Zealand radio personality Iain Stables appeared in court in a Superman outfit over a stunt where Stables successfully had his workmates strip searched at Los Angeles International Airport. Stables called the security at Los Angeles Airport stating he was from Interpol New Zealand and he believed that certain passengers on a flight from Auckland to Los Angeles were carrying Kiwi eggs up their rear cavities, these passengers being Stables work colleagues at The Edge FM.
  • February 27, 2001: Bubba the Love Sponge had a pig castrated and killed on-air. Bubba was charged with animal cruelty, but acquitted.
  • August, 2002: Opie and Anthony sponsored a contest where the goal was to have sex in notable public places. After a couple had sex in a vestibule at St. Patrick's Cathedral, the resulting controversy led to Infinity Broadcasting cancelling the Opie and Anthony Show.
  • December 12, 2002: Porn actress Mary Carey submitted to an IQ test on the Howard Stern show. Mary flunked, and was forced to put her head in Howard's toilet bowl.
  • January, 2004: Clear Channel was fined $715,000 USD for an airing of radio personality Bubba the Love Sponge, which included (among other things) a scene involving explicit sexual conversations between children's cartoon characters. Bubba was fired shortly thereafter.
  • April 8, 2004: Howard Stern's show was dropped by the few stations of Clear Channel Communications that still carried the show after they were fined $495,000 USD for a variety of individual statements made in a single Stern show. Stern used his remaining market share to criticize Clear Channel and the Bush Administration. He later left the public airwaves to move to satellite radio, which is not subject to the same FCC decency regulations.
  • April 9, 2004: The Regular Guys of WKLS 96 Rock in Atlanta, Georgia were fired at the height of their Arbitron ratings success when a graphic interview with pornographic movie actress Devin Lane was accidentally aired over a Honda commercial. That interview was intended to be played backwards when they returned from the break, mocking the FCC indecency crackdown at the time.
  • May 12, 2004: Marconi and Tiny, two Portland, Oregon disk jockeys, played the audio portion of the video of Nick Berg's murder on their morning program several times, accompanied by music, jokes, and laughter over the scenes. The pair were fired the same day.
  • April 4, 2007: Don Imus created controversy when he referred to the Rutgers women's basketball team as "nappy-headed hos" on his morning radio show. Five days later, MSNBC and CBS Radio suspended Imus from his radio and television shows for two weeks. MSNBC later canceled its simulcast of "Imus in the Morning" on April 11, 2007. Imus was fired from CBS Radio the following day.
  • May 11, 2007: The Dog House with JV and Elvis was ended by CBS Radio after they broadcast a call to a Chinese restaurant in which the caller, in an exaggerated accent, placed an order for "shrimp flied lice," claimed he was a student of kung fu, and compared menu items to employees' body parts.
  • May 15, 2007: XM suspended Opie and Anthony for 30 days because a homeless man making a guest appearance on the XM version of the show described how he would like to have sexual intercourse with the United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, First Lady Laura Bush, and Queen Elizabeth II.

Noted shock jocks

Evocative or outspoken broadcasters have been branded with the "shock jock" label across all ends of the spectrum of radio (and TV) broadcasters. Most range from the sexually indecent to the politically offensive. Some broadcasters variously identified as "shock jocks" are listed in the Shock jocks category page.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Shock jock" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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