CINCINNATI -- An official of WAIF-FM radio says a Hamilton County grand jury indictment of the station on an obscenity count represents an assault on the ability to present alternative viewpoints to the community.
The non-profit, listener-supported station and one of its announcers, John Zeh, were indicted Tuesday in connection with 'Gaydreams,' a homosexual-oriented program broadcast on Saturday afternoons.
'There's much more at stake than either John Zeh or the station,' said WAIF chairman of the board David Duggle.
Duggle said he believes the indictment has put the whole concept of alternative radio on the line.
Hamilton County Prosecutor Simon Leis Jr. pursued the indictment on charges of disseminating material harmful to juveniles after a suburban Cincinnati man complained about the program.
Joseph Platt said he was listening to the station with his children by chance Jan. 3 when he heard Zeh narrating a show discussing sexual lubricants.
Station program coordinator Tom Knox suspended the 90-minute program for about a month following the broadcast, and issued guidelines prohibiting Zeh from making 'references to sexual explicitness, or the use of lubricants.'
The program resumed broadcast two weeks ago.
Zeh, 34, is to be arraigned Friday on the felony charge. If convicted, he could be sentenced to six months to five years in prison and fined $2,500 on each of four counts of the charge -- the counts referring to the four Platt children who heard the show.
The station could be fined $10,000 on each of the four counts. That, according to Duggle, could 'drive the station out of business.'
Ordinarily, he noted, it's the responsibility of the Federal Communications Commission -- not the county sheriff's office -- to monitor radio stations.
The Queen City Chapter of the Society for Professional Journalists, meanwhile, issued a statement expressing disapproval that the complaint had been taken to court rather than the FCC.
'Without addresing the propriety of the WAIF broadcast in question, we strongly object to the use of the Ohio judicial system to pursue a matter in the domain of the Federal Communications Commission,' the statement said.
'The implications of this action extend far beyond one radio program, and we fear that the inappropriate use of the criminal code to pursue what essentially is a regulatory matter could hinder the free exchange of ideas and information.'
WAIF was licensed by the FCC in November 1975 as a non-profit operation to provide access to minorities with program not generally available on commercial radio stations. It offers a wide variety of programming.