Stern Leaves for Satellite Land in Style
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
This is the last day for earthbound, terrestrial radio broadcasts for Howard Stern. Howard Stern has about nine million listeners. He's one of the most popular broadcasters in America. However misguided, some people actually like him as much as Robert Siegel. Anyway, his corporate bosses have been repeatedly fined by the Federal Communications Commission for the things Howard Stern says on the air. That has made him mad and made him decide to switch to satellite radio. Fewer restrictions, they're going to start in less than a month. NPR's Mike Pesca is just back from a Manhattan rally that Stern held for himself. Here's his report.
MIKE PESCA reporting:
He calls himself the king of all media, but Howard Stern's non-radio empire is a little raggedy. His notable projects include an autobiographical movie that he now calls a lie, the book upon which the movie was based, a series of pay-per-view specials like "Bongo Fiesta," and a few TV shows made up mostly by turning a camera on in the radio studio.
Today he left that studio owned by Infinity Radio for SIRIUS Satellite Radio. Thousands of Stern's fans shut down a city block as Stern held a going-away party. The vibe was Mardi Gras meets monster truck rally or, as Stern described it...
(Soundbite of radio broadcast)
Mr. HOWARD STERN (Radio Personality): Well, evidently lovemaking is going on outside.
Unidentified Woman: If you don't get down here look what you'll miss.
Mr. STERN: This might be the time to get down here.
Unidentified Woman: You could get lucky.
Mr. STERN: I wasn't aware that actual lovemaking was going on in the streets right now.
Unidentified Man: I think 18 years from now there's going to be a lot of really ugly college freshmen.
PESCA: And remember, he's leaving his current job because of its lack of freedom. Before Stern took the stage, his fans cheered and mocked each statement by the castoffs and miscreants he calls his Whack Pack. There is the man he calls Gary the Retard, his wife Wendy the Retard, Ku Klux Klansman Daniel Carver and High Pitch Eric, so named because...
HIGH PITCH ERIC: I can't hear you.
PESCA: Over the years Stern has created a Dickensian cast, a sideshow, and positioned himself as barker but also head freak by letting his audience in on his twisted psyche. Here's the most common explanation for Stern's appeal, coming from Carol Wakowski(ph), who came up from Orlando to attend the rally with her husband.
Ms. CAROL WAKOWSKI (Orlando): You know, I actually enjoy it. I mean, I'm embarrassed to admit it. I wouldn't tell too many of my friends that, but I actually do enjoy the show.
PESCA: Well, why? Do your friends actually know the show or kind of know it by reputation only?
Ms. WAKOWSKI: They know it by reputation. If you actually listen, it's a lot of fun. It's things that you honestly think about and agree with, but you wouldn't probably say out loud. And so that's, I think, why I enjoy it.
PESCA: The Wakowskis bought their satellite radios last week. For Stern's move to SIRIUS Satellite Radio to pay off and justify his $100 million a year compensation package, he'll have to bring in at least a million new listeners. Bear Stearns analyst Craig Moffett says that's quite possible.
Mr. CRAIG MOFFETT (Bear Stearns): Investing in Howard Stern for SIRIUS wasn't just investing in a personality. It was buying a business, and Howard Stern is, like it or not, a very well-established and successful radio franchise, and he will bring enough customers that it's very likely to be a successful venture.
PESCA: Stern has been predicting that the franchise will be reinvigorated at SIRIUS once he's out from under the censor's thumb.
(Soundbite of radio broadcast)
Mr. STERN: Yeah, I don't have to hear every minute that we're gross and disgusting and that we don't know what we're doing.
Unidentified Woman: Right. Yeah, we won't hear how bad we are.
Mr. STERN: Yeah. You know, and I think we're going to get so weird--like, we're going to become Amish--I think we're actually going to grow beards and mustaches and...
Unidentified Woman: Yeah, we'll have our own kind of outfits.
Unidentified Man: Sure.
Mr. STERN: In fact, we might even grow beards without mustaches.
Unidentified Woman: Oooh, that's really out there.
Mr. STERN: I'm already designing uniforms for us.
PESCA: Right now about three million listeners subscribe to SIRIUS, six million to competitor XM Satellite Radio. Eileen Furukawa of Citigroup predicts in 10 years each company will have over 20 million listeners. That would make satellite radio a runaway success, and if it comes to pass Stern will probably be calling himself king of all media on Earth and in outer space. Mike Pesca, NPR News, New York.
CHADWICK: The DAY TO DAY theme was composed by Greg Smith. DAY TO DAY is a production of NPR News with contributions from slate.com. I'm Alex Chadwick.