In less than a week, one of the greatest radio careers ever will end one journey and begin another. Howard Stern, nemesis of the prudish and faint of heart, will leave New York's WXRK, and a large syndicated network spanning the country, to begin broadcasting on Sirius satellite Radio in January.
We can all argue back and forth whether or not Stern is a sexist, racist and misogynist, not to mention the Anti-Christ himself. There is plenty of fodder for both sides of the debate. Yet, few can argue that Stern has not been one of the most influential entertainers of the last 25 years. His brutally honest daily dialogue with 10 million listeners per day has revolutionized the way we listen to radio. There are 100's of sub par "shock jocks" roaming FM radio across the world doing Stern's show to audiences in markets where Howard doesn't have a presence. The poor listeners don't even know they're listening to the radio equivalent of Milli Vanilli.
Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Opie and Anthony, Al Franken etc. have all benefited from the trail blazed first by Stern, who created a format that, though initially shunned by radio talking heads, was embraced by listeners, and consequently, advertisers.
The last 10 years have not been kind to The King of All Media. His divorce 6 years ago rocked his world, and made for some of the greatest radio broadcasts he ever did. It was truly amazing to listen to a man travel the emotional arc that divorce is.
Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction and FCC fines followed in 2004, ringing the death knell for Stern's show on terrestrial radio. Stern was hesitant to sign the five year deal with Infinity that started in 2001, so the further tightening of so-called "indecency" guidelines, and the lack of support from the radio industry, forced Stern to take his entire crew and flee to the safe haven of Satellite Radio--a medium un-regulated by the FCC. Stern's contract is for 5 years and $500 million. Commentators like Bill O'Reilly have made it out as though all of this money makes it to Stern's checking account. They're wrong. The total cost includes overhead, construction and other costs associated with the show.
While conservative senators talk of finding ways to regulate satellite radio, they'll be hard-pressed to do so since the listener must first buy the equipment, install it, and then pay a subscription to hear it. Built in security features make the need for the FCC to stick their nose in Satellite a complete waste of time, not to mention an abuse of power.
Stern's last few months on terrestrial radio have been eventful ones, with old show favorites returning for one last conversation with Stern and Howard rifling through piles of old tapes to listen to one more time before they are never heard again (Howard was unwilling to pay Infinity Broadcasting's $30-40 million price tag for his tapes).