Shock jock Howard Stern, given to frequent on-air fits of desperation and rage, said Tuesday his radio days are “really numbered” with the abrupt resignation of his chief benefactor, Mel Karmazin, as president of Viacom Inc.
“He’s my backup here,” Stern lamented as he opened his nationally syndicated morning show lamenting the news that Karmazin, for whom Stern has worked for 18 years, was stepping down as Viacom president and chief operating officer. “This is definitely the nail in my coffin.”
But a key executive at Viacom, newly named co-president Leslie Moonves, told reporters that he would do his best to keep Stern and other top radio talent.
Stern’s radio show, syndicated by Viacom-owned Infinity Broadcasting, is currently carried on about three dozen radio stations around the country.
It was Karmazin who rescued Stern’s career by hiring him in the mid-1980s after the ribald radio host was fired by WNBC in New York and helped transform his show into a national broadcast sensation.
“If NBC was a concentration camp, then Mel was my Schindler,” Stern told listeners, alluding to the German war profiteer who saved more than 1,100 Jews from the Nazis by employing them in his factory.
The man who brought “Lesbian Dial-a-Date” and “Stripper Jeopardy!” to radio also credits Karmazin with steadfastly defending his show against periodic attacks from federal regulators.
Is this the end of Stern?Even as Stern’s show was dumped from six Clear Channel Communications stations earlier this year and Karmazin himself vowed to crack down on indecency, Stern was permitted to keep his program intact, though he has complained bitterly about more frequent bleeping of content.
It was hardly the first time that Stern has taken to the airwaves to forecast his own demise. The radio host has made similar gloom-and-doom statements in the midst of tough contract negotiations and during past feuds with the Federal Communications Commission.
Stern’s agent, Don Buchwald, declined to comment on the current situation except to say, “Mel’s been a loyal supporter for Howard for many years.”
Stern said he first learned of Karmazin’s departure from a voice message left by CBS Chairman and Chief Executive Leslie Moonves, who was named to the additional posts of co-president and co-COO of Viacom.
On his show last week, Stern predicted that Karmazin would leave Viacom, adding he would leave Infinity if Karmazin quit.
On Tuesday’s show, he seemed to soften his stance, saying he was contractually bound to remain at Infinity for now.
Moonves told reporters one of his first tasks will be to patch up relationships with Stern and other Infinity talent. “It will be an important part of my job to make these guys happy and I intend to do that,” he said.