Shock jock Howard Stern is happy at last.
Six months after he jumped from the FM dial to the unbridled world of satellite radio, the broadcast rebel who ranted for years at censorship, government regulators and corporate bosses has finally found contentment.
“I tell you I’m at complete peace. I’ve never had more fun in my radio career than I’m having right now,” Stern said in a recent interview with Reuters. “It’s like a rebirth.”
But the maverick long given to frequent fits of on-air rage insisted his contrarian edge remains intact despite breaking free of the Federal Communications Commission and settling a nasty legal feud with former overlords at CBS.
“I’m not some happy, smiley guy who goes into the studio every day (and says) ’Oh wow! Today’s a beautiful day, and there’s nothing bad to be said,”’ Stern said. “I’d have to go through a lot more psychiatry before I could change the persona of negativity that I live in.”
Much of his negativity over the years stemmed from battles with the FCC over his raunchy brand of humor. A pioneer of comedy bits like “Lesbian Dial-a-Date” and “Stripper Jeopardy,” Stern stunned the broadcast industry in October 2004 when he announced he was leaving terrestrial radio for satellite.
Stern complained then that he had grown especially frustrated by the government’s crackdown on sexually explicit content since Janet Jackson bared her breast on live television during a Super Bowl halftime show.
After fulfilling the last 14 months of his CBS Corp. contract, Stern debuted in January on Sirius Satellite Radio under a five-year deal valued at $500 million.
The basic format of his show -- a freewheeling mix of in-studio banter, telephone calls from fans and interviews with the famous and freaky -- remains the same. So has Stern’s preoccupation with sex and scatology.
‘Whack pack’ lets looseBy his own account, the biggest difference between commercial, over-the-air Stern and his reincarnated self at subscription-based Sirius is the “absolutely liberating” nature of his new home.
With sidekicks Robin Quivers and Artie Lange, plus a cadre of assistants, interns and quirky regulars collectively dubbed the “whack pack,” Stern said he and his guests are free to be as provocative, and as profane, as comes naturally.
“I’m sitting back and having a blast because we’re all talking, and no one is censoring themselves,” Stern said. “I feel like I can be funny.”
Stern may tout his newfound freedom to use four-letter words, but Michael Harrison, publisher of trade magazine Talkers, said Stern’s popularity hinges on “his intelligence and his satire, not his profanity.”
“So whether he’s bleeped or not is ultimately irrelevant to his success, because being dirty on the radio does not get an audience. Being clever does.”
Big gains for SiriusSirius currently counts 4.1 million subscribers and expects to sign up at least 2 million more by year’s end, marking an 87 percent increase over its customer tally in late 2005. Sirius points to Stern as its biggest single draw.
While his Sirius audience pales in comparison to the 12 million listeners Stern commanded at the peak of his CBS career, a third of Sirius customers responding to a recent Jacobs Media poll cited him as a key factor in their decision to subscribe.
Analysts predict satellite radio overall will grow sharply with subscriber totals topping 40 million in a few years, much of that driven by “the Stern effect.”
Larger rival XM Satellite Radio boasts 6.5 million users but recently lowered its year-end subscriber forecast from 9 million to 8.5 million.
Meanwhile, the self-described “King of All Media” also ventured recently into the realm of video-on-demand TV with an all-Stern channel available through several major cable operators. The so-called Howard TV On Demand features highlights of his daily Sirius radio show and uncut, previously censored moments from his old cable TV home, E! Entertainment.
Stern ruled out the possibility of his own return to terrestrial radio as “inconceivable.”
“I’d have to go back to the old rules and regulations and censoring myself,” he said. “I’m miles away from that. ... I just don’t even want it in my life.”