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Stern’s audience is finding alternatives

Ex-competitors — including racy NPR — attract those not using Sirius
/ Source: Reuters

Howard Stern’s departure from terrestrial radio has proved to be a boon to those he left behind — including far-from-risque National Public Radio.

While the shock jock appears to have attracted over 1 million subscribers to Sirius Satellite Radio Inc., many analysts and consultants believe the exodus is starting to slow with many of the remaining 8 million Stern fans staying tuned to terrestrial radio, listening to his former competitors.

“They have scattered to other places. In a lot of cases other morning shows have benefited. Howard’s going away is something that other morning shows have prayed for for years,” said Tom Taylor, editor of Inside Radio, a radio publication and database service owned by Clear Channel Communications Inc. , the nation’s largest radio operator.

Radio rating company Arbitron set to release ratings data on April 26 covering the period from just after Stern left terrestrial radio, in January 2006, through March.

But interim Arbitron data has shown slippage at some of Stern’s former CBS Corp.stations in key markets, where he was replaced by former Van Halen frontman David Lee Roth on the East Coast and comic Adam Carolla on the West Coast.

A Jacobs Media poll of more than 25,000 listeners of 79 rock stations across the country indicates that 7 out of 10 former Stern listeners continue to listen to terrestrial morning radio shows.

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A smaller sampling of five former Stern affiliate stations indicates that about 3 out of 10 listeners are now tuning into competing, established morning shows rather than Stern’s replacements.

“Some shows are in a better position to attract and retain Stern’s listeners than others,” said Fred Jacobs, president of the radio consulting firm that conducted the survey.

“We’ve had a number of clients who absolutely strategized on how to attract former Stern listeners,” he said, noting that Greater Media Inc.’s Philadelphia station WMMR ran billboards in the last months of Stern’s terrestrial run, stating that no subscription was required for listeners to tune its morning ”Preston & Steve” show.

One former Stern affiliate station that appears to be emerging as a big winner is Entercom Communications Corp.’s KISW-FM in Seattle with its “B.J. Shea” show, according to Jacobs.

Other industry experts also noted that National Public Radio has attracted Stern listeners because it appeals more to his ribald talk show’s fan base than say, conservative talk shows. Other listeners are finding new alternatives.

“NPR stations have benefited. I think all kinds of other stations are benefiting, while other listeners have plugged in their iPods and taken along CDs and are listening more online,” said Taylor.

To be sure, Sirius says the Stern factor in boosting its paid subscriptions is far from over. Its subscribers have jumped from 700,000 in October 2004 when Stern first announced his defection to satellite, which took place in January 2006, to 4 million by mid-March.

“We think that Howard Stern is going to add subscribers every single day. Obviously for the 20 years that he was with his prior employer, he created value for them every single year and we obviously fully expect that to continue going forward,” said Mel Karmazin, Sirius’ chief executive officer, during the company’s fourth-quarter earnings conference call in February.

“The idea that it’s only going to effect fourth-quarter or first-quarter is lame. I think that this is something that is going to continue throughout the five years at least of his (Howard’s) contract,” he said.

But various analysts are assuming the Stern effect on subscriptions is beginning to dissipate.

“I think the Stern momentum has largely played itself out and will probably kick in again Christmas, but the big ramp that was associated with Stern coming is probably over,” said David Bank, analyst at RBC Capital Markets.