Suspended by the nation’s No. 1 radio conglomerate, Howard Stern grabbed a microphone Thursday morning and ranted. He asked his boss to fire him and complained about censorship.
Then he fielded a call from his girlfriend — to discuss their sexual encounter the night before.
Typical Stern on an atypical day for the shock jock. The self-proclaimed “King of All Media” saw his kingdom shrink as Clear Channel Communications yanked Stern off a half-dozen stations Wednesday over the content of his oft-salacious show.
“They are so afraid of me and what this show represents,” Stern told his legion of devoted listeners — those who could still hear him, anyway.
Clear Channel’s decision comes at a time of heightened public and political pressure on broadcasters to clean up their act. The uproar started after singer Justin Timberlake exposed Janet Jackson’s breast to 90 million viewers during the Super Bowl halftime show, prompting Congress to convene hearings into indecent programming.
Stern’s nationally syndicated show appears on more than 40 stations across North America and draws millions of listeners.
Clear Channel yanked Stern from stations in San Diego, Pittsburgh, Rochester, N.Y., Louisville, Ky., and Fort Lauderdale and Orlando, Fla. There was no word on whether the suspension was temporary or permanent.
Dedicated Stern fans called his show to vent about tuning in for their morning fix, only to find the shock jock abruptly off the airwaves. The fans were much angrier than Stern, who managed to control his temper while discussing the Clear Channel decision.
“I could blow my stack,” Stern said. “I’m trying to be cryptic.” But he was more direct in recent shows, blasting Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell and Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., of the House Telecommunications Committee.
Infinity Broadcasting, which syndicates Stern’s show, declined to comment on the latest flap, said spokesman Dana McClintock. In 1995, the company paid a record $1.7 million fine to the FCC over violations by the Stern show.
Change in the airwavesClear Channel’s decision on Stern came one day before the head of its radio division, John Hogan, testified before the congressional hearings. Coincidence or not, it seems things are now different around the radio dial.
“The climate has changed at a lot of these stations,” said Tom Taylor, editor of the trade publication Inside Radio. “The weather has gotten considerably colder.”
It was Tuesday’s Stern show that prompted the Clear Channel decision. The program featured typical fare: Paris Hilton’s ex-boyfriend hawking his sex tape of the hotel heiress. Two women getting naked after losing a contest.
But it was apparently a call from a listener who used the “n-word” that spurred Hogan’s reaction.
It is far from the first firestorm for Stern. He was fired from his college radio station for an offensive bit. And it was his firing from another radio station in 1985 that led to his current slot on WXRK-FM, a gig that changed the voice of radio.
Scores of Stern impersonators have since sprung up, aping (but rarely equaling) his mix of raunch and high ratings. Stern became a one-man conglomerate, with a television show, two best-selling books, a hit move and his own production company.
Through it all, Stern has survived attacks by an army of critics charging that he was racist, sexist, and every other -ist. Now, with Congress taking a long look at broadcast content, Stern has again shifted from his media throne to the hot seat.
“Janet Jackson is now forgotten, and I’m on the front page of every newspaper,” Stern complained Thursday morning.
Stern is not the only DJ under fire from Clear Channel for broadcasting raunchy content.
Hogan told members of Congress on Thursday that he was “ashamed” of the “Bubba the Love Sponge” show, which recently brought a $755,000 proposed fine from the FCC for sexually explicit content and other alleged indecency violations. It is believed to be the largest indecency fine in history.
“We were wrong to air that material,” Hogan said. “I accept responsibility for our mistake and my company will live with the consequences of its actions.”
Clear Channel fired the disc jockey Tuesday.