Stern's First Day
From today's New York Times.
By BEN SISARIO
Published: January 10, 2006
It began, appropriately enough, with flatulence.
For the opening of Howard Stern's first show on Sirius Satellite Radio yesterday morning, a Bronx cheer accompanied the heroic chords of Strauss's "Also Sprach Zarathustra." Then a spoken introduction by George Takei, who played Sulu on "Star Trek," assured listeners that, despite the switch to the new and largely unfamiliar format, it was still Mr. Stern's show.
"This is the maiden voyage of Howard Stern's satellite radio show," said Mr. Takei, who announced last year that he is gay. "Its five-year mission: to seek out new lesbians with sexy stories."
After more than 20 years on terrestrial radio as the archetypal shock jock, and a recent media blitz with appearances on "Larry King Live" and "60 Minutes," Mr. Stern finally inaugurated his new career yesterday. And for many listeners, it was comfortingly familiar: ribald talk, raunchy jokes about celebrities, bickering among the show's staff and no small amount of self-promotion.
And plenty of dirty words.
"It wasn't a whole lot different than before," said Dave Milstein, 35, a clerk at the New York Stock Exchange who signed up for Sirius over the weekend to hear Mr. Stern's show. "There was a little bit of cursing," he added, "but not too much."
There were some glitches. Mr. Stern complained about feedback in his headphones and briefly played Tom Petty's song "The Last D.J." while technicians fixed the problem. He quickly returned to the program, playing an uncensored audiotape of the television host Pat O'Brien in a compromising position and quizzing Mr. Takei about his sexual history.
The program was peppered with foul language, from the show's dialogue to the spelling of its call-in phone number. Mr. Stern, who has long cast himself as a victim of stringent federal indecency standards, was finally free to do whatever he wanted. Which, some in the radio business have suggested, might mean Mr. Stern has no more rules to break, no more boundaries to cross.
"The tortured-man aspect was the most compelling thing about Howard," said Michael Picozzi, the program director at WCCC-FM, an independent rock station in Hartford. "He was the guy with a stripper on his lap but a wife at home. He wanted to say dirty words but the F.C.C. wouldn't let him say it."
Mr. Picozzi added, "Now he's not fighting against anybody or anything."
Griping about federal broadcasting restrictions, long a big part of Mr. Stern's routine on terrestrial radio - his last day on the air was Dec. 16 - was gone. Instead, Mr. Stern had a new meta-media theme: the power and novelty of satellite radio itself. Inviting dozens of journalists into his studio, Mr. Stern, the self-appointed "king of all media," held an 85-minute news conference on the air, on the subject of himself and his show.
Since Sirius signed Mr. Stern in 2004, its total number of subscribers has grown to 3.3 million from about 600,000. More than 1.1 million of those new subscriptions came in the fourth quarter of 2005, largely on hype for Mr. Stern's show; Bridge Ratings, a research firm, estimated that 63 percent of those fourth-quarter subscriptions were attributable to Mr. Stern.
The rush on new subscriptions left some retailers scrambling to fill orders for the special equipment needed to receive Sirius. A spokeswoman for Best Buy said its stock was quickly selling out and compared its popularity over the holiday season to that of Apple's iPod and Microsoft's Xbox 360 video game system.
A spokesman for Sirius, Patrick Reilly, said the company had anticipated the rush and made sure it had enough inventory for the demand. "But we can't predict what each store is going to order," he said.
Mr. Stern signed a five-year deal with Sirius that was worth as much as $500 million, and on Thursday the company announced that as part of that deal Mr. Stern was awarded about $220 million worth of Sirius stock because certain subscription goals had been met.
And while some in radio wonder whether Mr. Stern's appeal will suffer after the change to satellite radio - where content is not regulated by the Federal Communications Commission - others predict success.
"Howard Stern's appeal has very, very little to do with the use of language and sex," said Michael Harrison, the editor and publisher of Talkers, a talk-radio trade magazine. "People do not tune in to hear dirty words or to hear sexuality - you can get that anywhere."
"His success has been won by being able to generate publicity by whatever situation he happens to be a part of," he added. "This is just another shtick, another great Stern concoction to keep himself on the edge of pop culture."
Colin Moynihan contributed reporting for this article.