Yes, even someone with an intellect as towering as mine listens to someone as “perverse” as Howard Stern. During all the hype for his movie “Private Parts” back in 1997, I decided to give him another chance. I’ve known of Howard Stern since the early days of his career as a jock at WCCC in Hartford, Connecticut, and I remember his campaign to get Paul McCartney released from a Japanese jail after his marijuana bust.
He didn’t stay long in Hartford, and for the next seven years or so, I didn’t hear his show at all until the time I found myself riding a cab in New York City in 1987. Aware he had landed in New York thanks to his appearances on David Letterman, I thought little of his antics. I thought even less of them as my girlfriend and I sat in the back seat subjected to a bit that involved clamping jumper cables on someone’s nipples. What fun.
As an avid college radio listener and a true music enthusiast, I saw Howard more as a threat than anything else. Ten years later, WBCN in Boston picked up the show about the same time as the release of the movie, and I gave in. I’ve listened pretty much every day since then.
I found myself amazed and intrigued not so much by his schtick, but by his infiltration within my own social circle. At first, I only listened from nine o’clock on, which meant I caught a celebrity interview followed by Robin’s news. I still couldn’t take myself away from my morning dose of NPR until they unceremoniously “demoted” Bob Edwards, which caused my affection for the network to diminish. I figured that if the non-profit wanted to start acting like any other commercial media outlet, then I’d treat it as one. I haven’t contributed a dime since and I’ve largely tuned out.
So now, Howard dominates my mornings, except on those days when he takes a break, which lately have increased considerably. When you see me, you’ll notice I have no ass. That’s because I laughed it off listening to Howard.
What I like about Howard:
1. Listening to the show provides a good lesson in employee management. Howard typically delegates well and he puts trust in the abilities of those he hires. Howard does not micromanage.
2. Howard’s interviewing skills are unmatched.
3. He does seem to value his fans and wisely shuns the whole merchandising game. You will not find any “official” Howard Stern merchandise anywhere. Except for his books and his movie, Howard sells nothing beyond his own show. He could probably be much wealthier than he already is, but he eschews even offering CDs of past shows. He endorses nothing beyond reading sponsor spots during his show. Contrast that with his colleagues. Glenn Beck alone offers more landfill-bait than a professional sports league.
4. Howard is the real deal. I believe that his show pretty much paints a honest picture of who he is, and that for the most part, the spontaneous bits are indeed that. I think that all commercial media has its contrivances, but for a media star, you couldn’t ask for someone with greater integrity. He often says that he succeeded in the business because of his honesty, and for this alone, he deserves his fame.
5. For the most part, I find him genuinely funny. Yes, the show bottom feeds, but as Chris Rock said, no one can program four hours of radio for four days a week without diving into the potty. Stupid people, in my mind, have no comic ability, and while Howard often deprecates his intelligence and his level of sophistication (with some justification), he has a keen sense of people and their personality. His apparent bullying and meanness comes primarily from a desire to keep the show moving and interesting. He believes as I do that we should probably make it a crime to bore people.
6. I always love it when he talks about the industry, entertainment in general, but especially when he recounts his own history in radio and radio in general. I’ve always loved the medium myself, and I agree with his own assessment of his true value to the industry. He is clearly underappreciated in terms of respect.
7. For the most part, I’m a fan of Ralph Cirella.
8. I’m glad that Gary “Bababooey” Del Abate seems to make a very good living as Howard’s producer. For all the shit he puts up with, he deserves it. Twelve (!) years ago, when they played his self-made video tape begging an ex-girlfriend to come back, I laughed so hard I thought I’d choke on my spleen. There will never be funnier radio.
9. I miss Artie. I didn’t start out as an Artie fan. In the beginning, his constant fawning over Howard made me start to wonder just how far he could stick his tongue up Howard’s ass. Over time, he settled in and his whole lovable slob personna nicely balanced Howard’s Jewish neurosis.
10. Anytime he talks to J.D.
11. He exhibits an extremely healthy attitude toward women. Men could learn a great deal with how Howard handles his relationships with them. His antics with women and strippers, notwithstanding, I completely believe the rap about Howard’s personal charm off the show. After all, he has three daughters.
12. He usually gives great advice about life and career. Though not so much about sex.
What I don’t like about Howard and the show:
1. He has an ossified taste in music. Like most Boomers, he believes that “they just don’t make music like that anymore.” That meaning Cream, Hendrix, Zeppelin, and the whole classic rock genre. He and his side-kick Fred Norris come from a radio background that played and played and played and played those bands ad naseum. In that sense, I believe they helped to contribute to the music industry’s demise, but to lay out that blanket assessment belies the fact that you can still find great music if you know where to look. You just won’t find it on commercial radio. It hasn’t existed there for almost thirty years now.
2. In the Book According to Howard, if it doesn’t make money, lots of money, why bother? While I can appreciate the fatherly advice — especially now with retirement on the horizon — the singular quest for income uber alles can crush your soul. The key, I think, is finding balance, but that’s not the message Howard imparts, at least not overtly.
3. Howard never should have renewed his contract with Sirius. He should have instead established his own internet-based media company. Sirius needs him more than he needs them, but I suppose at his age, I might take the safe road as well. As Jeff Jarvis says, it’ll take a Howard Stern to finally undo the grip on media held by the likes of Comcast, Disney, and their ilk. Howard just didn’t have the stones to be that guy. And it’s too bad, because I’d pay to get just Howard. I will not pay for all of Sirius just to get Howard. (And I don’t.)
4. The obsession with anal sex got old about five years ago. Enough already.
5. Since the signing of the new contract, he’s picked up the pace of the show and has already explained that he’ll soon reduce his schedule to three days a week (when he’s even there). This means the show will slowly fade away over the next five years. By the time this contract runs out, we may never notice he left the scene.
6. With the end of his career looming, he’s become increasingly obsessed with his legacy. I doubt that he will retire as radio’s “bad boy.” Instead, he’ll go out like Johnny Carson, with one celebrity after another fawning over him. It won’t be pretty.
7. Much of the show has already grown into a tiresome discussion over how much money he’s spent on houses, new toys, or his experiences while on his most recent exotic vacation. We should all have such worries.
8. Sal the Stockbroker is blithering idiot (see above comment about humor and intelligence). How that guy gets through life amazes me, although his discussions about his marriage sometime border on poignance. I also wish Howard would keep Ronnie out of the studio. He’s a loudmouth with nothing interesting to say.
9. I have to think that they get hundreds of callers (if not more) every day, and yet every show will generally feature calls from the same three or four people, who’ve obviously done a great job sucking up to Howard and/or asking well-rehearsed, provocative questions. And I usually fast-forward through any call by King of All Blacks. Frankly, I wish he wouldn’t take any calls. Ninety percent of them stop the show dead in its tracks.
10. I hate the phony phone calls. For some reason, I find little humor anonymously annoying people over the phone. This is fifth-grade stuff, and I know because I stopped doing it when I went to sixth grade.
11. Why does he always assume that if you aren’t using a rubber, you’re pulling out? He never asks if the girl was on the pill, which I think most women are, but on the rare occasion he does talk about it (which happened last week), he goes on a rant about the dangers of the pill. Yes, well, pregnancy is no walk in the park, either.
Howard won’t give a damn about this, especially since he gets none of my money, but I just wanted to get this out there and on the record. I also want to thank the brave individuals who make the show available on the internet for those of us who don’t also want to pay for the Oprah or the Grateful Dead channels. Howard’s show has improved immensely since moving to satellite, and I wouldn’t have known that without their efforts.