Howard Stern: Is the King Cleaning up His Act?
These days, the shock jock seems to be singing a different tune.
Stern. Like other showbiz icons (think: Sinatra, Oprah, De Niro, Clooney), the legendary radio talk show host has earned one-name recognition. His less-than-dignified shock jock antics, rowdy, rabble-rousing guests and crew, and provocative, often controversial broadcasts over the last 40 years have made Howard Stern a superstar and household name. But despite consistently breaking all kinds of records and rules in his quest to reign supreme on the airwaves, Stern has spent the better part of the past decade tempering his persona into a tamer, less scandalous and more politically correct version of his former self.
The first three-quarters of Stern’s radio career seemed devoted to antagonizing the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) with his notoriously lascivious, raunchy skits, discussions, guests, games, and the like. He boasts being the most fined host, accumulating $2.5 million worth of indecent content penalties for his station licensees between 1990 and 2004. However, his 2006 move from terrestrial radio to the satellite and online radio service Sirius (now Sirius XM)–which is not regulated by the FCC–gave Stern carte blanche to entertain censor-free.
So why has the famously risqué personality mellowed?
“It would be really pathetic if I was still in the same space as when I was 20 or 30, when I felt threatened by everyone and there was no room for anyone else on the radio,” he told the New York Times. The pressure he put on himself to conquer markets and skyrocket his ratings may have been relieved by the extraordinary success he achieved with his triumvirate of insanely prosperous Sirius XM deals.
Stern initially went to Sirius for an estimated $500 million over five years to launch two channels: Howard 100 and Howard 101. Driving subscriptions from about 500,000 to approximately 30 million, he landed roughly another $250 million in subscriber quota bonuses. In 2010, Stern renewed for five years with an estimated $80 million annually, reducing his live on-air time from four to three weekdays. He signed another jaw-dropping five-year extension in 2015, speculated to hover near the $90 million a year mark for four live hours of The Howard Stern Show three days per week. The deal included plans for an app to stream video of the show and exclusive licensing rights for 30-years’ worth of his archives in both audio and video for Sirius XM through 2027.
As The Motley Fool underscored, “Stern is on a very short list of personalities who has proven that his audience will not only follow him but will pay to hear his show.” Quite the stroke to an ego that has admittedly long-suffered with an excess of insecurities and overcompensated with a larger-than-life personality. Couple this confidence boost with aging, maturity, and some counseling, Stern–now in his 60s–has gotten comfortable in his own skin. ‘’I go to therapy three days a week and it has actually really helped me. It’s not an easy road to take a good hard look at yourself, but I feel happier,’’ Stern told the press.
Speculation also points to his new chief operating officer, Marci Turk, as a major contributor to the softening. Since her advent, several changes have socked his long-running shtick, most noticeably, the disappearance of certain members of his loyal Wack Pack, staff, and some politically incorrect behavior, such as the fake lisp in gay-related bits and tactless nicknames for particular cohorts. A Page Six article accused Turk of banning some incendiary recurrent guests and quoted a long-time insider affirming she has “a very strong hand on how the show is handled and how everyone has to ‘keep Howard’s brand right.’”
Furthermore, Stern went totally mainstream with his four-season stint as a judge on primetime television’s America’s Got Talent from 2012-2015, showing a much gentler, empathetic, complimentary side of himself.
“There’s still a part of me that just wants to prove to my parents that I’m not an idiot,” Stern told the New York Times. Presumably this motivation has quelled the multimedia marvel, earning him credibility and respect along the way. A-list celebrities, public figures, and prestigious guests who never would have considered visiting Stern’s studio to be dissected, exposed, or humiliated have flocked to his mic for a comprehensive, no-holds-barred, bare-all interview. Madonna even called him out, saying, “You used to say bad things about me.” Stern replied, “I used to say bad things about everybody. I was an angry young man.”
Success, age, and influencers aside, Stern’s conscience has been a driving force in his amended identity. “I’ve actually apologized to some people I was a real jerk to because I feel ashamed,” he told the press. “I didn’t need to be that hungry. [I was] not feeling good about myself.” These days, it seems, he feels much, much better.BY THE NUMBERS
Howard Stern’s reputation for pushing the envelope goes beyond his shock jock radio exploits. Here, Axess quantifies some of his achievements and career highlights.
3.8: Stern’s grade point average at Boston University, where he graduated magna cum laude with a communications degree in May, 1976.
20,000,000: Listeners who tuned into The Howard Stern Show in the 60 markets his radio program at WXRK in New York was syndicated. Stern’s show ran for 20 years at WXRK.
1992: The year Stern became the first to have the No. 1 morning radio show simultaneously in New York and Los Angeles.
2,500,000: Dollars the FCC fined Stern’s station licensees for indecent content from 1990 to 2004, making him the most fined radio host.
225,000: Copies of Stern’s autobiography Private Parts’ first print, which sold out within hours. In five days, it became the fastest-selling title in the 70-year publishing history of Simon & Schuster.
41,200,000: Dollars grossed domestically during opening week of Stern’s Private Parts movie.
33,000: Copies of Stern’s book, Miss America, sold on the day of its release at Barnes & Noble stores, setting a one-day company record.
9: Years (1994 to 2002) Stern consecutively won Billboard’s Nationally Syndicated Air Personality of the Year award.
2012: Year Stern was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame.
95,000,000: [Estimated] Dollars Stern earned from 2012-2013 (and again from 2013-2014), putting him and Simon Cowell in a dead heat for first place on Forbes’ list of America’s highest-paid television personalities two years in a row.
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