Howard Stern, all 6 feet, 5 inches of him, is a internationally-sydincated radio talk show host, the first and best known of the shock jocks, and the self-proclaimed "King of All Media."
Howard Allen Stern was born on January 12, 1954 in Jackson Heights (Queens), New York, and, as he repeatedly announces on his radio show "grew up in the predominantly black neighborhood of Roosevelt, Long Island." His father, Ben, was an engineer at a local radio station, and young Howard's first few sessions on the microphone were at Ben's place of business. (He occasionally plays old tapes of his father "interviewing" the impertinent 8-year old Howard, only to respond the his son's antics by bellowing "I told you not to be stupid, you moron!")
Howard attended Boston University, and worked at the college radio station. His broadcasting style started to appear there, where his program "King Schmaltz Bagel Hour" (a takeoff on the long-running radio series "King Biscuit Flower Hour") was cancelled after its first show for being too offensive (in a piece entitled "Name That Sin," he invited "contestants" to come on and confess their worst transgressions). He graduated in 1976 with a 3.8 GPA, a degree in communications, and a girlfriend-- Allison, a social worker, whom he married in 1978.
Repeatedly told that his voice wasn't suitable for radio, Howard took a series of ordinary disc jockey jobs, starting out in Birarcliff Manor, N.Y., in an underpowered station in the suburbs of New York City. There, his current radio persona began to emerge as he began to mix frank talk and phone conversations with listeners in with spinning records. Fired after two years for "unacceptable behavior," Howard moved to to stations in Connecticut, Detroit, and Washington, D.C., slowly expanding the amount of his show devoted to talk, and reducing the amount of time actually spent playing music (and usually getting fired in the process).
By 1982, Howard had returned to New York as the afternoon drive-time jock on WNBC. Fired after an increasingly combative three years, he then was hired in 1986 as the morning DJ on WXRK ("K-Rock"), a position he has managed to hold on to for 15 years.
In 1996, Howard briefly ran for Governor of New York State on the Libertarian ticket. Although he insisted that he was a serious candidate, his platform consisted of only three goals: reinstating the death penalty; requiring highway construction to be done at night (so as not to disrupt commuters like himself); and that upon establishing these two goals, he would resign, allowing his Lieutenant Governor to finish out the term. A few months after securing the Libertarian Party endorsement, Howard lost a court battle challenging the state's law that candidates for Governor publicly disclose their financial information, and he withdrew from the race.
Howard has three daughters with Allison: Emily, Debra, and Ashely Jade. However, in October 1999, Howard and Allison separated amicably. Howard admits that the reason for the separation was that he had alienated Allison and his family by devoting too much time to his work and various projects. He moved out of the family's home on Long Island, and into an apartment in Manhattan. He has since begun dating Beth Ostrosky, a relatively unknown actress.
Howard's radio show runs live from 6:00 a.m. until 10:00 a.m. (or whenever he feels like finishing it), Monday through Friday. It was one of the first radio talk shows to be syndicated, a fact that Howard is prone to tout frequently. It was first syndicated to Philadelphia in 1986, and, after reaching #1 there and proving that the show could be successful outside of New York, was later brought to Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. Today, it is syndicated in approximately 55 markets in the U.S. and Canada. It is the most-listened to radio show in many of its markets.
The basic format of the show is not innovative: the first hour of each broadcast usually consists of Howard discussing current events and his personal frustrations with his in-studio crew. The second and third hours of the show are usually given over to interviews with various celebrity and non-celebrity guests, telephone calls from listeners, prepared skits and song parodies, and other typical radio fare. The final hour generally invovles Howard's giggling sidekick, Robin Quivers, reading news stories and Howard commenting on them.
Howard dismisses the label of "shock jock," insisting that his discussions are not gratuitious efforts to shock listeners, but merely "talk the way guys talk sitting around a bar." To some extent, that's an accurate assessment: the show's atmosphere best resembles a frat house, with common topics of discussion being sex (with pornography, lesbians, and masturbation as the most prevalent sub-themes), television and music, and current events. The level of discourse rarely rises above fart jokes and racial stereotypes. (As a result, Infinity Broadcasting, the syndicator of the show, has sometimes been fined for indecency by the Federal Communications Commission, a fact that Howard ascribes to attempts to censor him.)
However, Howard is clearly a very intelligent person, and it's not hard to imagine that he actually has a design behind the anarchy of the show. In reality, Howard is like a grown-up version of Holden Caulfield, despising "phoniness" in people. An argument can be made that the coarseness of his show is an attempt to slyly puncture the carefully-rehearsed, media-friendly personna that his celebrity guests put on, in the hopes that listeners might get a brief glimpse of the "real" person behind their public image. While his questionning of various guests as to their sexual experiences or toilet habits might seem prurient on the surface, it often lulls (or yes, shocks) them into lowering their defenses and speaking candidly.
In other respects, the show is largely indistinguishable from other "shock jock" radio shows. (Howard insists that he innovated all of the various "bits" he does, and that "imitators" at other radio stations steal from him. It is a tired theme-- and not entirely accurate-- but it doesn't stop him from flogging it endlessly.) Like Comedy Central's "The Man Show" and Maxim Magazine, Howard's show is a deconstructionist's heaven: is it simply mindless outrageousness or an unblinkingly sharp satire of the decline of civility? Or maybe it's a satire that has gone so far as to become that which it once attempted to parody? Pondering the layers of nuance can help get you through the ten-minute long commerical breaks.
It would be an impossible task to catalog the various personalities who have waxed and waned on the show, and I leave it to future noders to assemble a comprehensive list. Briefly, however, the core on-air personnel consist of Howard; Robin Quivers; producer Gary Dell'Abate, affectionately knows as 'Baba Booey'; writer and sound effects man Fred Norris; writer Jackie "the Jokeman" Martling (Martling left the show following a contract dispute in 2000); and phone screener and guerilla celebrity interviewer "Stuttering" John Melendez. Orbiting this crew is a galaxy of lesser luminaries, including Howard's "Wack Pack" of fanatical (and often physically or mentally handicapped) listeners; has-been celebrities, and station personnel.
King of All Media?
Not content with having the top rated radio show nationwide, Howard has fought, and often succeeded, to broaden his influence into other forms of media.
At first, he was content to put out the occasional videotaped or pay-per-view special-- essentially a live stage version of some of his more popular bits, such as the "Lesbian Dating Game." Seeing the potential of reaching a television audience, Howard experimented in the late 1980s with a one-hour televised version of the radio show (with some new content) on WWOR, a television channel in New Jersey reaching most of the New York metropolitan area. Although he gave up on the show within a year or two, he considered the experiement with television a success, and a few years later, reached a deal with E!, the cable-television entertainment network, to televise his show again. The E! show is a half-hour segment of edited highlights from a recent radio show, filmed through several automatic cameras in the radio studio. Running late at night every day of the week, is one of E!'s most-watched shows.
The success of the E! show encouraged Howard to launch a major network television show. In 1998, he struck a deal with CBS, the parent corporation of Infinity Broadcasting, to air "The Howard Stern Radio Show" on Saturday nights, opposite NBC's "Saturday Night Live." Like the E! show, the CBS version is mostly edited footage from inside the studio during the radio show. Howard boasted that the CBS show would crush the increasingly stale "Saturday Night Live" in the ratings, but it has received only lukewarm support from viewers.
Paving a path for himself out of radio some day, Howard recently formed a self-titled production company, and has begun developing television shows. His first effort, "Son of the Beach" is a lowbrow "Baywatch" spoof showing on the little-seen FX cable network. In addition, he is developing an animated futuristic series called "Doomsday."
In 1995, Howard wrote an autobiography called "Private Parts." The sometimes painfully candid book was surprisingly well-reviewed and reached #1 on best-seller lists, becoming, according to Howard, was "the fastest selling book ever published by Random House." Howard wrote a second book, "Miss America" in 1996. The book picked up where "Private Parts" left off, describing his efforts to get his show syndicated and his battles with jocks in other cities, as well as covering a scattershot sampling of other subjects including his experiments with cybersex, a private meeting with Michael Jackson, and his battle to overcome an obsessive-compulsive disorder. Like "Private Parts," "Miss America" sold well, although not at the level of its predecessor.
In 1997, Paramount Pictures released a movie version of "Private Parts," directed by Betty Thomas. Starring Howard and Robin as themselves, the film chronicles Howard's early years in radio, up to his return to New York City. A strong sub-theme of the movie, however, was Howard's relationship with Allison (played in the movie by Mary McCormack), focusing on the difference between Howard Stern, "the man," and "Howard Stern," the radio personality. Many reviewers, expecting to see a debauched movie from the "bad boy of radio" were surprised to instead see what many described as "a love letter to his wife." Overall reviews were surprisingly positive. The film opened strongly at #1 its first week with $14 million in ticket sales, and did decent business with non-Stern fans, but ultimately made only about $40 million, scarcely more than double its budget.