It came out of the sky
Here comes Howard Stern to add to satellite radio's variety
By Todd Leopold
ON CNN TV
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(CNN) -- Full disclosure: I subscribe to XM. In fact, I enjoy it so much I bought an XM receiver and subscription for my wife.
My brother, a big Howard Stern fan, has had a Sirius receiver installed in his car in advance of Stern's debut on Monday.
We're not alone in joining these satellite radio services. Sirius has seen a huge spike in subscribers since announcing Stern's arrival, tripling its base since the end of 2004; XM, the leading service, has almost 6 million customers, more than double what it had in 2004.
But why should we "pay for what you used to get for free," as Tom Petty pointedly sings in "The Last DJ"?
Lots of reasons. Commercial broadcast radio, with rare exceptions (a tip of the hat to you, WXRT in Chicago), is hidebound and boring, with a handful of corporations controlling the majority of stations. Disc jockeys (or, as they're known in the business, "personalities") are a vanishing breed, and good ones -- that is, ones you'd listen to for themselves as much as for the music -- are even rarer. (Not that they get much chance to show off.)
Even noncommercial and college stations appear to take few chances, leaning heavily on NPR or aping stations up the dial. (Even in the late '80s this was true; one of Syracuse University's stations went by the oxymoronic moniker of "Z89," and played a Top Forty playlist.)
And maybe it's just the way the world is going.
After all, 25 years ago television was a three-network universe, with "What's on?" answered by whatever ABC, NBC and CBS (and maybe PBS and a local UHF station) wanted to show you. Now there are hundreds of channels -- and almost 70 percent of U.S. households pays to have them.
If it's dispiriting that so little television can be had for free, cable and satellite TV have made possible the televising of programs and events that the major networks wouldn't have bothered with during their heyday. Indeed, one could argue that the broadcast networks -- hoping to stop the slide of viewers to cable -- have improved their offerings, thanks to competition from "The Sopranos," ESPN, "The Real World" and Netflix.
(It all comes out in the wash, anyway: Most cable channels are owned by the same corporations that own the broadcast networks.)
Broadcast radio may step up its game, too. But it may have taken listeners for granted for too long. Those consumers now have multidisc CD changers, audiobooks and all the variety of satellite network channels to supply the music and entertainment they want.
Heck, even Tom Petty has a show on XM now.
Eye on Entertainment checks into the Stern facts.
The "King of All Media" has been looking forward to taking the microphone at Sirius since his contract -- purportedly $500 million for five years, though Stern says it's less -- was signed in October 2004.
Gone, he believes, will be run-ins with corporate radio management (Clear Channel famously removed him from six stations in 2004) and the FCC (which has hit Stern stations with $2.5 million in fines). In their place will be Howard Uncensored, with all the bits he's known for -- porn stars, the "Wack Pack" of misfit correspondents, Lesbian Dial-a-Date -- prominently featured.
In fact, Sirius is giving Stern two channels to fill. If recent stories are to be believed, Stern is both panicked and thrilled at the opportunity.
"I've got some kind of weird rebirth going on," he told New York magazine. "All of a sudden, I'm like the old Howard Stern. ... I'm like out of my freaking mind. I hear radio shows in my dreams. I haven't been this turned on by radio in so long. I can think about nothing else."
What can listeners expect? There will be the "Howard 100 News," the news according to -- or put through the brain of -- Howard Stern. He hopes to broadcast the goings-on of a room at a Nevada whorehouse. And there could be a parody of "The View." (Let your imagination roam.)
Will it work? Sirius is banking on it -- in more ways than one. (The company is, essentially, pinning its success on Stern.) And Stern knows that not everybody will follow him to satellite. But he's maintaining a Stern attitude.
"[It's] a very risky career move," he told New York, "but I don't care."
Howard Stern debuts on Sirius Monday.
On the tube
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