On the Scene: Howard Stern's first satellite broadcast
Anybody buying the InDemand TV feed of Howard Stern’s first day on the air at Sirius Satellite Radio may be disappointed; they’ll see no porn stars, naked or clothed, but they may see the back of my head. I was one of about two dozen reporters present this morning as Stern celebrated what his new network calls ”the biggest day in radio since the first day of radio.” The centerpiece of this morning’s show was an on-air press conference held in his large but suddenly cramped new studio, with TV cameras aiming over reporters’ shoulders at the King of All Media as he received his courtiers.
Outside Stern’s studio, on the 36th floor of a midtown Manhattan skyscraper, reporters milled about all morning in the lobby, where a pair of chefs were cooking custom-order omelettes for the press. (Normally, you don’t want to get between reporters and free food, but most of them were female TV entertainment news correspondents, women who apparently eat nothing but celery, so I was able to get a plate of eggs without too much difficulty.) We ate as we watched a live closed-circuit feed of the show. So far, despite Stern’s newfound freedom from FCC indecency rules, not too raunchy. Until, that is, a pre-taped audio comedy sketch purportedly depicting David Letterman enjoying various masochistic sex acts with members of the Sirius staff, in graphic detail. Gee, Howard, what did Dave ever do to you? And to think, terrestrial radio listeners who are now stuck with David Lee Roth or Adam Carolla are missing this.
addCredit(“Howard Stern: Reuters”)
At around 7:45, nearly two hours into the broadcast, Stern issued thehead-fake you’ve probably already read about elsewhere: He announcedthat he and longtime girlfriend Beth Ostrosky had gotten married,prompting shocked and appalled reactions from his on-air cohorts. Thenhe said that he’d made it all up just to see how they’d react, and thathe and Beth had no plans to marry; he said he was afraid to ”f— up”their relationship, one of the few times he used the f-word allmorning. (The more irrepressible Artie Lange dropped several f-bombs,however. The helpful folks at Family Media Guidepromised to have a full count up by the end of the day of the variousprofanities uttered this morning, but if anything is shocking, it’llprobably be how low the total is.) ”I would never marry a woman whowould marry me,” Stern said later, paraphrasing the Groucho Marx lineabout not wanting to join any club that would have him as a member.
Also in the lobby were the reporters from Howard 100 News, who’ll bedelivering daily uncensored newscasts on Stern’s two new Siriuschannels. You could easily spot them by their sportcoats, which werethe color of dried-out mustard and emblazoned with Stern’s newraised-fist logo. (Guess no one remembers when that used to mean”Black Power.”) MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann remarked that the jacketsresembled the original ABC Sports blazers worn by correspondents likeHoward Cosell or Jim McKay back in the day. ”Or else some office ismissing its drapery,” he said.
Finally, at 8:30, we were ushered into the studio, past a securitycheck point that one reporter said was tighter than the one at the UN.Stern called on each of us one by one, lingering on the infotainmentbabes, complimenting them on their physiques and propositioning them.By now, this shtick is so old that no one professes to be offendedanymore. By the same token, Stern patiently answered variations on thesame questions he’s been asked for 25 years. ”It’s not about shock,”he said of his new semantic freedom. ”It’s about being funny, orif not funny, then at least interesting.” He insisted that he wasblazing a new trail with a new technology, one that’s ”everything theiPod can’t be, because the iPod can’t bring you content.” (Uhh, justwait…) Olbermann asked if Stern was worried that he was opening thefloodgates for broadcasters like Rush Limbaugh to move to satellite;Stern’s response was on the level of the more, the merrier, and thatwhat he was doing was ”the dream of everyone in this room.” Ajournalist from the U.K.’s Independent newspaper asked if there wasanything Stern did consider indecent. Not discussion of bodilyfunctions, Stern replied. ”We all go to the bathroom. We all fart. Weall doody.” Rather, he said, what he considered indecent were thingslike sending troops to Iraq without proper body armor, or opposition toaffirmative action, or homophobia.
A Fox reporter asked if Stern was worried that some U.S. senators areconsidering extending the FCC’s purview to include pay outlets likesatellite radio and cable TV. Stern said he believed there were nolegal grounds for the FCC to regulate broadcasts beyond the publicairwaves, and that if the Senate tried to change the rules, theywouldn’t get around to it for about five years, ”and by that time,I’ll be outta here.” I followed up by asking Stern what he meant by”outta here” in five years, since that’s when his Sirius contract isup. Was he going to retire or move on to greener pastures. ”I don’tknow what I’ll be doing in five years,” Stern answered. But whether ornot he stayed at Sirius, he said, he hoped to leave behind somethingpermanent on his two channels, even if it’s someone else’s shows. ”IfI stroke out like Dick Clark, at least I’ll still have a presencehere.”
I’ll let listeners decide whether or not Stern’s first show lived up tohis mandate to be funny or at least interesting. Between congratulatoryphone calls from fans and reporters paying homage in the studio, theshow was ”more like a celebrity roast,” as Sirius exec Patrick Reillytold me later. Still, I had to marvel at Stern (and his on-air crew)for being able to talk for five hours straight, without commercialinterruptions to use as bathroom breaks. (Future shows will feature sixminutes of commercials per hour, Stern said, though such meageradvertiser support can’t offer him much in the way of, um, relief.)
I was especially impressed by the fortitude (and bladder control) ofStern’s new announcer, George ”Sulu” Takei, especially since he hadto sit next to Lange and listen to his gay-baiting jokes for fivehours. Still, the recently self-outed Star Trekstar told me after the press conference that he believed Stern’s moveto Sirius was a historic event that ”gives people real choice” andallows for discussion of ”issues and content that could not beaddressed before.” I thought back to that Letterman sketch earlier,though Takei meant Stern’s unbridled denunciations of the Iraq war andhomophobia. ”This is going to change civilization,” Takei said. Andwho am I to discount Sulu’s predictions of the future? After all, he’sbeen there.