I must say this now, before any opinion is given, I like Howard Stern. Do I tune in every day or blindly follow his every word? No. Am I one who believes Stern is the Messiah of radio, the innovator, the creator, the emancipator of broadcasting? No, I am not. Upon occasion, I enjoy his work. Sometimes hes funny, sometimes hes offensive.
Howard SternI have watched his TV programs, listened to his radio broadcasts, read excerpts from his books, and viewed his movie, but it has always been for entertainment value above all else. Those times I found him unfunny, without morality, or just plain offensive were outweighed by the times Ive found him to be entertaining and I have never lost sight of the fact that I can choose to listen. It is my choice to like or dislike Howard Stern every day. I cannot believe that so many people in the United States, in the so-called Land of the Free have a hard time grasping this simple concept.
The recent increase in power our government has given to the F.C.C. is what I do find to be obscene. The Federal Communications Commission has, in a nutshell, been awarded the power to interpret my opinion. They are allowed to tell me what is or isnt offensive without even asking me. They have increased the fines for violators of the F.C.C. regulations regarding proper content for broadcast to a level so high, anyone behind the microphone can be put out of business for hinting at risqu topics. Stations are being forced to break their contractual relationships with their talent for fear of losing their licenses or paying outrageous fines. Howard Stern is just one of many that is affected by these actions.
While I am no scholar or expert on the subject, it was always my understanding that the F.C.C. was created to make sure that when I tune into 105.9 in Chicago I dont actually get 94.7 out of St. Louis. There was never any specific dialogue in their charter regarding content, although some hints to these things were found in the Communications Act of 1934 (later revised by the Communications Decency Act of 1996) which resulted in the creation of the F.C.C.. Fines may be issued for violating rules about the act of broadcasting, but not for content. Unfortunately, since the F.C.C. was created, the implication that they can fine stations for content has rarely been challenged, and therefore, their power has grown and our First Amendment rights are threatened. However, this is not about the Constitution. Like all things, it is about Howard Stern.
These rulings, the subsequent dropping of Sterns show from several markets, and all the publicity it has generated, has made me listen to the show more often. FINALLY he is saying something that truly does impact the nation and not just his perverted fans. We can hear Stern actually be intelligent and poignant before the ongoing discussions about farting, lesbians, and farting lesbians. Dont get me wrong, I enjoy this as much as anyone, but Ive truly loved hearing Stern sound like the hero of free speech hes always proclaimed to be. That being said I must take him to task on a few issues, knowing full well his legion of fans will misinterpret everything.
Ive heard Stern ask why no other industry professionals have talked about this on their own or stressed the same outrage. Why must he be the fall guy and the defender? I see two reasons for this.
First, Howard Stern has amassed an enormous audience across the nation by degrading and humiliating his competition AND having a better product. Sure, some who have crossed his path truly are morons that shouldnt have shows, but it is always bad form to trash-talk others in your profession, especially in the entertainment business. Bad mojo has a tendency to come back to haunt you in this business and Stern has courted enough bad karma to insure that nobody wants to see him around. Stern is being taken off the air? Good riddance! More room for my show, is likely to be a common mantra among the current crop of talent.
Steve Dahl-SternMoreover, Stern has credited himself with every positive change to the medium that there is, without tipping his cap to anyone who has come before him, the true innovators that lead to his success. I know that Howard Stern has, in fact, broken some barriers and changed the business, but he was not, in all cases, the first guy with an original idea. He is not unlike Craig Gasss impersonation of Gene Simmons, claiming KISS was the first band to ever face the audience. People in the Midwest have been listening to folks like Steve Dahl & to a lesser extent Wally Phillips or Eddie Schwartz talk openly about personal relationships and everyday life for years, but if you mention these or any other names on Sterns show, be prepared to hear a lot of misapplied credit given to the mighty Howard Stern.
Second, there have been people who have felt it necessary to broach the subject and invariably, the name of Howard Stern will be brought into the conversation. Ive come to find that in the eyes of Howard Stern, nobody is qualified to talk about anything at all, much less freedom of speech and how it applies to Howard. I wouldnt want the likes of Mancow Muller talking about my rights and freedoms, nor would I want him riding my coattails if I were Stern, but the people rallying around Stern are not all shock-jocks and lesser talent." Some of these people are qualified to speak to the subject. The excerpts of these interviews are played on Howards show and are always discarded.
If Howard is so worried that morons are making things worse by defending him, then he should make the rounds and do it himself, outside of the biased safety of his own studio. He should make himself available to the journalists and more importantly, let them ask the questions without his trademark, in-your-face-listen-only-to-me-speaking manner. The King of All Media should have no trouble getting a good interviewer and some air time. Hey, Howard, go on Al Frankens show. Im sure he could use the ratings.
Speaking of the self-proclaimed King of All Media, Howard has to stop harping about the financial burden that these fines can impose upon him. He gets so angry when fans & experts alike ask him why the fines are so important to a guy like him." I dont know your financial situation, Howard, and I dont presume you can afford these fines forever. However, a man who so boldly boasts about best-selling books, a number one box office draw, the most listened radio program in history, top-selling videos and highly rated TV shows must understand that the common man believes youre worth enough money to be unfazed by such fines. You shouldnt be angry at those who have believed your hype. You present yourself as a man who is rich with accomplishment and wealthy beyond imaginable means. I dont want you or the stations that carry your show (the folks that will really feel the financial burden of the fines) to lose money. But please, dont act as though youre the common man. It insults the common men that made you so uncommonly popular.
Daniel SternLastly, I have to ask that Mr. Stern stop threatening to retire or move to satellite radio. Any faithful listener has heard this before. I cant remember how many times Ive heard Howard say that he was fed up and walking away if this or that didnt happen. It is a great stunt to boost ratings and it certainly does get you some extra perks to your contract, not that youre making any money at this or anything. You will retire when youve run out of things to say. Youll quit when you realize you cant be original, controversial, or funny any longer. If youre like most folks in radio, youll stick around because you love your job and will continue to do it long after your relevancy has eroded. If youre half the savvy businessman as you claim, youre only bringing up satellite radio because youve been wanting to get into the market for some time now. There are many radio personalities that are syndicated and featured on satellite radio. I am sure that you would like to increase your audience, master that domain, as well as drop a few more dimes in your pocket. Or would it be nickels?
Stay put, Howard. Fight the good fight and keep on reinventing the wheel. In case you havent heard yourself say it in awhile, youre a genius and a great radio personality. Use your power to facilitate change in the world as opposed to the radio industry. Youll be remembered in both the proper context and in a better light when it is all over.