Like David Letterman and Jon Stewart, will Howard Stern exit in 2015?
Losing two comedic legends and innovators within four months of each other is devastating, but will one more make 2015 the year comedy died in December?
(Letterman, left, signed off in May — Stewart will say his goodbyes in August)
Last month, with a heartfelt, “Thank you and good night,” David Letterman signed off, and Jon Stewart will exit The Daily Show in August.
Now all eyes, or in this case, ears are fixed on Howard Stern.
I started listening to The King of All Media during a tour of duty in radio in the early 1990s. Stern had exploded on the national scene with his book Private Parts and luckily, I had a co-worker who had a friend in New York State who would send bootlegs and underground recordings of his show.
It was like finding your older brother’s porn stash for the first time, or when you were assembling your own. No matter, it was forbidden, it seemed wholly wrong, but you couldn’t live without it either.
Since then, with the help of YouTube and my own conversion to satellite at over $200 per year, I’ve become become an unabashed “Stern Fan.” I have to say I’m grateful to have had the privilege of not only listening to a legend ‘live’ while also gaining a greater sense of his unique place in history, thanks to his unending catalog of back material and shows.
There’s little to no point debating Stern‘s impact on radio and pop culture. Love him or hate him, he revolutionized radio as we all know it. Quite simply, modern radio doesn’t exist without Stern. For every “morning zoo” in any city, to every silly stunt, prank call or celebrity interview that goes too far, Howard‘s fingerprints, the genius of his staff and writers and influence, are in there somewhere.
He’s done all there is to do. The bestsellers, the movie, it has all contributed to a very secure legacy and perhaps a very appealing retirement. His leap into satellite has made both him and Sirius extremely successful, with over 27 million subscribers and a balance sheet that is making shareholders very happy. Stern has become decidedly more acceptable to the mainstream, and a more respected talent thanks to his reach via America’s Got Talent.
One of the most recent estimates pegs Stern’s net worth in the hundreds of millions of dollars, and he recently purchased a home in West Palm Beach worth $52 million that is only slightly smaller than the actual island of Manhattan. To put it into perspective, the entire Wack Pack could visit for the weekend and likely never find him.
Has he finally had enough?
Like in 2010, Stern fans have started the second or even third, Bataan Death March. In December, Stern’s second five-year contract at Sirius-XM comes to an end. In 2010, at roughly the same point on the calendar, he had already begun to lament his schedule and the demands.
Not long after his re-signing in 2010, Stern sued his employer over stock options in 2011 and came up short, but it’s seemingly the only serious bump in the road on the corporate side.
On his show, he has talked about expanding his interests in painting and photography, while also cutting back his schedule even further and to spend more time with his wife. As recently as last week he was speculating about which job he would prefer, the radio gig, or America’s Got Talent.
Seemingly every hurdle he faces makes him yearn for a life away from the spotlight, and between now and quite likely a few days before the contract is up, listeners will either be entertained or beaten down by the daily speculation.
No matter what, it’s going to be a long, hot, summer.
Further Cementing History
The twisted part is that these negotiations make for great radio. An angst-filled Howard is pretty much radio gold.
Without having to worry about timelines and sponsors, he has simply flourished since his foray into satellite. The satellite medium has given him the freedom to widen and expand his show’s reach in terms of comedy, news and features.
The porn stars and lesbians, while never far away, have been supplanted in some ways; the Stern channels run features on everything from embedded news items about specific members of the Wack Pack, to amazing projects like a three-hour Billy Joel interview/performance and a birthday bash that will go down in history in terms of both performances and guests. He’s also booked exclusive concerts that have reunited acts like Soundgarden and brought in other bands like The Flaming Lips.
As a further indication of how much better and more mature Stern has become, twenty years ago, if anyone would have guessed that Howard Stern would produce a men’s health show on radio, you likely would have been committed.
These highlight what has been a better than brilliant second term for Stern at Sirius.
Rumors are more than strong that one of the key factors in re-signing in 2010 was Stern’s loyalty and worry about the fate of his staff going forward without him. While nearly every member of his staff pushes him to the breaking point, arguably the most poignant and beautiful aspect of this second term was his outpouring of love for Robin Quivers during her yearlong battle with cancer.
It exposed a side of Howard not often seen, and the kindness and loyalty to Quivers, and begrudgingly at times to the rest of his crew, demonstrate that Howard is not only a legendary figure, but deep down a very good and gentle man.
The revolution and the high profile rebellion of years gone by may be over for Howard Stern, but he’s rich, comfortable and ultimately needs this forum. The pain and suffering hides the importance of this forum to him. He knows he’s a far more important voice than he ever was and is reaching a wider audience year by year.
Even though new technologies and platforms continue to emerge, he’s not overly interested in companies like Apple and their platforms via iTunes, and has all but denounced podcasts as being a waste of time. Most importantly, and any time he’s pressed, he’s intensely proud of what he has accomplished at Sirius, both for himself and the company.
In spite of the pain in his voice, the wealth and the legacy, I’m not sure we’ll hear a final “Baba Booey” for a while.
Kevin Donnan is a Contributor at The Scoop and is a sports obsessed and self-confessed Pop Culture idiot savant trapped in a frozen, northern wasteland, yet, loves all things Texas and is the most “American” Canadian who has ever lived above the 49th parallel.