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Howard Stern Debuts on Satellite Radio

The radio shock jock and self-proclaimed "King of All Media" Howard Stern made his first appearance on a new venue this morning. Sirius satellite radio has given Stern the liberty to do almost anything he wants -- and the paycheck to afford pretty much anything he wants.

Stern never does anything quietly. He made his debut today using the theme to the space fantasy movie 2001. Only this time, the music had a flatulent percussive beat.

Stern relished the opportunity to navigate his newfound freedom.

"I've got about a billion bits for you that we could never play before, uncensored," Stern said.

He then cued up a clip featuring the sexually charged fantasies of the television gossip show host Pat O'Brien that became public when O'Brien left them on a woman's voice mail.

"Nice, right?" Stern joked. "Pat O'Brien is developing a missile to hit the satellite right now, so he could knock us off the air."

For more than two decades on old-fashioned FM radio, Stern kvetched his way to fame and fortune by testing the boundaries of federal regulators. He racked up big audiences and record fines for indecency for the owners of his show. Bathroom humor, bedroom humor -- he liked it all. Stern routinely coaxed young women out of their clothes and got second-tier celebrities to talk about their sex lives.

He broadcast his last FM show in mid-December. On satellite radio, there are no federal limits on his material. They just don't apply.

Patrick Reilly, a senior vice president for Sirius, says Stern is distinctive because he's entertaining, not because he's obscene.

"We want him to do the most compelling, the most lively, the most 'Howard' show he can do," Reilly says.

Sirius promised Stern up to $500 million in cash and stock for the five-year production deal. Part of that package, an incentive bonus worth about $225 million based on the current price of the stock, just kicked in for Stern and his manager.

Reilly says Sirius is getting a lot for its money. Stern is helping to program two stations around the clock. He's brought over his sidekicks and hired a new announcer, George Takai -- who played Sulu on Star Trek. A former Playboy model has her own show on one of the stations -- featuring phone sex.

Patrick Reilly says Stern is helping Sirius draw in new listeners.

"When we announced that he was coming over, we had about 700,000 subscribers," Reilly says. "Just this week we announced that we had 3.3 million subscribers. So I think we have covered the costs related to Howard."

At $12.95 a month per subscriber, that's a lot of new revenue for Sirius. Stern's show also brings in new advertisers.

Sirius competes with the only other satellite radio company in the country -- XM, which has more than 6 million subscribers. Apart from Stern, there are some similarities. Sirius has the NFL and channels devoted to Elvis Presley and NPR shows.

XM has an exclusive deal with baseball and an impressive roster of musicians -- including Bob Dylan. It also hired former NPR host Bob Edwards.

Craig Moffett, a senior analyst for the brokerage firm Sanford Bernstein, says Stern's move will give the platform a boost.

"When the history of satellite radio is written, Howard Stern will have turned out to have been a benefit to XM as much as it is to Sirius because he has increased the awareness of the category and has gotten a lot more people comfortable with the idea of paying for radio," Moffett says.

(Taken together, funds managed by Sanford Bernstein and its parent company own shares of XM worth more than 1 percent of its outstanding common stock.)

Moffett says many listeners will choose to subscribe after buying cars already equipped with satellite radios --- and XM has a big lead there. But thanks to Stern, Moffett says, Sirius will get an edge among those who buy Satellite radio gear in retail stores like Best Buy or Circuit City.

"There's plenty of room for both companies to be very successful here," Moffett says.

Stern wasted little time Monday before he started boasting that his arrival had propelled sales of Sirius radios.

"Part of me is really happy that they're all sold out, which means that all of our fans are coming over," Stern said. "But also, let's get those radios out there. Evidently, they were the hottest item, hotter than iPod, for Christmas."

It's the start of a new chapter for the nation's best-known radio jester.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.
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