Shock jock goes satellite by 2006
The following editorial appeared in the Chicago Tribune on Thursday, Oct. 7, 2004.
Don't look now, but Howard Stern, of all people, has made everybody happy.
On Wednesday the raunchy radio shock jock inked a multimillion-dollar deal to take his morning talk show from the broadcast airwaves to the fledgling medium of satellite radio.
The Federal Communications Commission probably views the move by the rude and crude Stern as, literally, a moral victory. The FCC has imposed Stern-related fines of more than $2 million, and it's still not happy with the show's content.
Now, finally, the broadcast cops will get rid of their man.
The irony, though, is that Stern could turn out to be the Ferdinand Magellan of the new world of radio.
Pay-as-you-go radio is still in its infancy, struggling mightily for acceptance.
If it's ever going to become as ubiquitous as cable TV, it needs star power. Landing one of the radio industry's biggest stars is prompting ecstatic yelps.
One analyst predicted Wednesday that Stern's show will attract as many as 3 million new listeners to pay satellite radio when it moves over from free broadcast radio 15 months from now.
For some of Stern fans, paying to hear him will be a bummer. But in the new format, they will get more of what they apparently love.
Freed of FCC constraints, Stern has vowed to "bring my fans my show, my way." That presumably means an even racier version of today's often outrageous talk show.
Stern went to Sirius, the No. 2 satellite radio player behind the more-established XM.
In a stroke, Sirius has become a weightier competitor, better equipped to pioneer a promising media technology. Wall Street sent Sirius shares up by 15 percent on the news. As Stern put it, "Sirius said to me, 'You're our Michael Jordan.'''
Now, for the sobering news: Sirius might not be able to afford Michael Jordan.
XM and Sirius have lost tons of money as they have focused on gathering subscribers. To sign up, customers need to establish a special radio link in their home or car and pay a monthly fee for service.
Despite its similarities to cable TV, it remains an unproven business model.
Everyone who cares about radio should be rooting for it.
As things stand, radio is dominated by two firms, Infinity Broadcasting and Clear Channel Communications, which rolled up the industry in the wake of deregulation in 1996. Infinity will lose a cash cow when Stern departs, but one has to figure it will be relieved to be rid of the distraction.
Radio, once a wonderfully diverse and adventurous medium, particularly on the FM side, has become more homogenized, more tedious and more repetitive.
What was once the province of Orson Welles' infamous War of the Worlds radio play is now the province of '80s rock formats repeated in city after city after city.
Satellite radio is, by comparison, a brand new world.
Sirius, which charges $12.95 a month, carries no ads and offers a far wider selection of music, sports and talk than commonly available on the AM and FM dial.
Want an all-bluegrass program? Nonstop National Football League action? All smut all the time?
Howard Stern & Co. will have a deal for you.
(c) 2004, Chicago Tribune.
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