Thursday, May 14, 2015

My thoughts on Howard Stern

The first time I heard Howard Stern was in the mid ‘80s. I was visiting New York and caught his act on 66WNBC (W-NNNNNNN-BC). He played a song from Karen Carpenter and said she had a new CD. Her picture was on the spine of the CD case. I thought, “Holy shit! Who is THIS guy? On the National Broadcasting Company's flagship radio station?” As a one-time wise-ass disc jockey myself, I have said some rude things on the radio but nothing like THAT.

I continued to listen that afternoon and instantly became a fan. Yes, he was audacious, even shocking at times, but what impressed me more was this: He was genuinely funny and very very smart.

We all know his rise to fame.  He's the self-proclaimed King of All Media.  Eventually he did mornings, surrounded himself with a gaggle of co-hosts, and was syndicated in markets around the country. One was LA and I became a loyal listener. He remained fearless, fighting at the time, the FCC. Add balls to funny and smart.

And then in 2006 he left “terrestrial” radio for satellite radio. What he lost in listeners he more than made up for in money. And he got the FCC off his back.

As much as I enjoyed Howard I didn’t enjoy him enough to switch from XM radio to Sirius and pay extra to receive his channel.

Side note: Howard gave his terrestrial home (CBS radio) about a year’s notice. And the best they could do was replace him with David Lee Roth. That’s the New Coke of radio decisions.

Even when the two satellite companies merged (thus screwing up XM’s far superior programming) I still didn’t feel the need to pay extra to rejoin Howard. I had commercial-free music, baseball, and traffic conditions for Dallas/Ft. Worth. Who needed any more?

But recently I got a new car. (I know. How come I haven’t posted fifty photos of it on Facebook so I could get a bunch of likes?) It came with a three-month free trial of Sirius/XM that included the Howard Stern channel.

So for the past week (“You’ve had the car a WEEK and haven’t posted photos? What is WRONG with you?”) I’ve had the chance to reconnect with Howard. All I can say is what a pleasure. It had been so long I had forgotten just how good he is.

I am forever amazed that he can be on the air for four hours or five hours (I have no idea how many he does a day – I’m not sure he knows) and still be consistently entertaining. I had trouble filling four hours and that was WITH records. He and his crew just talk. And often make me laugh. (So what if I’m never proud of myself for what I’m laughing at?)

One ability that Howard has that is often overlooked is how good an interviewer he is. He really listens. He follows-up on what the subject says. He asks straight-forward questions (not trying to impress with how articulate or pithy or intellectual he is). He doesn’t let the subject off the hook. He really draws personal information out of them. Trust me, that’s an art. And he asks the questions you yourself would want to ask (if you had the nerve). I heard his recent interview with Clay Aiken. It was riveting and I’ll be honest, my fascination with Clay Aiken had waned from a one-time high of yawn. Still, I couldn’t turn it off. I’m sitting in my driveway waiting to hear if he felt guilty that his opponent in a primary election died shortly after a bitter campaign. That’s so much more refreshing than “What was Randy Jackson really like?”

On Tuesday he interviewed James Taylor and I don't think a therapist could have gotten more out of James than Howard.  

I only met Howard once, very briefly. We attended a Bar Mitzvah together. So it’s not like I’m pimping a friend. Nor do I ever expect I’ll be invited on his show if I ever have a book or play to promote. But as comedy professional (I’ll allow myself that) I do like to occasionally salute other comedy professionals who I feel are tops in their field… and who I can appreciate free on a trial basis.

61 comments:

Richard Y said...

Only a three-month free trial of Sirius/XM. I got a full year in my new car.

Anonymous said...

Hey Ken,

This is my wheelhouse- HUGE Howard fan, listened every day for years, 1994-2005, and the Channel 9 show in the early 90s. Haven't listened to him recently on Sirius/XM. Hear clips on youtube etc. Always was the best interviewer.

Don't think the show is as good as it's hey day of Jackie the Joke Man, Billy West, Hank the dwarf, Artie Lange, etc but still funny I'm sure. Baba booey to you Ken --LL

Carol said...

I don't like Howard Stern's style at all. He can just get too mean-spirited for me. It stems from his campaign to destroy a beloved local DJ from my area back in the 80s and early 90's.

That said, I always thought he was smart - he has that rare talent of knowing when to stop pushing the envelope.

For me, though, I would find him amusing for about 15 minutes, then he'd start bitching about something, and it would just get on my last nerve.

MikeK.Pa. said...

When I worked in North Jersey I used to listen to Stern when he was on WXRK. The first two hours of work flew by and I would curse any meetings that interviewed with hearing him. I liked that he would openly say what others said behind the scenes. How cold Carson was off the set. How mean Rosie was to her crew at the same time she promoted herself as the Queen of Nice.

But, when he went to Sirius I cut ties. He's still very good and I catch his interviews online. But for me he's become the very person he used to criticize. He works a four-day week like Carson did. He goes to celeb parties and premieres, which he used to criticize. He bought a huge house in the Hamptons, a place he used to routinely lampoon. And as if he didn't have enough money from his satellite deal, he took the money grab for America's Got Talent (he used to criticize Ed Mahon for all the extra gigs he used to do).

I love Howard and admire not only his talent, but his determination not to change who he was to become successful. I'm just not willing to put more money into his pocket.

MikeK.Pa. said...

Meant interfered not interviewed

Igor said...

Ken, I agree with you - Stern is a startlingly great interviewer.

Certainly a lot of that is listening and fearlessness, but he also has a brain that retains tons of information. And, even better, he does great correlation - seeing connections that many don't see until he points them out. And he does that so quickly. He's not IBM's Watson, but the process seems of the same sort.

His interview of Seinfeld is outstanding: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VXbDJ3uBl9M

normadesmond said...

yes.

Igor said...

Whoops, thank link is now bad.

Here is a good link (as of right now) to Stern's interview of Seinfeld -
https://youtu.be/vmd63xKvjaA

Markus said...

"He's the self-proclaimed King of All Media."

Well, in the USofA, anyway.

Meanwhile, on the rest of the planet... shrugging, and crickets.

Oat Willie said...

'if I ever have a book or play to promote." Perish the thought, Dr Schweitzer!

Naomi Larson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Naomi Larson said...

Perhaps we should collaborate and produce an amazing radio talk show, that would blow the pants off Howard? You’re a classic; writer, director and producer in the television and film industry, and I’m a young, cheeky, full of spunk & too full of life, for this little #hick town..

Chris said...

I once listened to an interview he did with Whoopi Goldberg TWICE. And she's someone that I can take or leave, but mostly leave. He was just that good and brought stories out of her that I wanted to hear again.

Rob Poodiack said...

Plus, he is the only judge on America's Got Talent who actually gives useful advice.

Anonymous said...

Never liked him,he's mean. I disagree with "And he asks the questions you yourself would want to ask " I wouldn't ask a woman to take her blouse off in public, or how many man/woman they have slept with. Your buddy Mark Evanier said it best about this week's Stern appearance on Letter: "Dave couldn't have been surprised that Howard took control of the conversation, wouldn't let Dave run his own show and asked questions designed to make the host uncomfortable."

LouOCNY said...

I remember the very first time I listened to Howard on WNNNNBC way back before Gary was even an intern - the resident intern/fool was Boy Lee. Howard was doing his 'traffic report' as Mama Lackaboobea, and, like many, it was - "What the f*** was THAT??" Having 'grown up' on the radio with Imus, it was very liberating. I listened all through the NBC/XRK years, and it happened that, right before he left XRK, I bought an XM radio and periphials, and BAM - he announces he is going to Sirius - oh well!

After the merger, I did buy the extra package to get Howard, and listnened, but it has never has been really the same. The drama of fighting John Hayes at NBC, fighting the FCC at K-rock, was when he was at his gritty best. The show also missed - for me - having Jackie around as the Old School Show Biz punching bag. One thing is that to me the Stern Show was a modern, live five days a week version of the Jack Benny Show. Not many know that Howard adores Benny, and he learned a lot from him. As some have said above, since Howard is REALLY rich...has the model wife....has no real fights to fight, it seems a bit tame now.

Henry J. Nasiff said...

Howard Stern is one of the ten most significant American comedians of the last century.

YEKIMI said...

Ken, once you're free trial is up be prepared for phone calls from SiriusXM [well, technically the call center company they hired], several times a day even on Saturdays and Sundays, to try and get you to continue the service. There's a special place in Hell reserved for those idiots that try and harass you into continuing a service that you NEVER signed up for. And your free trial? Look closely at your car bill of sale, you'll find the cost of that "free" trial is buried in there somewhere.

Johnny Walker said...

I guess I've never gotten Howard Stern. The first time I saw him (yes, saw -- they showed bits of his shows on TV here in the UK, I guess they do the same in the US) he was mocking a recently bereaved woman who had agreed to come on his show, naked, in order to play a song she'd written on the air.

Yes, it's a weird situation, and yes she must have known what she was walking into, but she was still recently bereaved.

As I recall, Stern's crew made mocking jibes about her body. I guess it wasn't perfect. Howard himself chipped in: "Did your husband die after he saw you naked?"

It clearly hurt, but she persevered through her song.

That's my memory, at least. Maybe it's wrong, but it left an impression on me: Stern and his crew invited people in to insult them as much as they could, and then complained when their guests couldn't laugh at themselves.

Except I don't recall Stern, hidden behind shades, surrounded by his cronies, ever being able to laugh at himself.

But so many people love him, clearly I've missed something.

tb said...

He got Jimi's father, Al Hendrix, on the phone once, and just wanted to talk about the size of Jimi's penis. Al was confused and pissed off. Me too. What a fucking moron.

MIke said...

From Chris Rock's interview in Esquire:

Whenever I talk to Howard, I always point out — and I've been trying to point this out to my wife — I know some of it you don't like, but if I had to be on six hours a day, it would be just as nasty and foul and not sophisticated. The fact that you're going to see me do an hour every four years? Reduce Howard Stern to an hour every four years, you'd have the most brilliant comedian who ever lived. It's not even close.

Anonymous said...

Loved the Channel 9 and E show when I was younger and always enjoyed his "celebrity" interviews. The Gary the Retard, Gangi, Sal, etc., "friends" of the show not so much. Stuttering John interviews were hysterical. Who can forget watching Al Michaels interviewing the guy at OJ's house during the Bronco days? Bought stock in Sirius at $7 a share when he announced he would be leaving. Spent $700.00 only to be left with a stock that plummeted to .11 a share. Boy he was smart. Me? not so much.

Aaron Hazouri said...

I don't pay a ton of attention to Howard Stern, but his deference to the great Don Rickles on his show a few years back (and recently on Letterman) shows the guy has an unexpected amount of tenderness in him. He's clearly a smart guy, and if there was more of that and less of the lowbrow stuff I'd be inclined to listen a lot more. Somehow I doubt he loses much sleep over me not being a big fan.

Anonymous said...

I liked Howard Stern style at the start. He was cool but nowadays, he is a tad too repetitive.

And here at the office got only six scripts to read. Easy day. Eating breakfasts all day.

Remember,
Keep -rewriting
and the answer to great writing,
starts with great networking...

scott o. said...

After the free trial tell them you're cancelling and they'll offer it to you at 1/2 price.

GS in SF said...

Howard is the best. As his movie so accurately captured: those who like him spend 1.5 hours listening to him each day. And those that hate him? They listen 2 hours each day. The best ones make it look easy, and that is why everyone thinks they can do what he does and try to reduce him to potty humor when he is on an entirely different plane. F-Timmy, F-Jackie, This is Kelly Clarkson, Who's High Pitch? Fla Fla Flunky, Bye for Now, Zero point Zero, Ophelia (Insert local Guatemalan street band music here), Richard, this is your dad, This is Bigfoot it is. He's created a world that is as funny and diverse as that of Springfield and the Simpsons. Just two words for him: Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Greaseman, who took over morning drive from Stern in Washington D.C., was better. More clever.
He just didn't know how to navigate radio politics.

Anonymous said...

He will even pass on big name guests if he doesn't think they will make for an entertaining interview.

Mike Schryver said...

Do people remember that the reason the "N" was emphasized in WNBC was that he had just switched over from WABC? I remember a TV promo right after the switch where he was on a big swing with two underage-looking girls and saying WNBC that way.

Jeff Maxwell said...

Howard Stern's interviews are the greatest. Anybody ever notice he often sounds like Alan Alda? Please don't mention this to Alan Alda.

The Mutt said...

The last time I listened to Howard he spent the first twenty minutes of the show blasting bloggers for being talentless, self-absorbed hacks. He spent the next forty minutes talking about wiping his own ass. I am not kidding. Forty minutes. About wiping his ass.

James Van Hise said...

Stern does great celebrity interviews and I used to watch his 1990s show on the E Channel for that. Unfortunately the E Channel only showed highlights from his show and eventually they decided to only show the parts where Howard talked women into taking their clothes off, which was pointless in more ways than one since the E Channel pixilated the nudity but still showed such segments every day. Eventually this got tiresome, the ratings of the E Channel show dropped and it ended, but that was the fault of stupidity on the part of the E Channel who didn't understand what they had.

Buttermilk Sky said...

The greatest Stern moment was right after he joked about Selena within hours of her murder. First her fans got mad -- who knew there were so many? -- and then his sponsors got mad. The King of All Media had to read a lame apology in English AND Spanish. I've never loved the free market more.

RCP said...

As I started reading this I thought,'Yes, and he's a gifted interviewer too' before coming to your sentence stating the same. Aside from the fact that, unlike television, Stern has the freedom to bring up any subject the interviewee is willing to talk about - he's never at a loss for words, or wit, for that matter and is able to get his guests to open up. His tribute to Joan Rivers (who appeared on his show 82 times over the years) was funny and moving (like Joan, Howard was a resounding failure at the beginning of his career who was told he'd never make it.) After many years of not listening to Howard (I first heard him around in '80 or '81 in Washington, D.C.) I've recently 'rediscovered' his show and found that's he's still fresh after all this time.

Suzanne Muldowney said...

Bob Hope couldn't have done "Jackass," and the Jackass gang couldn't possibly have been Bob Hope, yet Howard Stern is both.

Oh, and our Jackass Bob Hope is also the best interviewer in American media, aided tremendously by his show's format.

Stern is a remarkable, innovative and hilarious talent. Those who have missed his career are better off not understanding what they've missed.

jcs said...

I think Howard Stern often goes after the wrong people, Karen Carpenter being a good example. A joke at the expense of a woman suffering (and ultimately dying) from anorexia is not exactly a very rebellious act. Bill Hicks, George Carlin and others used offensiveness to point out injustice and lack of liberty and they usually attacked people in charge. Stern might be a good interviewer and quick on his feet but attacking people who are in despair and can't fight back is lazy and spineless.

michaleen said...

The point about how Stern listens is dead on.

He had Tony Danza on once and they got to talking about Andy Kaufman's death. Tony began the anecdote, "I was in Cedars-Sinai..."

Any other host would have been half-listening as Tony launched into an anecdote he's probably told a hundred times. I certainly didn't pick up on it, but Howard caught it and stopped him cold.

"Wait. You were a young actor in great shape, why were you in the hospital."

Danza hemmed and at that point, everyone knew he was on the hook. After fighting off a few questions, Danza fessed up a much funnier and certainly less-told story about how his nonstop catting around with Jeff Conaway necessitated some minor medical treatment.

Anonymous said...

Let's bring this full circle. I recall on Stern's syndicated TV show in the early'90s he once had Larry Linville on as a guest, and they enacted a M*A*S*H parody where Howard played a surgeon called "Hawknose". The scene was set in the OR where "Frank" and "Hawknose" were operating. After Stern's character made repeated entreaties of "Dammit nurse, I need more suction", a nurse crawled out from underneath the operating table and said "If I give you any more suction my friggin jaw will fall off!"

Pete Grossman said...

Indeed, Stern is to notch (top crotch?). Love his insights, comedic talents, banter with Robin. And although I could do without most of The Wack Pack stuff and the phony phone calls, I appreciate that he gives these people work.

Johnny Walker said...

Just been listening to the Seinfeld interview. He is very good. Yes, his insecurities are on display, and he does get defensive, but he also asks great questions.

I'm not sure he pulled a lot of stuff from Seinfeld, though - I think Seinfeld was very prepared to be revealing and honest going in because of Stern's reputation. Still it was great stuff.

BW said...

After all these years, Howard can still hit the right nerve and make me laugh out loud at things, when most "humor" in other media falls flat. It's not necessarily the raunchy humor either. When I hear people criticize him or say they don't like him, it's often eye opening to ask them what they DO find funny. Most of the time, it's pretty lame. Thanks Howard, for not making me look for laughs in sitcoms and unfunny movies.

ButcherChop said...

He's down to 3 days a week now and one never knows if he'll be on vacation come Monday or not. His show isn't what it used to be in the 90s, but even after quitting him for a while (lifetime Sirius subscriber) because he pisses me off, I always come back and find such pleasure in the show again and again. It'll be a sad day when he turns off his mic for good. As corny as it may sounds, they're like an extended family to me. I'll be a listener til the end.

ButcherChop said...

Haha. Its funny how he can talk about something like that for so long and still be interesting 40 mins later. I found myself talking to him thru the radio, "Howard you idiot.", and then grinning because he got me so involved. That's a true talent.

ButcherChop said...

Lol

ButcherChop said...

Lol

Marilyn said...

I use to listen to his morning program years ago after I got off work from the night shift. I listened for a few hours before I would go to sleep and his show was ending. One time he got Sean Lennon on the phone and they talked for hours over the time his show was supposed to end. Damn! I was suppose to go to sleep because I had to work that night but there I was, glued to the radio on this surprise guest interview. One of his guests had Sean's number and Howard asked him to call him, so he did. Howard asked if he could talk to him a few minutes on the air and the rest is history. I have not signed up for the Sirius channel, but I do occasionally listen to him when he gets posted on you-tube.

Anonymous said...

The people who don't like Howard Stern would probably not have the same opinion if they knew how he is now. Howard is no longer mean except on the rarest and briefest of occasions. He no longer womanizes, having said he's too old for that now, and it would be creepy. He loves kittens now and has a house full of them.

-Harlowe Thrombey. Too lazy to sign up.

Ron Jacobs said...

Radio "basics" totally aside, both Stern and Don Imus are top- notch interviewers, the equal of most all "legit," respected broadcasters and journalists.

And how many radio people would still be (hard) working at their age, size of bank accounts and celebrity?

luvsNadal said...

Well said, Under Dog Lady. I couldn't have said it better myself. Lol. Luv, luv, LUV Howard!!!

F. Timmy Abraham said...

This is the month where everyone has been reflecting on David Letterman's immense impact on comedy and pop culture, including making stars out of civilians.

And Letterman has said that he got the idea of putting his real-life mother on television from listening to Howard Stern, who'd been using his real mother Rae Stern as a recurring on-air voice and real-life nag for years.

Anonymous said...

Seeing as you haven't listened for so long, this is FAR out of your wheelhouse . You don't call yourself a fan, which is good, because you are not. If you are not listening how the EFF do you EFFING know its not as good!? You don't. So EFF off and good day sir! You are not even worthy of a bababooey. I said good day sir!!

Dean said...

Yes he is a great interviewer but all the cat talk, AGT, his small dick, 3 day week, frequent vacations, and infrequent freakishness which I used to love, has made his show a predictable bore. I can't take it. Stopped listening 2 years ago and its obvious super rich judge Howard doesn't care....why should he

A-L-Gregoire said...

the best howard has been was his time from terrestrial radio to the now...anything he did before that was great as well...but he is so much better now, it's not even close...once he tailed back with the strippers and all that, it's gotten better...his interviews are the best around, anyone that says they don't like him have never really listened to him...it's a shame you missed out on his best years...maybe you can catch em on sternthology...

scott young said...

I was a "Dial-a-Date" back in 1984 at WNBC (I lied and said I was a stuntman for Paul-Michael Glaser) and got to meet Howierd, Fred, Jackie, Robin & Boy Gary. To be part of a live & improv radio show was an amazing experience. Howard has grown since then and so have we all. I've never stopped listening and I never will. People who think he's mean, vulgar & gross haven't heard the show in years. The former listeners who miss all the strippers haven't grown with the show. Sal & Richard's calls, High Pitch pining for Donny Walberg, Ronnie's sex tips are all bits of beauty. Wake up white people! The show is still great & you will miss it when it's gone. Scott Young also to lazy to sign up

Heres AngerboiToo again said...

If you really were an upper case huge fan you'd still listen religiously.

Anonymous said...

Started listening in 1991 and would say I have only missed a handful of shows since then. I can only tell how mellow he's become if I go back and listen to old shows. I was 21 when I started listening and now I am about to be 45...I have grown and matured too and the show reflects that as well. Will hate to see Howard retire...he's been the one constant piece of entertainment my entire adult life.

Mimi Islam said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Roger Owen Green said...

I'm not a fan from way back. I found him vulgar, and often mean when I'd hear him, while riding in someone else's car in the morning. Still, listen to a great James Taylor interview from May 12, 2015.

Gary West said...

Way back when, Stern had a mattress sponsor that sold, well mattresses - well below competitor's prices. An old friend boasted, "I bought a Howard Stern mattress."

Howard did the live-reads like a champ. You really wanted one after hearing his pitch - and, those prices! Paul Harvey be damned.

BTW - that's another of Howard's talents - he's an incredible salesman. Excellent.

Later, it was found out how they could get away with lower prices. They were re-selling, for the most part - used mattresses culled from customers they were delivering too.

I'm sure Stern knew nothing of it - but - what an egg.

It's one of those great radio stories.

To this day, I still rib my old buddy.

Trish Mac said...

I found this blog by listening to the Wrap Up show with John Hein and Gary. Baba Booey! Anyway, I started listening to Howard back in 1991 at the office. I was 22 and my boss Caryl was 26 and several of us would just collectively play it from our little offices. Oh he made us laugh! I was a religious listener for decades. When he moved to Sirius I followed - my husband and I gave each other the devices and subscriptions to each other for Christmas (clearly it was a surprise for both). I got a new car eventually and my kids got to the age that I just couldn't listen to him the way I wanted to. I also was turned off by the Sibian and strippers. So I took several years off. Last October I had a loaner car and while taking a 7 hour road trip I rediscovered Howard and gang. It was like coming home. Hilariously laughing the entire time, I realized how much I missed Howard, Robin, Fred and Gary. Howard has mellowed - a lot. Beth has been a terrific partner and influence on him. It cracks me up when he talks about the kittens they have for adoption. I love Robin - just such an incredible woman. I missed her cancer battle but when Howard references it, it just emphasizes how much they are so connected and how much he loves her. I too find myself sitting in my driveway listening to an interview when I know I have to get out of the car but I just can't. He provides amazing entertainment. And I don't care if he is on vacation or shortens his work week. You've got guys on TV who are on the air for one stinking hour and their material is just not that funny. I am constantly impressed with how they can keep the show fresh and relevant for hours each day. Howard Stern is still the King of All Media!

Joe said...

Ken, I had to reread the first paragraph many times to realize that some of your story is missing. You may want to take a look at that. Great job on the wrap-up show, by the way!

That being said, I’ve been a Howard fan for 20 years. I remember when he went to Sirius (I subscribed just to listen to his show), he couldn’t go live ‘on-air’ until Jan 1, 2006. So when I was on my way to a New Year’s Eve party, he went on-air for the very first time as a test. I couldn’t get out of my car. I had to listen to him uncensored (which he had never been before). I almost missed the midnight countdown. So worth it!

It’s funny to read some of these comments from people who are either misinformed or haven’t listened to his show for more than only a few minutes many years back. He has mellowed a lot, especially since he got remarried. I do miss the craziness of the show from years back, but things change and people change.

He is still one of the best interviewers in the media today due to his ability to make his guests feel at ease and pull information from them that other interviewers could not. This is what I think scares a lot of celebrity guests away. I believe that his years in therapy has given him almost a therapist’s perspective with his guests. He treats them almost like patients, by making them feel safe and amongst friends and then he slowly begins to deconstruct their lives on air. It’s fascinating to listen too. Though I have noticed that when he gets a guest in that he is Wowed by, he tries to fit in too many questions in the short time that he has with them and tends to step over their answers just a little too much.

Anyhow, it will be interesting to see if he’ll resign with Sirius at years’ end. I’d be surprised if they lock him down for another five years. I can see him agreeing to a shorter period of time.