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WHEREFORE HOWARD STERN

In 1999, Paul MacArthur interviewed Dan O'Day for an article about Howard Stern that was published in the Houston Press. Here is the complete interview....

QUESTION:

Is Howard Stern good radio? Why or why not?

DAN REPLIES:

Probably not. But before you tell Howard I said that, please make sure you share the rest of my answer with him:

Howard is the most successful radio personality in America. As such, he has a lot of imitators who don't understand just what he does or how or why he does it and who don't have the ability to do what Howard does.

They do understand that Howard's on-air persona is abrasive and confrontational and, by some standards, immature. And anyone can be abrasive, confrontational and immature. So that is what the imitators bring to the airwaves, but without the talent and intelligence of Stern.

QUESTION:

Why are Howard's fans so passionately loyal to him? Why will they go to great lengths to promote him (or for that matter, pay money to see a screening of Baba Booey's apology)?

DAN REPLIES:

A) He entertains them.

B) They view Howard as honest, even courageous in voicing his opinions.

C) Among Howard's core audience are young adult males with very limited aspirations and horizons; they peaked during high school (or earlier), and their lives already have settled into a deadly routine of unrewarding work and alcohol-fueled weekends. To them, Howard represents wish fulfillment: To say whatever they want, to refuse to take crap from anyone, to flirt with beautiful women, to be wealthy and in control of their own destinies.

QUESTION:

Why does he work better in some markets than others?

DAN REPLIES:

Too many factors are at play to offer a concrete, measurable answer: The station's signal, dial position, marketing ability, ratings, community stature....

The single biggest challenge to Stern's success in a multitude of markets is the fact that Howard no longer can target a specific market and a specific opponent.

When he entered Philadelphia, he knew all about the jock he had to beat...and he destroyed the guy. When he entered Los Angeles, Howard was on only in New York, Philadelphia and Washington. He desperately wanted to win in L.A., and he knew exactly whose ratings he had to plunder to do so...and he did.

But even though his staff may be briefed regarding the major competitors in each market, there is no way he can maintain such an intense focus (or any focus at all, really) on dozens of markets.

QUESTION:

Is Howard more trouble than he's worth for radio stations, given the enormous cost and the negative publicity inherent with running his show? Why or why not?

DAN REPLIES:

As far as negative publicity is concerned, I don't think so. Any station that decides to broadcast his show but then is shocked by the controversy surrounding it is managed by fools.

In terms of negative publicity, Howard is a saint compared to some much less talented yet highly paid jocks. Howard doesn't get arrested for drug use. He doesn't get sued for slander, for invasion of privacy, for violating clear-cut F.C.C. regulations, or for endangering public safety.

The biggest risk that Howard presents to his affiliate stations comes from the wrath of the F.C.C. in regards to perceived violations of the highly subjective "indecency" rules. The facts behind the instances in which Howard's stations (generally limited to Infinity stations) have been fined are laughable.

Rude and objectionable behavior clearly are protected by the U.S. Constitution., and it is exactly such behavior/speech for which Stern has been punished by the F.C.C.

As for the financial cost of airing the show, it's a matter of market economics. Can a highly rated morning show in that particular market produce enough advertising revenue to pay for the show and provide a profit? In most markets, certainly.

A key factor is the degree to which the station has a professional sales staff. Not simply order takers but real sales people.

QUESTION:

How do you convince an advertiser that Howard is worth the negative image associated with him?

DAN REPLIES:

Well, either he is or he isn't. If the advertiser caters specifically to groups that can expected to hate Howard, that advertiser probably should look elsewhere. (A Christian bookstore would hurt itself more than it would help itself.) Beyond that, here is what I would say to a prospective advertiser:

If the demographics of Howard's audience matches those of your customers and if you do not personally find his show to be offensive, go where your customers are!

And if you can afford the cost required for Howard to do "live" commercials for your product, do so! He tends to get results for clients who go that route.

QUESTION:

Do you think Howards humour is racist and/or xenophobic, or is it cutting edge satire? Why?

DAN REPLIES:

It definitely is not cutting edge satire. There are lots of better places to look for sharp satire. With my apologies to any of Howard's show members who read this, they are not especially talented at satire. If they were to leave the show, the various team members would not be deluged with offers to write, produce or perform satire among the higher rungs of show business.

Gary Burbank in Cincinnati is a great satirist; so is Harry Shearer in Los Angeles. But - and I say this as someone who likes Howard personally and who generally enjoys the show immensely - the show's humor is sophomoric and the writing is high school level.

I have never heard Howard speak or act in a way that I would call racist (contrary to the perception held by almost everyone in America who has never heard his show). But yes, I have heard bits that could be called racist. Not very often.

QUESTION:

What do you say to the people who protest Howard?

DAN REPLIES:

That is their right.

I have very little respect or patience, however, for people who protest Howard without ever having heard his radio program. Before I first heard him, the image I had of his on-air persona was shaped by the media: A racist, sexist, homophobic bully.

Ironically, the show differs from most other morning shows by not casting women in stereotypical roles. The female team member (and most prominent supporting player, virtually filling the role of sidekick) is not expected to just sit there and laugh at the antics of the males on the show and is not treated as a sex object by the host.

Speaking as one of the few avowed feminists (male or female) in radio, I don't find Howard's attitudes toward women sexist or demeaning. Howard constantly thinks about sex, and he is heterosexual. When he sees a woman, he first sees her as a possible object of desire. That is immature; it is not necessarily sexist.

And an important fact to keep in mind is that no woman ever gets in front of his microphone without volunteering. Appearing on Howard's show is an active choice, and a woman who makes that choice knows what to expect (just as a man who makes that choice should expect to be asked about his own sex life).

The big surprise to me, however, was that the show is not homophobic. Howard was one of the few jocks in the country to support the rights of gays to serve in the military. If a guest on the show is gay, Howard can be expected to talk about homosexuality in the same immature manner as he discusses heterosexuality.

QUESTION:

Any additional thoughts?

DAN REPLIES:

Offensive speech is protected by the U.S. Constitution, and for good reason: Your definition of offensive differs from mine, and neither is objectively correct.

Personally, I hear far more offensive things every day on the radio than I hear on Stern's show.

I hear gay-bashing, race-baiting, and vicious xenophobia....and no one protests.

You've got a nationally syndicated convicted felon whose big claim to fame was attempting to overthrow the government of the United States advising listeners on how to shoot to kill a federal agent.

You've got a syndicated mid-day talk host with an apparently pathological disregard for the truth who in the first years of his show gleefully rang a bell to celebrate each newly reported death of an Aids victim.

You've got a Denver morning show that entered the spotlight by making incredibly cruel jokes about a local man who drowned in front of his young children...and was rewarded with a morning show in Los Angeles.

And I'm supposed to be offended by a guy who is obsessed with sex?


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