Satellite of love
Inside the studio on Howard Stern’s first Sirius morning
BY BILL JENSEN
» On the Web
• www.Marksfriggin.com - A minute-by-minute rundown of each Stern show put together by a fan of the show.
• www.georgetakei.com - Stern's newest part-time cast member's site is very vanilla. But the animation on the home page, which morphs pics of Takei throughout all of his Star Trek incarnations, is strangely alluring.
• www.artielangdeathwatch.com - A morbid look into the unhealthy lifestyle of Stern sidekick Artie Lange.
• www.Howardstern.com For a long time, Stern neglected his Web site. Now it is a clearinghouse for all of Stern's programming on satellite.
• www.sirius.com - Sirius Satellite radio's official site. Now that you're paying $12.95 a month, you might as well know what else is on.
• www.heidicortez.com - The official site of Howard's new Tissue Time star. Sample and order her Sexxxy Noises CD.
• www.Sternsounds.com - Turn up your speakers, scroll your mouse over the pictures, listen to the classic Stern sounds made famous by Fred Norris.
• www.ebaumsworld.com/howardstern.html Make a prank phone call as Howard! This site features about a hundred phrases spoken by Howard (like "how old were you when you lost your virginity?"), that you can manipulate and use in conversation.
About 100 reporters and photographers are milling around the plush Sirius Satellite Radio reception area in midtown Manhattan, waiting to be ushered into a press conference to document Howard Stern’s first day on satellite. Omelets are being served. Cappuccino is being poured. And we’re all listening to a woman describe the details of putting finger after finger up a man’s ass.
The new Howard Stern Show — the one he has been dying to share with America since he first took to the air 25 years ago — is being piped into the room. The idle chatter of the media is muffled as the audio play builds to a climax. The Associated Press reporter sitting next to me noticeably winces as the Stern regular they call "Evil Dave Letterman" asks sex-talk queen Heidi Cortez for the whole fist.
The theater of the mind has returned with a vengeance.
Fed up with the FCC’s murky guidelines as to what qualifies as indecent, Stern announced in the fall of 2004 that he was leaving "terrestrial" airwaves for a five-year, $500 million deal on Sirius satellite radio. He served out the rest of his contract with Infinity Broadcasting (which syndicated his show in 45 markets), but the last months of the show were strained. Old bits could no longer be played for fear of fines in the post-Janet’s-breast-at-the-Super-Bowl world. Strippers and porn stars, staples of Stern’s show, were noticeably absent. Eventually, the show devolved into one giant commercial for Sirius. Stern couldn’t wait to bust out.
On Monday, Stern busted.
Inside the new studio, custom-built for the show, Stern sat behind a massive U-shaped desk. To his left, sidekick Artie Lange and sound-effects man Fred Norris flanked the show’s writers and new addition, announcer George (Captain Sulu) Takei; newswoman Robin Quivers sat in a glass booth in front of Stern while a mass of robotic cameras for his on-demand cable-TV network swiveled overhead. All the goodies from the old studio, such as the Tickle Chair, Robospanker, and Wheel of Sex, stood guard to Stern’s right, next to a mirrored bookcase filled with show relics like the Gary Puppet (modeled after producer Gary Dell’ Abate), as well as bottles and bottles of vodka.
Stern’s first order of business was to address a rumor that he and long-time girlfriend Beth Ostrosky had gotten married over the holidays. He told everyone they had, only to recant, admitting that he was playing a joke on the staff (sort of a strange way to kick things off for a man who prizes honesty on the air). He then listed the darkest secrets of 11 members of the staff (which included masturbating while watching family members urinate, and sex with meat and vegetables), which would be matched to the confessor on a later show, and discussed varieties of oral and anal sex with Takei. All uncensored. You could hear the glee in Stern’s voice. The X-rated candy-store window he had pressed his nose up against for the last 25 years was smashed to bits, and all the sexed-up, grossed-out inventory was his for the taking.
In the past, the FCC and its unwitting agent, WXRK (Stern’s old flagship station) general manager Tom Chiusano armed with his infamous dump censor button, might have busted in and busted heads with Stern the second he muttered a phrase like "mud on the turtle" during a conversation about anal sex. The fights with guys like Chiusano were often a large part of the old show’s appeal — the entire plot of Howard Stern’s Private Parts focused on Stern flipping the bird to authority figures (remember Pig Vomit?). But today, after 25 years of painting himself — and not without good reason — as a man crucified by the FCC, that part of Stern’s cachet is gone. And he’s fully aware of it. (Stern did address grumblings that the FCC would try to regulate satellite radio now that he’s arrived: "This is a private affair," he said. "If they go after us, this mean’s cable is going away, books are going away ... there is no legal justification.") But at 51, he’s made the choice to trade in the rebel-yell headaches for the freedom to do whatever he wants. Now he just has to get people to pay for that freedom.
IS ANYBODY OUT THERE?
An hour into the Monday broadcast, Quivers asked Stern how he was feeling.
"How do I feel?" answered Stern. "There’s four people listening."
"Yeah, it kind of feels like we’re just talking to each other," replied Quivers.
When Stern signed on to Sirius, the then-two-year-old provider was limping along with 600,000 subscribers. Today, after strong holiday sales of Sirius players, 3.3 million people are paying $12.95 per month for the service. The surge in sign-ups earned Stern (and agent Don Buchwald) a $220 million bonus in the form of Sirius stock.page 1 page 2
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