- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 23, 2004

The moans emanating from the airwaves these days are coming from AM-FM radio executives stunned by the imminent departure of Howard Stern, the trashy disc jockey who has become fabulously wealthy as an icon for millions of Americans whose taste starts at the knees and ends at the neck line.

Mr. Stern, as everyone knows by now, is taking his daily scatological meanderings to another venue, satellite subscription radio where those who “get off” (to use one of his expressions) on gutter talk and juvenile stunts can pay for the privilege of listening to him convince young women to disrobe in his studio. How exciting. Well, they are certainly welcome to him, all 12 million of them. In fact, it is safe to say they deserve the … (Oops, almost used a Sternism here) they will receive in the process.

If cable television is any example, the $12.95-a-month initial fee for this kind of radio will last about as long as any discerning human being above the IQ of moron and the age of 16 would spend listening to “Mr. Private Parts,” the king of the talk show smut peddlers. The odds are pretty good that the base rate plus premium packages charged by XM and Sirius, the two main satellite players, ultimately will rival those of Comcast and Cox and the rest of the big players in the viewing arts.

Then there is the question of government regulation, which is the reason Mr. Stern signed off of free radio and on to pay, a contract for $500 million. There already is a clamor in Congress to start regulating cable content as it broadcasts TV and radio with substantial fines for indecent material. The FCC just levied some severe fines on Fox stations for pushing the limit of decency. If the guys who dreamed up subscription radio are not aware that some of that attention now will be diverted to their enterprises, they have been blinded by the prospect of those dazzling Stern interviews with pornography stars.

But old Howard knows that the matter then becomes a First Amendment issue and any such successful assault on his right to talk dirty to a paying audience will take a great many more years than he has left, if it could survive the constitutional challenges, which is doubtful. Look at all the smut channels one can buy on cable and the mainliners like HBO, which airs shows with degenerate killer heroes whose utterances are limited to “youse” punctuated fore and aft by the “F” word. Besides, Mr. Stern understands how to get in on the bottom floor of a good thing, having had a couple of decades of experience at a much lower level than that.

But he isn’t going to be a pioneer in the new enterprise despite his silly messianic claims that his action will spell the end of AM and FM. A team of Stern knock offs, who once did a running commentary of a couple having sex in a church, is already on board XM, which now has three times as many subscribers as Sirius, Mr. Stern’s new employer. It will be fascinating to see how many regular Stern listeners are willing to fork over the monthly fee to continue their worship when he switches from Infinity Broadcasting in 16 months.

This isn’t a general condemnation of paid radio. For those who can afford it, the satellite concept offers a wide variety of music and other interesting programming, including news. Nor is it meant to criticize Sirius for signing Mr. Stern. Actually, it is a good solution. It is where he belongs, and the move relieves the pressure on fathers and mothers who don’t want their youngsters listening to him but have been almost powerless to do anything about it. That is until they complained loudly enough about his offensiveness that Congress and the FCC had to pay attention, especially after the Janet Jackson Super Bowl flash. Keeping him around ultimately was going to cut substantially into the $100 million in revenue he allegedly generates each year.

That amount alone attests overwhelmingly to the commercial value of pandering to the basest tastes. Mr. Stern has lived on the edge of “prevailing community standards” (to borrow a Supreme Court phrase) for a long time, surviving a number of firings always to rise even higher. One day it is conceivable he will crash off a cliff of political correctness from which there is no recovery, as have several of his imitators. That day probably has been put off by his decision. Meanwhile, he is laughing all the way to the bank.

His soon to be former employers should welcome his departure.

Dan K. Thomasson is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.

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