- The Washington Times - Monday, January 9, 2006

Howard Stern has found a new censor — himself. Radio’s baddest boy swore not to strew his broadcasts with obscenities simply because he now can during his debut yesterday on Sirius satellite radio.

He slipped a few times, but promised to at least try to stick to his self-imposed standards.

His arch-nemesis, the Federal Communications Commission, wasn’t there to keep him honest.

Freed from the restrictions on “terrestrial” radio broadcasters, Mr. Stern finally got the chance to spew whatever came to mind during his maiden voyage on satellite. And it was pretty much what longtime fans knew to expect: his usual brew of hormonal humor spiked by flickers of real wit and insight.

Mr. Stern’s new morning show, heard weekdays from 6 to 11 a.m. on Sirius’ “Howard 100” channel, yesterday began not with a bang but with a technical whimper. You’d think the $500 million deal Mr. Stern signed to bring his bawdy broadcasts to satellite would have covered that kind of glitch.

On the other hand, the cash did allow the provocative host, who turns 52 on Thursday, to bring his entourage with him. Co-pilot Robin Quivers’ laugh rained down on satellite listeners, and subscribers who plunked down the $12.95 monthly fee heard portly comic Artie Lange’s musings, often funnier than anything Mr. Stern himself can muster.

This first week of shows also will feature new Stern show announcer, George Takei (Mr. Sulu of “Star Trek” fame) mixing it up with the gang. The 68-year-old actor’s recent revelation that he is homosexual inspired a torrent of gags both good-natured and raw.

Yet despite Mr. Stern’s surprising restraint, the show still sailed far beyond terrestrial turf with its coarse language and sexual imagery. The biggest revelation yesterday was that Mr. Stern did not — as he repeated ad nauseam — get married during the show’s hiatus, despite reports to the contrary.

You wonder whether Mr. Stern leaked the story to the press as one more reason to tune in for the first show.

P.T. Barnum’s got nothing on this Long Island boy.

Less newsworthy fare, though, allowed the self-proclaimed king of all media do what he does best: verbally attack others. He quickly made a potential foe of fellow Sirius colleague Martha Stewart with his withering comments about her daughter, Alexis.

“She looks right through you,” he said of the young woman, adding she strolls through the Sirius studio as if it were she, not dear old mom, who made the family fortune.

The younger Stewart, not surprisingly, will likely be annoyed. Yet it’s that kind of candor — Mr. Stern’s willingness to speak his mind on subjects others often skirt — which attracts so many fans.

He also laid bare his neuroses, discussing his visits to a psychiatrist four times a week and how he felt compelled to call up his terrestrial replacement, David Lee Roth, to offer him some advice.

In a related matter, the Sirius switch also leaves Mr. Stern with two whole channels to fill. Simply put, this means tepid programs featuring his “wack pack” of regular players and an all Howard, all the time news service. Consider both the equivalent of DVD extras — filler meant for hard-core fans only. Bubba the Love Sponge, exiled from terrestrial radio two years ago courtesy of Clear Channel, rounds out the channels.

Mr. Stern’s foes, and they are legion, may savor his switch to satellite as a victory. Not only will his lascivious comments never again grace America’s free airwaves, his defection may coax other shock jocks to follow suit. Plus, his audience, at least for now, shrinks from roughly 12 million listeners to somewhere below 3.3 million, the current number of total Sirius subscribers.

It comes as no surprise that Mr. Stern doesn’t see it quite that way. He spent much of the morning spinning his career move in a rambling press conference with reporters in the studio. The spiel offered nothing new. It merely served as a continuation of the sales pitch he started on his old station last year and has continued over the last weeks in every newspaper and television show that would have him.

However, those who want to keep Mr. Stern’s shtick away from young ears may be the biggest winners of all. Concerned parents no longer will cringe while scanning the radio dial. He’s safely tucked away on satellite radio, where subscribers can choose to block his two channels should they so wish.

Welcome home, Howard.

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