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Stern boldy goes to satellite radio

Controversial radio personality Howard Stern, joined by a Star Trek alum, vows to break new ground on uncensored airwaves.

By ERIC DEGGANS, Times Media Critic
Published January 9, 2006

The radio revolution, it seems, will begin with the sound of extended flatulence.

At least, that was the choice made by shock jock Howard Stern, who kicked off his first satellite radio show at 6 a.m. today with the sound of passing gas over the strains of the theme for the film 2001: A Space Odyssey.

It was the first sign of how Stern's show might use its new freedom, three weeks after his Dec. 16 departure from traditional (or terrestrial) broadcast radio. Airing in the new frontier of satellite radio, the self-proclaimed King of All Media presented his first full program free from conventional content restrictions - and free of commercials, at least for the debut show - though the lanky firebrand set a few conditions for himself.

"I have a personal rule that I'm not going to curse ... though I've already violated that, like 100 times," joked Stern, who had used a scatological term to refer to Martha Stewart's daughter, Alexis, and played uncensored clips from TV personality Pat O'Brien's drunken, obscene phone call to a female acquaintance over a Led Zeppelin tune. Even the telephone number provided for fans to call Stern's show translates to a profanity unprintable in a family newspaper.

Absent the bursts of curse words, Stern's first show on Sirius Radio, which airs 6 to 10 a.m. weekdays, wasn't much different than his recent programs on terrestrial radio. He talked about making the move to satellite (confiding that he considered calling his terrestrial radio replacement, former Van Halen lead singer David Lee Roth, to tell him what his new show was doing wrong); he grilled new announcer and Star Trek actor George Takei on his sex life as a gay man; and he featured a bit of phone sex involving a David Letterman impersonator and former Playboy playmate Heidi Cortez.

All in a day's work for the man who made the term "butt bongo" a household phrase.

"It's Sirius: the final frontier," intoned Takei, who played pilot Hikaru Sulu in numerous Trek movies and the classic '60s TV series, with mock seriousness. "(We) boldly go where other radio hacks fear to go."

Fans got an early listen to Stern's show the previous week, as the channel broadcast the shock jock's two rehearsal shows as a sort of "soft launch" - previewing his ban (sort of) on cursing, his Alexis Stewart tirade and the Pat O'Brien clips. For months, Stern's Sirius channels have featured some early programming - his Howard 100 News show devoted to all things Stern, Cortez' phone sex program, dubbed Tissue Time, and a roundtable of fans dissecting the world of Stern.

Today's Sirius show continued the shock jock's obsession with himself, featuring a press conference packed mostly with lightweight journalists - save a few standouts such as MSNBC's Keith Olbermann and the New York Daily News' Richard Huff - asking tough questions such as, "Did you marry longtime girlfriend Beth Ostrosky?" (answer: no) or "Will your daughters be part of the Sirius channels?" (answer: yes).

More than 2.2-million people have signed up for Sirius' satellite radio service since Stern announced his $500 million deal, and the shock jock has taken credit for every new customer. Last week, Stern and his agent collected $220-million worth of stock for helping the service reach certain subscriber targets, though rival XM Radio added more customers and still has nearly twice as many clients - a total 5.9 million compared to Sirius' 3.3 million.

It is often unwise to spend too much time dissecting the first broadcast of a new show - even Stern admitted this morning that Roth would need up to 18 months to establish his program. But Stern's much-ballyhooed debut offered little new material beyond the extra curse words and X-rated jokes; even his second Sirius channel, Howard 101, was expected to debut with a tape of his first show delayed by three hours for the West Coast.

Tampa shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge Clem, who was fired by Clear Channel Radio two years ago after incurring a $755,000 indecency fine, was expected to debut his new show on Stern's Sirius channels at 4 p.m. today. He made a brief appearance during Stern's press conference this morning, hailing him as the "only man in radio who would hire me."

Still, if Stern's inaugural show proved anything, it's that a lack of content restrictions haven't yet translated into big comedy dividends (much the same way that the two rehearsal shows didn't prevent microphone problems and feedback during today's program).

With millions of fans paying 43-cents a day to access his show ($12.95 per month), Stern must offer a bit more than sex jokes and banter with obsequious journalists to leave listeners feeling they are receiving their money's worth.

Once the press conferences have ended and the hype has dimmed - leaving Stern with his two channels and his audience - we'll all see if the King of All Media can, finally, live up to his name.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. Eric Deggans can be reached at 727 893-8521 or deggans@sptimes.com See his blog at www.sptimes.com/blogs/media/

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