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Free at last, for a price

Unconstrained by content restrictions, shock jock Howard Stern's debut on satellite radio is egotistical, obscene and, well, underwhelming.

By ERIC DEGGANS
Published January 10, 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. Monday morning 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 utilize 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 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," and his Sirius channels have featured early Stern programming for months.

Monday's Sirius show continued the shock jock's obsession with himself, featuring a press conference that included MSNBC's Keith Olbermann and the New York Daily News ' Richard Huff. Sample questions: "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 he's 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 Sirus' 3.3-million.

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.

It's way too soon to know how the show will develop. But if Stern's inaugural show proved anything, it's that a lack of content restrictions haven't yet translated into big comedy dividends (just as two rehearsal shows didn't prevent microphone problems and feedback during Monday's program).

With millions of fans paying 43 cents a day to access his show ($12.95 per month), Stern has to leave listeners feeling they've got their money's worth.

Once 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/

[Last modified January 10, 2006, 11:14:46]


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