The King of All Media has chosen a new format as his queen. After nearly 25 years of traditional radio, Howard Stern has announced his plan to move to satellite radio in 2006. That means there will be only 15 more months of Howard on traditional free radio. Howard will leave Infinity Broadcasting for a 100-million-dollar-per-year deal with Sirius over five years. This move came as a great shock to the already embattled radio industry. Struggling with declining advertising revenue, conglomerate pressure, and scrutiny from the FCC over content, Stern?s jump could not have come at a worse time.
Howard Stern is a radio pioneer. He is the most popular radio personality of all time, pushing the limits of free speech on the radio. Stern?s morning radio show airs in 46 markets. In many of these markets it is the number one show in the key 18-to-49-year-old-male demographic. With his popularity apparent, why would Howard Stern leave the radio format that he helped innovate? Simply, Howard is making a timely, vivid political statement. Stern has been one of the targets of the recent FCC indecency crackdown.
The Federal Communications Commission proposed a $495,000 fine against Clear Channel Communications for comments made by Stern. Following this proposal, Stern?s show was dropped by Clear Channel Communications in April. In June, Clear Channel agreed to pay a record $1.75 million settlement with the FCC to settle complaints against Stern and other associated personalities. Already serving as a foil for the FCC, Howard also had strong feelings against Clear Channel for backing down to the FCC, saying, ?Clear Channel, you ****, I will bury you.?
Howard Stern relishes his role as a free speech martyr. After listening to Stern while sitting on the hood of my car on September 11, watching the towers fall, I know that Stern cares deeply about this country. The human condition he embodied that day exposed his most sincere side. While his politics might lean a little left, Stern will find support across the political spectrum for his current cause.
Stern places blame on the current administration for the FCC crackdown. The FCC has authority to regulate content broadcast free over the public airwaves. This includes both on television and radio. The FCC lacks authority over cable television or satellite radio, however. Though the administration may have some control over the FCC, there is an underlying issue that remains to be addressed. The country?s shift towards overregulation is rearing its ugly head in the FCC?s current crackdown on ?indecency.? Stern may align himself as a liberal, but on this issue he is a true Libertarian.
The arrogance of a government body that thinks itself a proper judge of morality for the rest of the nation is shocking. Though there is an obvious financial incentive for Stern to jump to satellite, the moral reasons are worth his time and attention as well. Perhaps Stern will serve as a catalyst for some type of public referendum, a potential change in how this country allows itself to be regulated to death.
Howard is relying on his fan base to propel his protest into mainstream America. Since Sirius satellite radio is not a free service, fans will be required to shell out the 12-dollars-a-month service fee. Unlike conventional radio, satellite radio is not bound by federal indecency scrutiny. Recently, shock jocks Opie and Anthony, kicked off the air for airing a sex stunt in a house of worship, found new life on XM radio. This freedom is granted due to Sirius?s being a service with a subscription fee. Stern believes that this newfound freedom will allow his top-rated show to flourish fully.
Fascist-like policy in the guise of ?indecency? regulation cannot and should not be allowed to constrain the evolution of free speech. On the day of Stern?s announcement, citizens generated an early response in the greatest forum of them all, the free market, as shares of Sirius rose 18 percent. However, only time will tell if Stern?s choice will impact policy in the United States.