Archive for July, 2011

The King of All Media, Part 2: 2008-Present

Posted: July 28, 2011 by Bill Gauthier in Radio
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Note: I know, I said I’d post this second essay last week (if there’s even anyone reading these things and they care) but I became busier than I thought I would be and I just didn’t get to it. BAD blogger! Anyway, in Part 1: 1996-1997, I talked about discovering Howard Stern. As is usually the case when I write a blog, I always end up thinking of things I should’ve put in. So I may backtrack a little here. Anyway, here is the second part of my views, and my history, with The King of All Media.

So December 1997 came and I took my finals and then that was it for college for me for awhile. January 1998 came and school began again but I was working more at the chain bookstore I’d worked at since I was 16. I figured that I would be more help to my pregnant girlfriend and unborn child by earning money. I also figured I could be more help to myself if I focused on what was really important to me career-wise: writing. And as college went away from my life, so did Howard Stern.

I missed the show. I had listened almost every morning for two years and grew accustomed to the conversations about life Howard had with Robin, Jackie, Fred, Gary “Baba Booey” Dell’Abate, Stuttering John Melendez, and whoever else walked into the studio. It wasn’t fun leaving them behind and while I know I tried listening to them at home, that didn’t last long and soon they went away. It wasn’t just the main people on the show that I’d grown to like, either, but also the Wack Pack.

For those out of the loop, the Wack Pack were those weirdoes that Stern attracted to his show. There was Melrose Larry Green, who stood out on Melrose Avenue in L.A. with signs about Stern, and Crackhead Bob, who was the first person in line at the first signing did for his autobiography Private Parts. Crackhead Bob had been a crack addict who’d suffered a debilitating stroke and could barely speak. There was Fred the Elephant Boy, who spoke funny, and other people. All of them the kinds of whackos who call into radio shows all the time but usually get hung up on within moments. Stern made them a part of his show.

One of Stern's Rolling Stone covers, March 1997

I’d listened to these people talking honestly about their lives for two years: Stern complaining about being married and wishing he could have sex with every model and actress and singer and pornstar who came into the studio, Robin’s issues (or lack of them, according to her), the way Jackie “The Jokeman” Martling thought he should be more powerful than he was…all of these things became interesting and a way for me to not feel so bad about some of the frustrations I felt, at the time.

Still, I stopped listening and moved on. I didn’t miss it much and soon didn’t miss it at all. I was too busy. In April 1998, my daughter was born. By the end of the summer, my first short story “sale” occurred (it’s in quotes because my pay was one contributor copy of the very small press magazine it appeared in).

Still, news about the show or about the man would come out and I think I’d occasionally hear a little of the Stern Show here and there. The news was abuzz with the announcement that Howard Stern and his wife of 21 years, Alison, were breaking up in 1999. In June 2000, I found myself getting married against my better judgment. I loved my daughter, and I loved her mother, but I knew the marriage was destined to fail. Still, I tried.

Time passed and I decided, in January 2002, that I would go back to college the following year. In 2003, I was back in school, finishing up that English degree. I listened every now and then to The Howard Stern Show on my way to school. It was a hectic morning. Take my daughter to school (she was in kindergarten), take my wife to work, then head off to school myself. I noted that Jackie was gone and the guy in his old seat, Artie Lange, was pretty funny. Still, at this time I’d decided to go more high-brow, and would listen to audiobooks more often than not, or music.

My marriage fell apart in 2004 and later that year, I got an iPod for Christmas. I couldn’t stand all the commercials on radio so I only listened to my iPod. Again, time passed. I graduated college in 2005. In 2006, I found myself working as a teaching assistant with my former English teacher in a new vocational-technical program she created that was all about creating (ready for it) media. By now, I’d had several short stories published and was awaiting the publication of my first collection of short stories. In 2007, I met Pamela.

That fall, a month after I started work teaching in that media program, I moved in with her. She lived in Boston. I worked an hour away. That Christmas, she got me a Sirius Satellite radio.

This is the kind of radio I have, a Stratus 4. Nothing fancy about it but, damn, how I love it!

Now, of course I’d heard about Stern leaving terrestrial radio for satellite in 2006 and I thought it was brilliant. I know some people were skeptical about it, but I knew the power of Stern over his fans, I knew they’d follow. By Christmas 2007, I’m sure it was pretty obvious to Sirius the power he had. The summer before, I was looking for a new car to help with gas mileage. The 2000 Dodge Stratus I owned at the time was in need of $3000 in repairs and would cost nearly $120 in gas to commute from Boston to work and back again, never mind the weekends I had my daughter and would have to go back and forth another day. So I got a Toyota Yaris and they asked if I wanted XM in it. I said no, I couldn’t afford it at the time. That night or around that time, Pamela asked if I’d ever be interested in XM Satellite Radio. I said not really. “Sirius has a 24/7 Springsteen station and Howard Stern. That’s more for me.”

And so it was. Albeit, my first few weeks with Sirius, I tried to be more highbrow. I listened to E Street Radio, and I listened to the NPR stations. But soon, I found curiosity getting the better of me and I turned on Howard 100, which broadcasts The Howard Stern Show all day, every day. I was soon hooked again.

Stern, like me, had found love again. He (like me) was getting ready to marry his girlfriend Beth Ostrosky. Now I had a daughter and could relate to some of what he said about being a father to growing girls (although his daughters are all much older than mine). I got into the trials and tribulations of Artie Lange and the people on the show I’d never heard of before.

Stern with his wife, Beth Ostrosky Stern

Essentially, Stern’s at his best when he’s talking about his thoughts and feelings and conversing with those around him. Some of the members of the Wack Pack have changed, but he still treats them with love and care, though a casual listener may not see it that way. He is one of the best interviewers out there, getting guests to often tell truths that they would never normally share with interviewers. I daresay, the older Stern (he’s 57 now) is more interesting than the one I listened to in 1996-1997. He’s not as prone to yell and scream at people, though he still can lose his shit every once in a while. He is much more willing to admit when he’s wrong and to show how human he really is. He still makes the news, too, like when he commented on the career of Precious actress Gabourey Sidibe. I was listening that morning and thought, This is going to make news. Someone is going to take this out of context and Howard’s going to look like an asshole. And that’s exactly what happened.

Gabourey Sidibe

It was reported that Stern said that Sidibe would not have much more of a Hollywood career because of her weight. People went nuts! I know because I saw a lot of people on my Facebook wall write about how Stern was an asshole for saying that. All the reports pretty much made it sound as though Stern and Robin were making fun of Gabourey Sidibe. What Stern actually said was that he’d seen Precious over the weekend and that he’d loved it and that Sidibe had done a great job. He then lamented that she would probably never have another part like that again because of her weight. Most movies star people who are young and thin, or well-built. Unless the star is a comedian or a sidekick, there aren’t roles for overweight actors/actresses. In my experience as someone who watches movies, it’s true. It’s not necessarily right or fair, but it’s true.

Anyway, I still listen to Stern and have even gotten my wife into it a little. She’s not a fan, per se, but she’ll listen to the show with me and likes when he interviews actors, actresses, and musicians. Sometimes the antics make her laugh. Although this morning, as Tila Tequila was riding a sybian, I did notice Pamela roll her eyes. Still, she did so with a smile.

Howard Stern is an entertainer whom I admire a great deal. He’s one of the most important comic geniuses of the last 30 years, he’s intelligent, conscientious, and caring. He also is the King of All Media, to which I humbly bow.

Stern's most recent appearance in Rolling Stone broke sales records, proving Stern is still the King of All Media.

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The King of All Media, Part 1: 1996-1997

Posted: July 14, 2011 by mediabio in Radio
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Everyone has an opinion on Howard Stern and I’m shocked by how many people still despise the man. Yes, he built a career partly by creating entertainment for the lowest common denominator, riding the rails of the First Amendment and challenging good taste, but he has also kept this career by being honest on the air. It’s his honesty that keeps most of his fans, I think. It’s the main reason I still listen.

I don’t know when, exactly, I first became aware of Howard Stern. My guess is that it was the late 1980s, early 1990s when he was beginning his ascent outside of New York via syndication. I believe I’d heard of some of his controversies on shows like Inside Edition (back when it was hosted by Bill O’Reilly). I truly became aware of him the night I watched the MTV Video Music Awards and he appeared as Fartman. I feel like I knew of Stern at that point already, and had read that there was a Fartman movie in the works before the appearance, but I don’t remember exactly.

When I was in high school, Stern came to Boston on 104.1, WBCN, a legendary rock station. They aired his show at night for some reason, and I’d listen to pieces, though not often, because of where I lived on the Southcoast of Massachusetts, I couldn’t always pick up the signal on my Walkman. This was circa 1994, around the time Sternmania began. He had published Private Parts and I worked at a bookstore. Stern was all over the news and I was somewhat interested. E! also began airing a half hour show that took from the radio show and I would watch that sometimes.

It wasn’t really until after I graduated high school in 1995 that I began to listen to Stern. I was driving a half hour/forty minutes to school and I found him on live (WBCN had begun to air the live feed). As I’m sure many people were, I was first attracted by the crazy antics: interviews with pornstars, silly sexual games, farting games–things like that. The lowest common denominator stuff. But I soon found myself listening to those things only to get to the frank discussions Stern had with his crew–Robin Quivers, Frank Norris, Jackie “The Jokeman” Martling, Gary Del’Abate (aka Baba Booey), Stuttering John, and whoever else wandered into the studio or called in. It may have been about sex, or love, or happiness, or politics–anydamnthing that you and your friends talk about. I loved when Stern’s wife, Alison, would call in to answer a question or chastise him. I loved when Stern’s mother, Ray, or father, Ben, would call in. He had some good stars in for interviews, too, and many of those interviews felt like eavesdropping on conversations.

I was a listener during the buzz leading up to the movie Private Parts; Stern talking about filming it at night and on weekends and then coming into the studio to do the radio show in the morning. There was the release of Stern’s second book, Miss America. Stern was appearing everywhere. I read both books and was amazed at how this guy, who comes off as someone so crass, so much a party animal, was actually a sincere, intelligent, funny, and loving person.

The thing that stuck with me, though, was his honesty about his marriage to Alison. He loved her and their three daughters, but he also felt trapped. And in the summer of 1997, when I wasn’t even 20 yet, when I found out I was going to be a father the following year, the show became even more relevant. It’s not that I didn’t love my girlfriend, I did, but I also knew we were not well-suited for each other and the arrival of a baby would only complicate things.

I left college in December 1997. That was effectively when I stopped listening to Stern at that time. But I thought about him and the show often afterward. I knew he was doing right by his wife and daughters and, goddamnit, I wanted to do the same. Not because I was a Stern fan, because I wasn’t that big a fan, but because it was the right thing to do. My daughter is one of the best things that has happened to me, but the resulting marriage was not, nor could it have been easy on my ex-wife, either. I was intent on staying there, being the best father I could, and I’d often think about Stern.

And then came the news that he and Alison were separating. I learned it through the news, I feel like Yahoo! News but I may be wrong. I was saddened by this, but understood. Things don’t always work out, that’s just what happens in life.

The Howard Stern of the era I listened to him was prone to fits of rage. I remember him yelling at a woman who’d called in to chastise him about something. I laughed as I drove, nearly in tears, because not only did the woman deserve being yelled at, but Stern was right in his anger. It goes down to the key to why things should never be censored: If you don’t like it, don’t listen/watch/buy/go. I realized then that the Stern detractors all had one fundamental thing in common: They didn’t get him. They didn’t realize that he was honest, that he was funny, that he satirized things, that he spoke frankly about sex and race and alternative sexual lifestyles not only to shock people, not only to entertain people, but also to open a dialogue.

I understood that between the ages of 18 and 20, and I didn’t understand how others could not.

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Part 2: 2008-Present will appear next week. Baba Booey to you.