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.


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

  1. […] The King of All Media, Part 1: 1996-1997 […]

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