The End For Me Has Arrived
I am a lifelong diehard Howard Stern fanatic and I am no longer compelled to tune into his show. Howard has earned my eternal gratitude for a 20+ year run of unparalleled entertainment, but that run has definitively ended for me.
Some changes in my consumption of entertainment coupled with some disappointing moments in the evolution of Howard's show have both lent to my current disinterest.
I am formally declaring the end of my listenership while also extending a heartfelt thanks to Howard and his staff. They colored my mornings in a manner that can never be replicated by any other personality or entertainment crew again.
My Indoctrination To The Stern Show
My fanaticism started back around 1989 - 1990 at the start of my high school years. Each morning I would catch about 20 minutes of the show in the car driving to school with my buddy.
Saturday nights I got to tune into the glory that was Howard's now infamous Channel 9 show. I even went into downtown Philadelphia to attend Stern's live Funeral Event broadcast for John DeBella, a local Morning Zoo radio host whom Stern had fully eviscerated through an on air feud.
When I attended college it proved to be the perfect time to deepen my love of all things Howard Stern and I spent entire mornings listening to the show. During those years I also devoured both of his books, his Private Parts movie and every single episode of the E Entertainment show.
The Stern show was comprised of peripheral, yet integral characters that swirled around Howard's studio of madness. Howard himself railed against anything and anyone. He conducted his broadcast like the maestro of a symphony, orchestrating the sweet sounds of chaos that ensued on a daily basis. It commanded that I tune in.
The Two Golden Eras Of The Stern Show
They were in addition to current and long term mainstays like Fred Norris, Gary “Baba Booey” Dell’Abate and Robin Quivers.
Whether it was the Gary Puppet, the I See OJ Call, KC song parodies or one of the many fabled inner staff fights, the show was producing a prolific amount of reality based content that induced gut level laughs.
The next phase of the show that I consider the second of two golden eras was around 2005 when out from Stern's staff was Stuttering John, Jackie, KC Armstrong and Billy West and now in was Artie Lange, Sal “The Stockbroker” Governale and Richard Christy.
Artie's full time presence in the studio provided a stand up's quick wit. He had the ability to punch up a moment with a brilliantly timed one liner, while also introducing his long form storytelling.
Artie's artful and soul bearing tales of gambling, snorting coke through a prosthetic pig nose or of his relationship with his father were all captivating. He could stir up riotous laughter and at times had me burgeoning on tears.
Sal and Richard were the new muses that allowed Howard to double down on the more sophomoric elements of the show. It was this exact time as well that Stern was transitioning from terrestrial radio to the new and unchartered territory of Sirius satellite radio.
It was the perfect storm of a reinvigorated staff combined with the unshackling from the chains of the always looming FCC. It created what I feel is the greatest 5 year stretch of Stern Show history.
The First Sign Of Trouble For My Listenership
It wasn't clear to me right away, but Artie Lange's departure from the show was the line of demarcation between me being a wholehearted fanatic and my eventual tuning out entirely.
Some of the most hilarious and gripping content produced on the Stern show centered around Lange. Over time though Artie's weight ballooned, beyond fraternal kidding, and signs of his drug addiction were often on display.
When the news broke that Artie had fell victim to an attempted suicide I was shocked and saddened. Howard spent some time on air directly addressing the tragic situation and wishing Artie the best, but ultimately circled the wagons. He made it clear that the show was moving forward without Artie, leaving no room for interpretation of a potential return in the future.
At first, the show seemed to gain an emotional lift by separating from the madness that is dealing with an addict. While some darkness had been expunged with Artie's exit, gone too were Artie's masterful ways of weaving tales and his skillful knack of slipping verbal jabs into someone else's dialogue.
Artie's departure from the studio was a critical blow to the show. It truly stood out to me about a year or so later when replays during the show's vacation breaks featured Artie at his best. It blew me away just how integrated Artie's presence had been worked into the heart and soul of the show.
It reminded me that a large part of Howard's brilliance, in addition to his preeminent interviewing skills, was orchestrating the staff around him. And now, the largest looming side character in Stern show history was no longer there.
Howard Goes Commercial?
The next key moment in the evolution of Howard's show struck an immediate negative chord with me and that was Howard's decision to become a judge on the network television show America's Got Talent.
My initial concern was fear of a potential sellout from the man who made his bones giving the middle finger to the establishment. I feel this concern did eventually play out through some format and culture changes, but those changes took years to develop.
My secondary concern to his AGT announcement was the prospects of having to be subjected to constant promotion of AGT during Howard's radio broadcast. That concern was realized from day one.
Deep down I did not begrudge Howard's desire to take this opportunity, but that does not mean as a loyal radio listener I wanted the show to become dominated by it. In the past Howard could get fixated on topics like the FCC, which could become incessant subjects of prolonged rants from Howard, but unlike AGT, I felt vested in Howard's battles with the FCC. No part of me had interest in AGT. It was lost on me and the considerable uptick in discussion surrounding it was tiring.
Some of the format and culture changes to the show have been subtle and possibly not detectable to a casual listener. The never mentioned, but purported banishing of longtime Stern show standout guest Gilbert Gottfried seems to lend credence to murmurs that the show is overtly distancing itself from people and or subjects deemed potentially too troubling for the modern day broadcast.
There was multiple reports that Howard had made an executive level hire of a woman whose sole focus was to clean up Howard's image and to continue to build upon the mainstream appeal Howard had established through his work on AGT.
Howard built his career waging war against industry executives and if this report were true it feels like a move that is the antithesis to the way Stern constructed his empire. It appears Howard is now positioning his show to be a safe stop in the Hollywood promotional rotation just like late night TV.
I do not begrudge Howard for wanting opportunities to interview the elite of entertainment and sports, but the progression to an A-list celebrity driven format just bores me.
A Wealth Of Alternative Content
Beyond the evolution of the show itself, I feel there is another factor at play to the waning of my Stern Show listenership and that is all the alternative content that has exploded online over the past few years.
At the forefront to me is Joe Rogan with his Joe Rogan Experience Podcast. Joe made his name as a comedian and television entertainer, but has a wide array of personal interests and business ventures. There is a wealth of ideas and philosophies put forth on his podcast to help spark and or shape the pursuit of a better life.
There is also in depth discussion on the current state of society as a whole. This platform Rogan built serves as an aggregator of personalities, provoking thoughts and expanding debate away from the confines of the mainstream. It is an entertainment format I am being drawn to more consistently these days.
Now before anyone misinterprets my newly found love of the Joe Rogan Podcast as me simply "maturing" up and away from The Howard Stern Show, there is one other show I have grown to appreciate and consistently tune into.
This admission is hard to reconcile with my lifelong Stern loyalty. I now listen on a daily basis to the Opie with Jim Norton show, formerly Opie and Anthony, who like Stern are also on Sirius/XM and for years shared underlying issues with Howard.
My interest in the Opie with Jim Norton show started through a friend who posted YouTube clips of older Opie and Anthony shows that featured comedian Louis CK as their guest. Upon clicking I was immediately struck by the similarities between O and A's show and the previous eras of the Stern show that I am so fond of.
Louis CK was not there to be interviewed. He was just being part of the discussion and completely free to be at his comedic best. From that point onward I became a regular listener to the current Opie with Jim Norton show.
They provide me with the free form conversation coming from multiple comedic personalities that feels lacking now on Howard's show.
When It's Over, It's Over
When any serious long-term relationship ends that spent the majority of it's years in blissful joy it is typically never the fault of one individual or the end result of a specific situation. It more often tends to be an accumulation of messiness and a compounding of miscommunication that drives the two parties off in distinct parting paths.
For my part, I take full ownership of the fact that I have grown and changed in the past 20 years, but I also no longer recognize the Stern show I fell so deeply in love with.
No matter what though, Howard forever has my love and ultimate respect. He took my uneventful and sleepy morning hours and injected them with maniacal joy. He did so on a daily basis for 20+ years.
I don't think there will ever be a radio show, comedian or entertainment personality that can ever deliver that sort of prolific comedic output for me again.
I am forever grateful, but I am also now off the ride. I almost ended this piece with the signature "bye for now", quoting the departed Stern show wack packer Eric the Actor, but I think it is more appropriate to simply say bye.