Howard The Ducker

Like almost everyone who has been exposed to Howard Stern during his lengthy and prolific radio career, there is both a level of admiration and disgust, often occuring simultaneously.  I’ve always admired Howard’s brutally honest takes on politics and media, being frustrated enough with the political shenangians in his home state of New York to become an actual candidate for governor, running on the Libertarian party ticket in 1994.  At that time, his radio show was in the process of being syndicated around the country, and for me it was the soundtrack of my morning commutes (as it was for millions).   Yes, he had his Wack Pack of cronies, toadies and weirdos, not to mention an awful lot of attractive women stumping for him,  But when Stern held rallies, he often made strong, informed points about what was wrong with the state and peppered within his comedic diatribes of how he’d loosen laws on strip clubs and marijuana he also vowed to take legitimate action against corruption, housing and homelessness that the eventual winner, Replublican George Pataki, never would address nor ultimately did do anything about.

When he wasn’t running for office, he’d hold court at his WXRK-FM studios, giving mainstream exposure to an awful lot of people who otherwise wouldn’t have it.  Yes, many of them were women, plenty of them stripped down to lingerie or less, and often had to endure being leered at or groped.  Sometimes Howard would engage them with some of his more disgusting antics where listeners would come in the often subzero-like studio willing to subjugate themselves to some revolting acts in a quest for prizes.  He took quite a bit of criticism then, and in later years, for his misogynistic attitudes and stretched the limits of FCC regulations to the limit.  If women got naked in the studio but were on radio only, that may have been immoral to some, but illegal to none.  He practically invented the concept of pixillation when E! started to air an edited version of his radio show in late night–blurry images of these acts were OK, and the safe haven protection for cable networks–technically not subject to the same standards as terrestrial broadcasters–allowed it to be aired even when many activist groups campaigned to ban him.

But, as was often the case, the self-proclaimed “King of All Media” was more in touch with the tastes of the average listener and viewer than many others, and he achieved enormous financial success along the way.  Many people I consider to be close friends were personally impacted by his uncompromising approach and had some success of their own as a result.  As for myself, my association with him was when he produced the freshmanic comedy spoof SON OF THE BEACH for the pre-“there is no box” FX I joined at the turn of the century.  SON OF THE BEACH was sort of a spoof on BAYWATCH, with attempts to emulate the level of humor and appeal of his radio show and classic TV farces like GET SMART.  It was hardly award-worthy and, aside from the eye candy of the casting beyond its goofy star Tim Stack, was creatively forgettable.  But it did get record-breaking ratings for FX at the time and was a crucial component of its ability to finally get a channel position on Time Warner Cable in New York City, which had been a sticking point in its quest for distribution that ties back to a bitter feud between Ted Turner and Rupert Murdoch.  Stern would lobby city officials, often would bring on his own the show’s stars and my bosses and would personally lobby city officials to pressure TWC to put FX on.  Yours truly was heavily involved in distilling ammunition to his producers and agents that backed up his campaigning with proof that people were indeed liking his show and the network.  Ten days before 9/11, FX finally launched on Channel 58 in the city, guaranteeing a presence among advertising executives that paved the way for the eventual rollout of the scripted hours that built the network and, frankly, the foundation that got me my dream house.  Howard both literally and figuratively touched myself and many others in unforgettable ways.

Which is why the revelation that was reported on this week during an interview with his good friend Jimmy Kimmel was truly disturbing to me.  Howard isn’t touching anyone these days, including his own staff.  His Sirius XM show is still being produced remotely, as it has been since the outset of the pandemic.  As Dylan Parker of tthings reported:

Despite most of his friends, including his best-buddy Jimmy Kimmel, having found ways of getting “back to normal” as the severity of the diseases wanes, Howard is still cooped up at home. In fact, he and his wife Beth have had little to no contact with anyone for years.

But the reason why Howard hasn’t found his way back into society isn’t as simple as being afraid of getting sick.

Howard didn’t go back into his studio with COVID precautions nor has he since basically all restrictions have been lifted.

This has drastically changed the dynamic of his show, which used to thrive on behind-the-scenes office in-fighting and brilliant one-on-one celebrity interviews. Doing everything over Zoom simply doesn’t have the same effect despite there still being moments of gold.
For all of 2020 and most of 2021, Howard and his wife Beth completely cut themselves off from the world. They socialized with no one, not even outside. And anyone who had to come into their house (I.E. work-people) had to be tested and/or wear hazmat suits… At least, according to Howard.
During various shows at the end of 2021 and throughout 2022, Howard has admitted to seeing some family and some close friends. However, all have taken place either outside or in his home. And to get into his home, guests have to be tested.

Howard’s bestie, Jimmy Kimmel, and his wife Molly claimed that in order to stay at his house for a few days in the summer, they had to be tested twice. On top of this, they weren’t allowed to leave the compound. If they did, they weren’t allowed back due to possibly being exposed to COVID.

Even Howard admits that he’s gone overboard with his fear of reintegrating with society like the vast majority of the world already has. Howard knows that if he does get sick, he’s likely to get through. Mostly because of his multiple vaccinations. But he states the possibility of contracting “long COVID” deters him.

But this isn’t the whole truth.

Despite numerous doctors and health professionals, including his psychiatrist, advising him to step back into the real world, Howard continues to refuse. It’s true that he has told his audience that he plans to step outside again, go to a restaurant, and see more friends. But he keeps delaying it.

Now through these mimimal degrees of separation, including a beloved first cousin of mine who worked with Howard at a Briarcliff Manor, New York radio station at the outset of their careers, I have enough personal knowledge of his history to know he’s always been a recluse and germaphobe.   When I did meet him at a SON OF THE BEACH party, we fist-bumped.  I guess my butt wasn’t as appealing as those of some of my good friends, so I never got a hug,

And as someone who has his own issues with overreactions to social distancing and isolation, I’m particularly perplexed by Stern’s uncompromising and self-admitted paranoia.  Later today I’m getting my third booster shot, a total of five.  Statistically, he and I both fall into a “vulnerable” age range, and I’m not a complete moron when it comes to protection.  But unlike my second, which I celebrated like many did on social media as a “return to normal”, this is about as big a deal as I’m going to make of it.

Stern isn’t quite a lone wolf in his reluctance to get on with life, as demonstrated by yesterday’s report in DEADLINE that, for the eighth time since they were originally set to expire, Hollywood’s COVID-19 protocols will remain in place.  As David Robb recapped:

First adopted on September 21, 2020, the protocols had originally been set to expire on April 30, 2021, but were extended with no major modifications and contained all of the original agreement’s provisions. Those include strictly enforced testing regimens, physical distancing, Covid compliance officers, diligent use of personal protective equipment and a “Zone” system to ensure that different sections of productions are tightly controlled based on proximity to cast, who often can’t wear masks or maintain social distancing while working.

While such stringent protocols may have been unquestionable when they were adopted, it has now reached a point where production cost increases and the inability of many talents to work given these restrictions is becoming an increasingly disruptive burden, as articulated by no other than SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher:

Last month, writing in the most recent issue of SAG-AFTRA Magazine, Drescher expressed “concern that giving employers the discretionary rights to decide which of us can or can’t work based on our medical history is a dangerous slippery slope. If an employer can decide you can’t work unless Covid vaccinated, what’s next, we can’t work without a monkeypox vaccine?”

“I fully understand and appreciate the importance the vaccine has played in the saving of lives during the early years of the pandemic,” she wrote. “I myself am vaccinated. And when it was added to the Return-to-Work Agreement (RTWA) last year, it certainly seemed like the right thing to do.”

She added, however, that “with thousands of unvaccinated members still unable to work, all new information begs review and consideration before deciding our position on the next RTWA. All I ask is we educate ourselves with the newest science and make an informed decision because members’ livelihoods hang in the balance.”

To me, that’s about as balanced and articulate a response to all of this mania that I’ve seen.

And yet, those entitled and detached enough to rally behind medical experts with oars in the water to continue to demand that we exist in self-contained bubbles indefinitely still proliferate, and contribute to both psychological and financial losses for those of us nowhere near in the position of people like Stern and those with similar fears.  And sorry, folks, I’m as dug in with my views and beliefs as Stern is with his.  I don’t need to yet again go into my saga, but let’s just say it’s diametrically opposed to Howard’s.  And I know it’s more in line with his frustrated and disillusioned colleagues and friends.

I really, really wish Howard and others would somehow be able to get over their issues and allow life to go back to normal once and for all. I find it as much tragic than ironic that for someone who once championed eating vegetables out of someone’s butt, Howard can’t seem to find a way to get his head out of his own.

Until next time…

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