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.