A Deeper Look At The Influential Howard Stern
Whether you like him or not, Howard Stern is a radio and media icon who’s influence on entertainment today is stronger than ever. He developed the "shock jock " profession with his wildly entertaining original radio show, which has prompted other ventures; including books, satellite radio, a movie, and even a TV network: the uncensored, on-demand Howard TV. Howard has countless loyal fans that hang on every word uttered by the self-proclaimed "King of All Media," but his outspoken fans are joined by many "closet" fans who enjoy his show on their daily morning commute, but would hesitate to admit to listening to him when confronted.
Some look at Stern with hostility because of his edgy style, but he is much more than that. Despite his admitted OCD habits and the colossal amount of stress he inflicts upon himself, there is something about him that is very attractive and enthralling. He’s funny, relevant, self-depreciating, and does one hell of an interview. In fact, his interviews are done so well, I would advise any writer to listen to them. Pay attention to the detail in which he goes, to the way he gets his interviewees to talk about themselves and open up, and listen to the way he listens.
How does Stern command such a vast audience from such a wide spectrum of people? The answer is that he possesses an innate talent to balance racy content with informative discourse. Stern has an uncanny ability to bring out the most from his interviews, and shed a little light on aspects of his guests that no other interviewer brings out. Listeners are compelled to tune in because they don’t want to miss radio gold, like his interview with Paul McCartney, Gary's "I want you back tape" or Sal Governale's knowledge of history.
Stern also shares everything about himself, from his bathroom neuroses and secret sexual fantasies to his mother's voice eternally nagging in his head, and the emotional scars from his life growing up in a dangerous neighborhood. Who does that? Nobody! And that's what makes Stern so great. Over the past year, David Letterman was caught in a sex scandal with his intern, and Jay Leno's treacherous nature was publicly revealed once again in the Conan O'Brien fiasco.
So what do we really know about the personal lives of these late night big shots? Next to nothing. They expect their guests to share, but they are unwilling to provide any insight at all into what makes they themselves tick. As opposed to Stern's fascinating, addictive, honest, and hilarious morning show, the late night heavyweights are mundane and their shows are incredibly scripted, superficial, and unmemorable with recycled PG-rated humor.
What frequent listeners will tell you is that despite his NC-17 content, Stern's show is all about family. Not the traditional kind of family of course, but an extended family of weirdos, outlandish co-workers, hangers-on and "wack packers" whose lives fans become invested in. Whether it's Jeff the Drunk begging for money or Eric the Midget pulling another one of his obnoxious shenanigans, Richard Christie talking about his dad's squirrel-sticks or Gary "Baba Booey" Dell'Abate getting mercilessly teased for his endless book tour and that atrocious first pitch at the Mets game, you feel like you know these people and can’t wait to hear about their latest antics. Howard knows this and it's why he always takes their calls, summons them into the studio and gives them more airtime than you would ever imagine.
While Howard sometimes seems like your average guy, oblivious to the enormity of his celebrity status, he has an incredible influence over the media, his fans, and of course, the success of Sirius XM radio. Stern’s arrival at Sirius in 2006 triggered a shift in power – Sirius was small, struggling, and unknown to many while XM seemed bound for success. If Stern had gone to XM instead of Sirius, XM would have bought Sirius. Howard saved Sirius and even his most passionate haters are privy to this.
These days, the Stern's show and interviews have a tendency to create media frenzies. Back in May, Jesse James made an appearance on the show that sent Tabloids spinning and made headlines on almost every celebrity news show on television. Stern asked James: "So who's more fun in bed? Sandra Bullock or Kat Von D?" "That one's an easy no-brainer," James replied. James gushed about sex and his intense connection with fiance Kat Von D but also confessed that he never felt all that secure with the Oscar winner Sandra Bullock and didn't believe she really loved him. None of this information was especially risque but the media flocked to it simply because James had kept his silence up until this point. Stern's show was the medium James wanted to expose his feelings.
Maybe it is because of Stern's honesty and genuine curiosity towards the lives of his guests, Stern's immense fan base, or the comfort and respect he felt in Stern's studio – like he was talking to one of his buddies. For reasons like these, celebrities (especially those caught in scandals) turn to the Stern Show to divulge their secrets and tell their side of the story. Other times, stars accidentally reveal personal information when they become too comfortable in the studio. Other recent interviews to spur media hysteria – David Arquette's phone interview regarding his crumbling marriage to wife Courtney Cox, and Hugh Heffner's ex-fiance Crystal Harris' confessions that cast Heffner and his mansion in a negative light.
A lot of women despise Stern because of the many porn stars that have graced his show. As a woman, I find some aspects of these interviews fascinating. While Stern questions them about their career, their sexual escapades, and their fetishes, he verbalizes his (and most people's) curiosity of why these women are like this. Why do they enjoy doing porn, why do their lives revolve around sex, why do they do the things they do? Being a pornstar sounds hellish, totally degrading, disgusting, and sickening. When these women claim that they do in fact love their career choice, I feel like I am watching an interview with an alien. Howard will usually ask questions about their childhood, if they were abused, if they experienced some sort of trauma, if there is some unconscious explanation for this, because their lives seem so abnormal and incomprehensible to most people.
He made his wackpackers famous, he spurred many successful porn careers, he was a blessing for Sirius, he incites the media, and he has boosted many celebrities' fame and stock to new heights. But nothing illustrates the power of Howard like the aftershock of having the ultra-famous Lady Gaga on the show. On July 17, Lady Gaga finally made her debut on the show and by the end of the interview, Stern became an official little monster, declaring that Gaga's acoustic version of 'The Edge of Glory' was “one of the best performances we’ve ever had on the show.” Stern was clearly blown away and this is a man who's had everyone from Paul McCartney and Elton John to Foo Fighters and David Bowie bring their act to his show.
Lady Gaga's support of "Born This Way" has been unprecedented. She's created several singles, high-profile videos and multiple interviews, all in the interest of rewarding her Little Monsters with more access while also expanding her fan base. But could it be that the most crucial five minutes for gaining new fans came sitting behind a piano solo in front of Howard Stern pounding out "The Edge of Glory"? Since her appearance on the show people across all demographics who would not consider themselves Lady Gaga fans have been converted. Upon hearing her acoustic version of "Edge of Glory" they have been left stunned. All have said the same combination of things: "I had no idea she could sing like that." "She is the real deal." "Wow!"
Stern had been trying to get Lady Gaga on his show for months, but when she finally appeared on the show, there was no entourage pushing her out the door to her next press stop – she was willing to give Stern all the time in the world. In about an hour's worth of candid conversation, she touched on everything, like how she spends her money and her unwavering dedication to her Little Monsters. She even revealed her creative process, playing Howard the audio clips on her Blackberry of when she was coming up with her "JUDA, JUDA-AS" melody in her home. Lady Gaga has never let her guard down the way she did for Stern.
Stern asked Gaga about writing "The Edge of Glory" and she revealed the story of how it came out of her grandfather's death. "Glory" was meant to be a metaphor for his crossing over and as he lay in the hospital approaching death, she wrote the song as she bonded with her father, reminiscing and drinking tequila. As she played it for Stern, her raw emotion poured out into the keys, while her voice, stripped of the single's heavy production, radiated throughout the studio and through the air waves. Listeners felt chills up their spines and even Robyn Quivers admitted she was on the verge of tears.
His legion of fans were utterly astonished. Callers flooded the lines in the hours and weeks after the performance, universally agreeing that their opinion of Gaga had changed after listening to her authentic interview and beautiful performance. None of these Stern fans knew she had those reserves of power in her, and admitted to previously disliking her. Stern's producers still haven't let go of her incredible performance to this day, a month later, and continue to play it on repeat during show breaks.
Obviously, Howard Stern did not make Lady Gaga famous, but he opened the floodgates for a whole new mass of Lady Gaga fans. For over twenty years, Stern has been the most celebrated, controversial, and compelling radio personality in history. His daily on-air antics are legendary and have propelled him into the upper echelon of celebrity. He looks at life through his own naturally humorous perspective, and, for a few hours a day, allows some to laugh out loud while others curiously listen from the sidelines. Howard Stern is only the enemy to those who takes themselves or life too seriously.