The Daily Stern: Howard Stern v. Michael Powell

The Daily Stern: Howard Stern v. Michael Powell

: Michael Powell appeared on my Ronn Owens‘ KGO Radio show in San Francisco and Howard Stern called in to give him a proper piece of his mind. Many good readers sent me a link to the stream but because they said it would go down Wednesday, I transcribed the entire Stern/Powell segment. Stories here, here, and here.

Stern went after Powell for getting his job because of his father. Powell whined “unfair.” Stern said, no, it’s fair and relevant because broadcasters who’ve devoted their lives to this industry now answer to this First Amendment hypocrite.

Stern pushed Powell on fining him and Viacom over Jackson but not fining Oprah Winfrey because she’s beloved. Powell denied saying that (his aid did say it) and said the Winfrey case is still open.

Stern called the fines and the FCC’s holding station renewals hostage “racketeering.”

At the end, Powell admitted as the conversation continued without Stern that there’s worse on other stations.

My old friend Ronn (I used to appear on his air once a month when I worked in San Francisco) blew it by cutting Stern off at the end to get to commercials. This was news and they should have gone at it for the rest of the show. The transcript:

Stern: Ronn, hi.

Owens: Is this who I think it is?

Stern: Yeah, and I want to say hi to the commissioner and a friend of mine told me the commissioner said he was going to be on the show….

The commissioner has fined me millions of dollars for things I have said and consistently avoids me and avoids me and I wonder how long he will stay on the phone with me.

Owens: Go ahead and ask your questions.

Stern: Hi, Michael, how are you?

Powell: Hi, Howard, how are you?

Stern: Does it make you nervous to talk to me?

Powell: It does not….

Stern: All right, so well, I’ve got about ten zillion questions for you because you honestly are an enigma to me.

The first question being: How did you get your job? It is apparent to most of us in broadcasting that your father got you your job. And you kind of sit there:

You’re the judge, you’re the arbiter, you’re the one who tells us what we can and can’t say on the air and yet I really don’t think you’re qualified to be the head of the commission. Do you deny that your father got you this job?

Powell: Well, I would deny it exceedingly. You can look at my resume if you want, Howard. I’m not ashamed of it and I think it justifies my existence. I was chief of staff of the antitrust division, I’m an attorney, I was a clerk on the court of the United States I was a private attorney I have the same credentials that virtually anyone who sits in my position does and I think it’s a little unfair that just because I happen to have a famous father and other public officials don’t that you make the assumption that is the basis on which I sit in my position.

Owens: Caller already asked this question so move on….

Stern: So out of all the people that sit on the commission, you were moved to the head of the class. I don’t buy your explanation but OK.

You know, the thing that amazes me about you is, you continually fine me but you’re afraid to go to court with me and I’ll explain myself if you give me a second:

Fine after fine came and we tried to go to court with you to find out about obscenity and what your line was and whether our show was indecent, which I don’t think it is. And you do something really sneaky behind the scenes. You continue to block Viacom from buying new stations until we pay those fines.

You are afraid to go court. You are afraid to get a ruling time and time again.

When will you allow this to go to court and stop practicing your form of racketeering that you do by making stations pay up or you hold up their license renewal?

Powell: First of all, that’s flatly false.

Stern: It’s not false. It’s true.

Powell: I’m afraid it is. There’s no reason why Viacom or any other company who feels that they have been wrongly fined can’t sue us in court. We have no basis whatsoever to prevent them from going to court.

Stern: You’re lying. I’ve lived through your fines, Michael. And Mel Karmazin came to me one day and said, Howard, we’re gonna have to pay up some sort of cockamame (sp?) bunch of fines that we don’t we’re wrong because we can’t get our paperwork done. We are finding it increasingly difficult to boy radio stations. I know you’re not telling the truth. And I question why you are selected to be one who is the FCC commissioner….

I’m going to Sirius satellite radio….

Owens: That’s the question I was going to ask. Now he’s going to go to satellite. One of the things that I read is that there are people who said cable TV, satellite radio, that ought to fall under the aegis of the FCC that content there…

Stern: Nobody’s saying that… That’s not going to happen. Michael knows that. This is the guise of the public airwaves. Michael’s a Republican He knows that the marketplace….

Owens: By the way, weren’t you appointed by Clinton?… No, no, no, no, he was appointed head of the FCC by George W. Bush.

Powell: Howard, the only thing I would ask is that if we’re going to be fair is that the commitment to the indecency provisions is not Republican or Democrat. I have Democratic colleagues on the commission that argue for license revocation… You know the Congress just debated indecency fines in the United States Congress. It passed the Senate 99 to 1. There aren’t 99 Republicans and one Democrat. It was bipartisan.

I mean, I think you have a right to be concerned about the ways that the indecency fines are done but rather than attack me personally, you can challenge the regime. But the entire commission has voted on those fines. The commission has a statute that it’s required to enforce and I think that it’s a cheap shot to say that just because my father’s famous I don’t belong in my position even though I’ve served longer than any commissioner in decades on the commission.

If you don’t think the commission should have any rights to draw limits, I think that’s a respectable position but it doesn’t happen to be the law.

Stern: Well, Michael, it’s not a cheap shot to say that your father got you your position and I’ll tell you why:

Guys like me who came from nowhere out of nothing and worked their way up and committed themselves to broadcasting and making a career of broadcasting have to answer to you.

And it is a question as to how you got to where you got to. And let’s face it: You got to where you got to, you got to the head of the class the way George W. Bush got out of the draft.

And it’s completely fair to question because you’re the guy sitting there telling me I’m guilty of saying something and Oprah Winfrey isn’t. And I wish you’d address that.

Owens: We talked about Oprah, I brought it up…

Powell: One point I would make, Howard, if I could.

Stern: Make the statement that you made originally, which was that Oprah is, I guess, a beloved figure and Howard Stern is not.

Powell: No, I don’t know when I made that statement. I think Ronn might have made that statement. I don’t think I ever made that statement. Indeed my argument was, we’re going to enforce things fairly regardless of the noteriety of the personality involved. I mean the only thing I would say, and I respect your opinion, is that you personalize it about answering to me. You’re answering to the commission if anybody. All of these fines are voted by five members, Republicans and Democrats alike, and they have been unanimous. The only dissents in these cases have been from the Democrats who argued for even stricter fines and enforcement. So I don’t mind having an honest debate about the role of the commission in indecency. I think as a public institution we’re responsible to do that. But I don’t think I have been personally the one that you’re answering to.

Stern: Of course you are. Listen, Michael, if I were a friend of George W. Bush you know he’ll give you the word and you’ll back off from me….

Powell: Well…

Owens: Well, give him the chance to say know if that’s the case.

Powell: I think that’s just ridiculous.

Stern: Why don’t you fine Oprah Winfrey, then?

Powell: That case is still at the commission. I mean, if we don’t, then you can ask that question. But until we resolve it, I don’t think it’s fair to ask that question. And to be perfectly honest, you know, I’ve been chairman for four years and I think we’ve had fines against your station twice and I don’t think we have made any particular crusade of the Howard Stern show or you.

Stern: Yeah, OK, Michael, that’s why I’ve received the largest fines in history and I’ve said the exact, identical thing that Oprah Winfrey said and you said she’s beloved and I’m not….

Owens: Howard, I got some bills to pay. I’m thrilled you called.

Stern: Ronn, wait a second, let me say one last thing:

I invite Michael onto my show, which he won’t come on. Number two, I’ve been respectful, I hope there’s no sort of retribution as a result of my phone call, which I believe Michael’s capable of. I’ve been the victim of it. You can call me crazy, you can call me nuts, Michael knows what I’m talking about. I’ve been slammed. I’ve been not allowed to go to court over this thing and prove my innocence and I don’t think a court would have found me indecent at all. I’m not here to set upt he commissioner. I called because a friend of mine told me two hours ago that Michael Powell was going to be there and there’s about ten zillion questions and maybe you’ll ask this after I get off the phone:

Janet Jackson — do you really think that…

Owens: We talked about it. Next question.

Stern: What do you mean next question?

Owens: Because I asked him about Janet Jackson, pointing out the absurdity that if you’re going to get upset about anything it’s the ripping off of the bra, what’s the big deal about the nipple.

Stern: Not only that why would you blame Viacom for Janet Jackson going up there ripping off her shirt at a live event and then not fine people for using the F word and the S word during live events. What’s the difference? You really think that Les Moonves sat in a room and conspired with Janet Jackson….?

Powell: Can I answer part of that? …

Owens: Answer that and then, Howard, honestly, I got to go.

Stern: Why do you have to go, Ronn?

Owens: Because they’re paying for this thing and I’ve already cut out one commercial cluster…. Let him answer the question then.

Powell: Just two quick things. I don’t think we’ve been inconsistent. He says we do Janet Jackson but we let people say the F word. One of the most controversial decisions this year was we let Bono say the F word … I think we have been consisten across that line. Second what the order found on Viacom: Viacom is a big media conglomerate and it includes MTV and MTV produced the programming and it was our conclusion after investigating that it was not just a sort of passive…

Stern: Michael I know I’m going to get cut off. I absolutely don’t take this personally. I don’t think you personally hate me. I think that what you are doing is dangerous to free speech. I don’t think just against me. I think things have gotten way out of control. I am not personally vindictive. I’m happy to be going to satellite radio. I welcome the move. I think it’s a sad day, though, when the markeplace no longer determines what is indecent. I think that there’s tremendous hypocrisy that you allow late at night with teenagers calling into Love Line talking about blatant sexual acts. There’s a complete double standard here when it comes to me and morning radio when it’s probably the only time of day that parents listen with their children, 6 to 10 in the morning. I think there’s a lot of inconsistencies and I’m going to ask you while you’re still in office and, who knows, Bush’ll probably win and you’ll be there a while….

Owens: Awright, on that note, Howard, let me go…

Stern: Ronn, take a good look at this with the commissioner. Ask him about the billion dollars of computer equipment and he knows what they’re talking about. And good luck to Michael Powell and good luck to all of you.

[Stern is off]

Powell: Well, you know, I think it’s interesting. Howard has an argument and his argument is that there should be no limits on what he should be able to do on the radio. And if there are going to be limits, someone’s going to have to define them and someone’s going to have to enforce them.

Owens: He’s kind of the poster child, though. The truth is that you go to some major markets and there’s going to be some morning zoo that’s going to be worse.

Powell: Oh, I think, absolutely…

Earlier posts (not a complete list) here.

  • a.moose

    Ronn had to cut him off, because Ronn is a dipshit. You’re a dipshit too.

  • a.moose

    Ronn had to cut him off, because Ronn is a dipshit. You’re a dipshit too.

  • Michael commented that the ‘Oprah’ case was still open. That’s the first I have heard of that. Of course I have not been following the story as closely the past few weeks, as opposed to when Howard first read the Orpah transcript on air.
    I listen to Howard, but don’t always like what he does/says. But when you sit back and compare his transcript with the Orpah transcript it does look like a double standard.

  • Mike NYC

    Great post, Jeff. Thanks for getting the transcript up there.

  • argflast

    It’s spelt cockamamie.

  • lola

    There’s an mp3 over at boing boing.

  • so great jeff!
    thank you for transcribing it.
    powell is much better on the radio than he was on that ridiculous “blog”. too bad he has so much to hide or he would defend himself on the stern show.
    weird when the commish of the fcc, a lawyer at that, would be too chickenshti to go head to head with a “shock jock” on the radio.
    its not like powell wouldnt know what the questions are going to be.
    anyway, thanks for transcribing this and putting it up.
    ask your buddy though why he was so ancy to cut to commercial – seems to me when you have the friggin chairman of the fcc and the king of all media you let that thing go till someone storms off or slams down the phone.

  • Dishman

    I got to hear most of it live this morning.
    Your transcription cuts off some rather interesting comments by Powell that are probably worth referencing. One of them was that “some of his colleagues want to regulate cable and satellite”, which he said was “probably unconstitutional”.
    “The commission has a statute that it’s required to enforce …”
    I.. couldn’t find what I heard in the transcript, but there was something else I heard as well that all ties together. I believe Powell WANTS Stern to sue the FCC. I think he is at worst ambivalent about who wins. Right before (or after) he moves to Sirius would be a good time.

  • John

    Free speach is free speach. If you’re not inciting violence or perpetrating slander then anything goes.
    I don’t listen to Stern because I think he’s boring most of the time, but that’s just my opinion. I hope Howard gets his day in court and the FCC gets humbled if not downright humiliated.
    Keep fighting the good fight Jeff.

  • Jefferson

    It’s the children, stupid. We don’t allow children to wander into adult theaters and we should not allow them to wander into “adult content” public airwaves during daytime hours. Parents of small children are at war with our culture and now hunker down and hide their kids from even the simplest, yet shocking content, like local news and afternoon talk shows. Howard is at the vanguard of this war against parents and children. Satellite and cable are perfect for Howard where he can say anything he wants. No problem.
    And I am tired of hearing about the courts settling these kinds of issues. If you think Howard’s style of entertainment should go unfettered, then get some legislation to allow it. This will of course never be done because the majority of folks don’t want it. The “end around” use of our courts and “friendly judges” is getting out of control.
    Again, it’s the children.

  • I’m so glad I got to read the whole transcript – only bits and pieces elsewhere…
    I’m making the rounds to ask folks to help Scrutiny Hooligans celebrate 25,000 hits by coming over and reading Best of the Hooligans .
    Keep up the good work!

  • Dishman: Did that come before or after Stern’s call? I’ll transcribe it later. It was midnight and when Stern hung up, I put down the keyboard.

  • Angelos

    No Jefferson, it’s NOT the children. Trot out the weakest political cliche in the book as your main argument. Jeez.
    As George Carlin said, Fuck the children!
    Adults choices shouln’t be limited for the “sake of the children”.
    The adults go to work. The adults pay taxes. The adults also get to control the dial. Children can just shut up until they’re old enough to work.
    If you have your kids in the car in the morning, you should probably not have your dial on Stern. If you don’t want them asking you about tossed salads, stay away from Oprah. That makes perfect sense.
    But X million people commuting to work in the morning with Stern on should not be subject to the whims of weak parents who want the government to be their nannies.
    You do what you have to do, leave others do what they want to do. Leave the victimhood out of it. Your problems are not my problems. I don’t listen to Stern because I don’t listen to the radio period. I don’t do commercials. I made my choice. If I had young kids, there would be no network TV while they were up. Period. That would be my parental decision.
    But no one else needs to be affected by my choices. Who the hell do you think you are to think that your opinion should affect even 1 other person?

  • John

    In reply to poster Jefferson: It’s the constitution stupid. – “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” – There is no clause that says “except when children might be able to hear”. No further laws are or should be necessary.
    If you want to protect your children from unsavory influences then you have to educate them, not prevent them from hearing or seeing things you don’t like.

  • OK, so it’s not the children — it’s the constitution. Since no further laws are necessary, I will be able to start up my own radio station in my town and broadcast bagpipe music over the Stern frequency and drown out his show, just because I’m a bajillionaire who likes bagpipe music.
    None of you 1A shouters ever address the fact that Stern has benefited (grandly) from monopoly practices that have protected him for years. Part of that was that he had to live by other rules that are part and parcel of the monopoly benefit. For whatever reason, he’s decided that he no longer should be required to honor his end of the compact.
    Great — now he’s moving to a free-market system, and we’ll all get to see just how loyal his audience is.

  • Karl

    Stern is the hypocrite. And he’s become a partisan hack.
    He points out that he has been putting up with the FCC fining stations that carry his show for years and years. But Stern never made this big a stink about the FCC during the Clinton Administration.
    Moreover, as Powell noted, the FCC’s decisions regarding his show have been bipartisan, and that Democratic Commisssioners (e.g., Commissioner Copps) have wanted tougher sanctions. But Stern saves all his vitriol for Republican Michael Powell.
    Stern does not “buy” Powell’s recitation of his credentials, but it’s true. Perhaps Stern (or Jeff) ought to look at the bio of former FCC Chairman Reed Hundt. Did Hundt spend his career in broadcasting? No, he was a power-lawyer, just like Powell. And Hundt just happens to have been a pal of Al Gore since the ninth grade. I don’t recall Stern having anything to say about Hundt, do you?
    Also, let’s look at Stern’s argument on the merits. He seems to suggest that the FCC should be run by someone who has spent their career in broadcasting. Would he suggest that energy policy should be set by people who have spent their careers in the energy industry? I don’t know, but I think it’s a fairly debatable point.
    As for Jeff’s characterization of the exchange, I wonder why defending yourself against an ad hominem attack considered “whining.” Is Stern’s complaint that Powell is a bad guy, or that the indecency regulations are wrong-headed? Powell seemed to want to want to debate the latter point; Stern seemed focused on the former.
    Jeff has been critical of “mudmen” in the current election cycle. Maybe he ought to consider whether Stern is becoming a mudman, rather than a champion of free speech.

  • John

    Scott, Regulating the use of the airwaves by rationing broadcast spectrum and limiting transmitter wattage is not the same as restricting the content that is broadcast over those airwaves.
    Freedom of speech is a right enshrined in the constitution. Freedom of distribution is not.
    Howard Stern does not have a right to be a radio personality but Viacom does have a right to put him on the air. If some broadcaster wants to pay, lets say Lizzie Grubman, ridiculous amounts of money to babble incoherently into a microphone for half an hour a day or then it is their right to do that also.

  • Dishman

    The comment regarding “unconstitutional” was shortly after the end of Howard’s call. I’m not sure on the timing of the comment that (coming from a lawyer) implied wanting people to sue.

  • OK, John, so then there ARE some laws, or regulations, that have evolved over time, that need to be in place for Stern to broadcast. My problem is that Stern and Jarvis and others want to pick and choose what regulations, that have evolved over time, that they will follow. So, they’re doing the thing that should be done as citizens — trying to change the regulations to their benefit. That’s cool and democratic and just perfectly fine, but don’t try to dress it up as a First Amendment issue. It’s a power-control-money issue.
    And please don’t be shocked or outraged when other citizens lobby against their proposed changes to those regulations, whether it’s for their kids or for any other reason. After all, as a citizen, I should have just as big a voice in this as Stern. Not that I expect Jarvis to start blogging my phone calls to talk radio :-)

  • Jefferson

    The Constitution does not give you the Freedom of Speech to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theatre or to make threatening statements, or to have scatalogical discussions in public. The framers of the Consititution were clearly concerned about your ability to freely criticize our leaders in public, i.e. POLITICAL free speech, NOT to discuss the frontiers of sexual behaviour on the public airwaves.
    We have zoning laws to CONTROL the locations for adult entertainment so it is entirely consistent that we an FCC that controls the limits of adult discussions on the public airwaves. Put on a satellite beany and enjoy Howard in privacy, whenever and wherever you like. Nobody is stopping you or Howard.

  • Jefferson

    Children dis’ers:
    You clearly don’t have children or you would not be so cavalier about this issue. And, citing oral sex in schools, is like saying we’re in a car careening downhill, so lets poor on even more gas! Illogical. Furthermore we’re talking about younger children, not 14 year olds here. This alone shows how out of touch you are on the subject of children. 14 year olds are old enough to be on their own with respect to this issue. And do you think all children are in school every weekday of the year… Again you’re out of touch.
    Children with an at-home parent are not the problem. It’s a full time job for these at-home parents to protect them from this increasingly debauched culture coming at them from all directions, but it can be, and is done. However, many children are poorly supervised because of at work or negligent parents. Having no holds barred sexual discussions on the public airwaves endangers and victimizes them.
    Again, zone the locations of lap dance bars away from schools and keep the most extremely adult discussions on cable or satellite.
    Entirely consistent.

  • John

    I suppose you could make the argument that the constitution protects only the right to speak and not where or when but I doubt that the framers of the constitution were truly concerned about the imperialist threat to private conversation. Their concern was public speach, as heard on street corners, courthouse steps and, nowadays, on the radio.
    ‘The Constitution does not give you the Freedom of Speech to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theatre or to make threatening statements, or to have scatalogical discussions in public’. I would agree with the first statement but not the second. I believe that the founding fathers precisely did intend to protect everyone’s right to say the 18th century equivelent of “the King is a scum sucking ass-monkey with shit for brains”, scatalogical reference and all.

  • John

    I meant to say I agree with the first statement but not the last. The second statement, the right to make “threatening” statements is, to some degree, debateable. ‘I’m going to blow this place up’ is not protected speach, ‘I’m going to run you out of business’ is. It all depends on where you draw the line between “threatening” and “menacing”.

  • Old Grouch

    OK, Jeff, which tests the server more? Instalanche or Slashdotting?

  • pb

    Howard needs to tighten up his argument. I don’t think he came off very well.
    And unlike all the weakling Stern defenders who preface their comments with “I’m no Howard Stern fan”, I *am* a Howard Stern fan!

  • Dishman

    I agree, pb. I missed the first part of his call (though I’d heard some previous callers) and my first impression was, “Who is this guy whining?” … and then I recognized his voice.
    Why is Howard getting his chops busted?
    The FCC is getting a lot of complaints from places like this:
    He has an opportunity to push back, and effectively.
    All else fails, I think he should have a private conversation with Mr. Powell, and ask him “What would you do if you were Howard Stern?” The answer might be surprising.

  • Chris

    Ronn is a douchebag. He should have kept howard on and doubled his ratings. Advertisers would have loved it. what a douche. he should get cancelled.

  • Chris

    Ronn is a douchebag. He should have kept howard on and doubled his ratings. Advertisers would have loved it. what a douche. he should get cancelled.

  • Chris

    Ronn is a douchebag. He should have kept howard on and doubled his ratings. Advertisers would have loved it. what a douche. he should get cancelled.

  • Based on that transcript, I’d say that Powell made Stern sound like a uninformed twit. Considering the length of time he’s been criticizing Powell, you’d expect him to know what he was talking about – and he clearly didn’t.
    I’m fine with shock jocks. Really. What I don’t have time for are crybaby shock jocks, who could not exist at all if there weren’t envelopes to push. He’s made millions off that envelope.
    The FCC isn’t so much limiting Stern’s language as they are taxing it – a cost of doing business that he cannot survive without.

  • David

    Do you beleive it’s OK for people, over the airwaves, to call people niggers and call for their heads? If you think that’s OK, then its intellectually honest to support Stern. But if you agree that allowing such statements on the air is wrong, then you cannot support Stern.
    There is no distinction that can hold water here. Either you beleive in an aboslute liberterian right to say anything, or you agree that the radio should be regulated. If the latter, then it becomes a question of degree, and Stern’s frothing of “censorship” is just so much self promoting nonsnese.
    The truth is, Stern’s getting a little old, and I think he knows it. When I last listened to his show ( in law school, three years ago) he was making bathroom jokes. I suppose he still is. At his age, that stuff is not only not funny, its embarassing. His whole millieu is that of his generation – he offers nothing to listeners under 40. He’s had a prolific career, but its coming to a close. There are better and funnier morning shows in almost any big city market and – surpriuse surprise! – many of them are clean.