The first of a new breed

In his farewell to broadcast radio yesterday, Howard Stern’s theme was that he and his audience were the last of a dying breed — and that breed is mass media: “There will never be another radio show like this. There will never be another audience like this… We are all the last of a dying breed.” Afterwards, I walked down Sixth Avenue by NBC — the mass-media company that fired Stern and soon went out of the radio business — and thought: dying breed, indeed.

I suppose Stern had to write that obit. But the truth is that he is — and has been for sometime — the first of a new breed. Many of the themes I see in evolving and exploding media are or have long been reflected in Stern. I don’t mean to turn him into a subject of academic abstraction — I listen because he’s funny. Period. Nor do I mean to turn him into the farting McLuhan. But consider:

: I have argued, ad nasueum, that the essence of media in the future is not just content and not distribution but relationships. Well, that is what Stern’s show is all about, always has been. The warped Dilbert society in his office provides half the entertainment and the rest comes from how he interacts with and busts both guests and fans. It’s not content but the chemical reactions among people that make the Stern show so addictive.

: You’ve heard me say until you’re blue in the face that media is conversation. It always should have been, only now it can be. Stern is all about conversation. So is talk radio and cable news, you might say. But those aren’t real conversations; those are Claymation ping-pong games.

: The highest ethic of this open-source age, I’ve argued, is transparency. Well, Stern had made his career on honesty pushed to and past the limit. All the rest of broadcast and mass media has a manufactured voice made of plastic and chrome. Even former CBS News President Andrew Heyward says that news must rediscover an authentic voice. Well, Stern has long had that. Oh, I know, you’ll remind me that he’s still a showman and that he’s not exactly like that off the air. But he’s not making it all up; he couldn’t. He’s bringing out the voice inside. Unlike us, he says the things he thinks. He says the things we think but won’t say. That makes broadcasters uncomfortable, just as the raw voice of blogs makes newspeople uncomfortable. It’s the sound of the future.

: Stern has long respected the content created by the audience; he makes shows out of it. The opus of song parodies about Bababooey alone is amazing.

: The recurring theme of media today is that the people are taking control. At least since the FCC starting attacking him and certainly since Clear Channel canned him, Stern has been about leading a revolt against power.

: And yesterday, Howard and Robin talked about what it was going to be like having a smaller audience on Sirius. Oh, they always valued and bragged about their huge audience. And you could argue that they were just rationalizing when they said that perhaps their audience grew too big. But the truth of media in the future is that there will continue to be more use of media spread out among more, smaller audiences. The mass of niches.

  • Jeff – i don’t think it’s too hyberbolic to suggest that Stern is one of the most influential broadcasters ever. It’s too easy to dismiss him because of the raunchy humor, but for the reasons you point out, plus his impact upon the business model of radio, Howard has been a leader in many ways.

  • tigh

    Jeff, what amazes me was the fact that Infinity Broadcasting allowed to greatest showman in radio history to continue to broadcast his rants about terrestrial radio and the future move to Sirius. This will be one for the text books on what NOT to do. He made a fool of Infinity Management by using their airwaves (or at least their leased airwaves) to promote his new venture and he used those airwaves for over a year. This is obviously a true testimony to the business genius that Mr Stern posesses. It is also a true testimony to the foolishness and short sightedness (if there is such a word) of Infinity Management.

    So why did Infinity allow this? Because they, like most traditional media companies are a 30 day company. They run in fear of Wall St, trying to make budgets within the month. Sure they give lip service regarding digital media (podcasting on News Stations, who the hell wants that? or HD Radio, please…) The fact of the matter is, they have no regard for anything except the immediate crisis at hand (making budgets within the month as opposed for preparing for months ahead).

    Howard Stern recognized that the management would not saccrifice his considerable advertising revenue and he played them like a drum. Again, traditional media is not willing to saccrifice the short term for the future and that is why they are in the position they find themselve in currently. Like Band Ades in triage… So shortsighted, so predictable, so pathetically foolish…

  • Well said, both.

  • tigh

    Thank you Jeff,
    Now that I have opined on the past I will offer a contrarian perspective on the future of Satcasting. Personally, I do not think audio content is compelling enough for people to jump over the hurdles that XM and Sirius consumers face; a huge barrier for entry. I also think there is a threshold for monthly media bills (Cable, Premium Cable, Broadband, Cell Phone, Blackberry, Newspapers and Magazines, Movies, both rented, on demand and theater as well as DVD sales, Music, Subscriptions for news and entertainment on the net, etc). I see strictly audio content as being lower on the food chain (my opinion and no facts to back this up, just a hunch).

    That being said, if I were a Satcaster I would be looking for as many outlets to distribute the content they create. Yes Satcasting has it’s place in the die hard commuter. Yes it is offered within the price of a leased or new auto as OEM but what is unclear is the churn rate, once those monthly bills start coming in. I can see Karmazin and Pannero taking thier content to the web (at some sort of discount) in order to build a critical mass to sell advertising on the talk content.

    As an asside for those who compare Satcasting to Cable…
    Some have argued that MTV built cable. I dissagree, cable built MTV. Remember the I want my MTV ads; the traditional pull campaign when MTV launched. This was done after cable had enough penetration to warrent the channel and vast marketing to launch. If anything built cable, I think it was HBO.

    Cable had a relatively low cost for entry; you did not have to purchase the box. Also, time spent with the television was enormous and there were 3 networks and PBS sprinkled with a few indipendant stations in each market. Remember that Beta and VHS were relatively unknown at the time and were in the infancy of battling to become the industry standard. Cable came along at the right time.

    Comparing Cable to Satcasting does not seem to play, in my opinion. Just look at the audio choices you have; terrestrial radio (29-40 stations in the NY Metro alone), CD’s, Internet radio, Cable audio, cell phones and with the future of WIMAX who knows how long the window will stay open for Satcasting.

    I kind of see a future of content distribution for the Satcasters. I may be wrong but I just don’t see the Sattilite as the future for them (sure it will be one of many revenue streams) but I don’t see it as a stand alone business. I think the business will need to evolve. Plus, I would not want to carry the debt of putting those birds up just to turn on the lights, let alone the content deals…

    Look forward to your reaction and thoughts….

  • tigh

    Just read my post and wanted to clear one thing up
    -The “I Want My MTV” campaign was aimed at the consumer to call their Cable Companies to demand they carry the channel, it was not aimed at promoting Cable. Promotion of Cable may have been a bi-product of the campaign but it was not the intent of it.

    Very similar to the Purdue Chicken campaign, where Frank Purdue did those homey and hokey ads telling you to ask your grocer to carry Purdue (brilliant in that it de-commoditized Chicken, but I digress)

    Jeff, I am really enjoying your site. Very provocative. Thank you for allowing me to babble….

  • RonP

    I have been a Stern fan for over 20 years. What has always amazed me is how dismissive the MSM has been of Howard. Even even Joel Hollander at Infinity (in his infamous press confrence) dismissed him as a the man who sold fart humor and mental illness as a form of entertainment. As has been pointed out on this blog and others – Howard spoke in his voice. You felt part of the conversation – you were in the living room. Even when you cringed and some of his material you always came back for more because you felt he was extending trust and intimacy to you the listener. It wasn’t about wacky stunts – it was about be in the group. Even if you did not agree with him you still listened – God knows I think his politics are infantile at best, but he said things with heart and conviction.

    I am an expatriate American working in London. In order to fulfill my Stern fix for the last year I have had a friend use Radioshark to record his broadcasts and then file transfer the mp3s to my pc. It has been the remedy to homesickeness. Thats all gone now and sadness begins.

    I don’t think satellite will ever take out terrestial radio – I think Infinity was crazy not to leverage Stern’s leaving into some type of marketing opportunity. But media is about content not about transport. Satellite today, DAB, WiMAX, etc., etc. – I think Stern will be there.

    I wish him well and can’t wait until they announce and Internet feed. I will happily pay. Its the least i can do for 20 years of free entertainment.

  • tigh

    Ron P
    Without naming names, I shudder to think of where Infinity Broadcasting would be today, under current management decisions, if it were not insulated by Viacom. As I stated above, the decision to allow Howard Stern to continue his constant pitching of SIRI and downplaying Terrestrial, was foolish at best.

    Another major decision made by current management was abandoning the Oldies format for a jockless attempt at immitation of an individual’s i-Pod. Consider the following…
    -The Oldies Format reaches adults 45 plus
    -This is the fastest growing segment of US population, 37% of all adults and by 20015 over 50%
    -$1.9 Trillion worth of spending power
    -3/4s of the nation’s wealth
    -These are people who typically do not burn music off the internet
    -People who are more apt to use traditional forms of media

    This demographic was superserved with Oldies and they tossed it out the window in favor of a trend that they are intimidated by. Abandoning this format was a TOTAL mistake and a knee jerk reaction, in my opinion. I honestly believe they used this as a way to spin Wall St that they are embracing change and adapting to challenges in the marketplace.

    The fact is, they abandoned the format because Madison Avenue is so focused on 18-44 year olds that they took the lazy way out. Instead of going directly to the clients and selling the strength of the demographic; they chose to take a path of least resistance, placating the media buyers’ myopic view that 45+ will never experiment with new products and that they are set in their ways.

    The result is early, granted, but when you take a constant top 10 station(s) in adults 25-54, let alone the true 40-65 market, and toss them asside, clearly it must be a mistake. The fact is, if the stations were underperforming from a revenue side, it is a sales problem, not a programming problem. I give you that the format does well in certain markets (LA for one) and time will tell in others but I can honestly say that total abandonment of a format, a format that superserves a demographic stated above is, at best, foolish.

    It is these sorts of decisions, two major ones, that will mark the current management (you said the names not me) for a long, long time. Maybe the gamble will pay off, time will tell. But why choose to go to war with so many emerging technologies and so much media competition (serving the 18-44 year olds) when you have your own niche carved out?

    Again, under the latest decisions at Infinity, I shudder to think where it would be as a stand alone company. Viacom will be splitting in a few short weeks and Infinity’s importance will be rising under the “new CBS” umbrella. It will be very interesting to follow, to say the least.

  • The problem with the fragmentation of the audience (in all media) is that the revenue generated by any one outlet becomes smaller. This limits the amount that can be spent on production values. So we get lots of really low budget talk shows, infomercials, disk spinners and the like.

    Tonight ABC is putting on their annual musical (Once Upon a Mattress) with a big name cast, etc. Without the prospect of several million viewers they would never have made the film. And one minute after the show is over they have to start all over holding an audience in the next hour. And so on 168 times a week.

    The common inversion of Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame is:
    “In the future everyone will be famous to 15 people.”

  • Jeff,

    as always, kudos to your tireless Stern coverage during these historic years where he has battled the FCC and now moved over to Sirius.

    I think it’s obvious that anyone who listens to Howard for a few hours a week – and not just watches the E! show (a poor representation of the show as a whole) – usually turns into a fan if not a rabid fan.

    Stern has the strange ability of making stars human and freaks stars. When people talk about his stripper and whore guests they’re obviously not listening because the sexuality in the show transcends simple hetro-sex, over the years we’ve heard hundreds of hours of gay male sex sounds and now granny sex talk not to mention miget sex sounds – making the most opened-minded of us have our envelopes pushed, so to speak.

    This last week of shows with the return of the old guard, especially Jackie were incredible, awkward, uncomfortable, and bittersweet. Rick Dees never gave us such moments.

    And of all the speeches last night, I think the most poignant was from drunken artie whose words were funny but spirit captured the celebration of the completion of one era now passed and a new one about to start.

    Why a tv channel like UPN or even E! didn’t cover that last day is beyond me, as anyone who saw the Yahoo! coverage witnessed a mess of amature television production.

    Regarldess it was still better than nothing, although it will be interesting to see what On-Demand captured.

    Jeff, for Christmas, here’s some links that you might enjoy.

    Fred’s pictures from Friday

    A Yahoo VIP’s pics from Friday

    Another Yahoo VIP’s pics from Friday

    MP3 of the Jackie interview:

    MP3 of the final show:

    and the very last segment of that last day – ridiculously edited by the radio station during Robin and Howard’s speeches

    Howard on the Best Damn Sports Show
    part one:

    part two:

    Happy Holidays Jeff, see you on the other side!

  • I kinda liked this one.

  • Roy

    Jim Treacher, those fools were told to move away by the cops.

  • Heh.

  • greg

    no naked pics to make it exsiting

  • greg

    i hate how howered stern is sensered