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Howard Stern Considers Leaving Sirius for Idol, Mancow Out to Pasture in Chicago (again). Is This Sunset for the Shock Jock?

There was once a time when a rare breed of radio DJ could scare up controversy and big ratings–not to mention FCC indecency fines–using just his voice, a few on-air cronies and whole lot of bravado, innuendo and hot air. Remember Howard Stern? Arguably the original “shock jock” he was one of the few American radio DJs able to make a nationwide name for himself, including late night talk show appearances and even producing an autobiographical feature film. He made big news in 2004 when he abandoned broadcast for Sirius satellite radio. But once Stern made the transition at the beginning of 2006 he pretty much faded from the mainstream limelight. CBS Radio made attempts to fill the void–such as tapping former Van Halen signer David Lee Roth, who lasted about four months. But no new jock has been found who can replicate Stern’s nationwide morning show dominance.

Chicago-based Mancow Muller was one potential candidate for the King of All Media’s throne. Just as Stern prepared to exit the broadcast airwaves Mancow was experiencing a boost in the number of station’s carrying his “Morning Madhouse” program, and was even beating Stern in the ratings in his home market. Yet only a half-year into Stern’s absence from terrestrial radio Mancow was booted from his home flagship station, Chicago’s Q101. Though the Madhouse continued to air in syndication, Mancow’s candidacy to replace Stern seemed to fade.

Things looked better for Mancow when he was hired on for the morning drive slot on Chicago’s AM talk powerhouse WLS in October of 2008. In the last decade Mancow had tried to de-emphasize his shock jock origins–with minimal success–while playing up his conservative/libertarian political views and Christian faith. That made him not a horrible match for WLS’s mostly conservative talk line-up, although still much more obsessed with potty humor and dick jokes than even ol’ Rushbo.

But the new Mancow show wouldn’t last. Despite the ‘cow scoring good ratings for listeners age 12 and up, the station as a whole was slipping in the more prized 25-54 demographic. So this past week WLS sent Mancow out to pasture. In a memo to station staff, WLS GM Michael Damsky wrote,

While Mancow and Pat consistently put on a highly entertaining and often attention-grabbing two hours, the content and delivery simply did not fit the expectations of the WLS listener.

During this same week Howie decided to get himself some free publicity by quite publicly considering dumping satellite radio to join up as a judge on American Idol. Although there are now reports circulating that Stern was never actually offered anything by the American Idol producers, that doesn’t change the basic fact that Stern is no longer of interest as a morning radio shock jock. He can only get press by threatening to crash media parties where a lot of folks don’t want him invited.

This all leads me to conclude that it’s nearing sunset for the morning radio shock jock.

Now, I’m not arguing that the shock jock morning show is about to disappear altogether. As long as there are rock radio stations looking to pander to young white male listeners aged 18 – 35 there will be some demand for third-rate Stern and Mancow imitators well versed in poop and penis jokes, reactionary politics and thinly-veiled misogyny. But these shows have become mostly local or regional. Increasingly shock jocks are not leading the ratings the way Stern and his brethren once did. Instead they’re contentedly leading their young male demographic, which is also a declining audience.

One can come up with any number of theories for the descent of the shock jock. As someone who listened to Stern regularly back in the 1980s I would argue that the whole genre became overly distilled down to certain titillating elements that were once just a part of the King Of All Media’s shtick. In my opinion Stern was innovator, bringing a novel degree of occasionally smart irreverence, uncomfortable candor and self-deprecation to a genre of radio that had otherwise been dominated by silly characters in between short music sets. Part of Stern’s shtick included strippers and potty talk, and as he got more successful he realized that brand of shock was a sure-fire ratings getter, and it sadly became a bigger part of his program. His imitators mostly left out any intelligence, honesty or true candor, distilling the formula down to toilets and boobs, with a side of jingoism.

Still, what was shocking in 1989 isn’t so shocking in 2010. Just like there’s still an audience for classic rock cover bands, there’s still an audience for shock jocks. But now that it’s mostly aimed at adolescent boys the morning shock jock show is not a growth industry.

If it’s true that Stern fabricated the offer to join American Idol, then I think that will be the strongest proof that the reign of the King of All Media is over, leading to the dissolution of the shock jock empire. It will show that Stern and the shock jock are now just sideshow clowns who are only interesting when they threaten to stomp their big floppy feet into the center ring. Stern may go laughing all the way to the bank with Sirius’ money, but it might be his last laugh.


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13 Responses to Howard Stern Considers Leaving Sirius for Idol, Mancow Out to Pasture in Chicago (again). Is This Sunset for the Shock Jock?

  1. Tapeleg February 15, 2010 at 6:59 am #

    I think there is another element to the “fall” of Stern, or at least, the fall of interest in his individual genre and humor. Once Stern was “freed from the reigns of tyranny” of the FCC, there was no longer anything to contrast his “shocking” behavior with. Was the appeal that he would do anything, or say anything, to get a reaction, or was it that he could get in trouble, and was doing something that he wasn’t supposed to?

    I think it was both, and without the second part, what is the point? How much fun is it to listen to a show that “brushes up against authority” when there is no authority to agitate? Punk music would be just as loud and reckless without the factors it was rallying against, but it would be much less powerful.

    Yes, Stern shrunk his audience by going to a new medium, but worse yet, he minimized away the tool that made his a star as much as anything else, the FCC. I would love to hear you guys thoughts on this. Agree? Disagree? Think I’m a loonie?

  2. Paul Riismandel February 15, 2010 at 8:26 am #

    Tapeleg, I think you’ve got a point about why Stern faded from view after making the switch to Sirius. I definitely agree that one of the things that brought in listeners to his terrestrial radio program was the urge to hear how far he would go and what he would do next. It’s hard to be a rebel and transgressive when there’s no longer a boss or FCC telling you what you can and can’t do.

    In fact, I’d argue that Stern built his career on rebelling against radio bosses and the FCC. It looks like now he’s trying to find a way to rebel against Sirius, but it’s hard to see what there is to rebel against.

    Other shock jocks play the same game of faux-rebellion, but they’re pale imitators who are tremendously more predictable than Stern was when he was at his best.

  3. Eric February 15, 2010 at 11:35 am #

    I think a lot of Stern’s listeners back in the terrestrial days weren’t necessarily avid fans of the guy. They listened either because he’s an occasional newsmaker or there was nothing else on. Neither of those would make such a listener shell out for the satellite radio train wreck.

    There will always be a need for humor on the radio. True, the old mold of the Sternian shock jock might be on the way out, but there are always going to be creative people coming up ready to shake the status quo.

  4. Ras Pumpkin February 15, 2010 at 12:11 pm #

    I think you and your commenters are on crack…how is Stern irrelevant if he can make an offhand comment, on obscure subscription-only satellite radio, about judging a karaoke contest, and suddenly every media outlet in the country, the View, News programs, and even the hosts of that ridiculous contest itself (both Ellen and Kara) are forced to comment on it.

    I am irrelevant to radio, so when I hereby declare myself in the running for Simon’s job, it will get absolutely no press. When Stern did it, the whole world listened. Just remember, more people hear him on satellite every day than hear Leno and Letterman combined. And that is why he is truly the King of all Media.

    And a great big Baba Booey to y’all.

  5. Tapeleg February 15, 2010 at 7:49 pm #

    Paul – It’s kind of in-genuine to rebel against the people who give you a truckload of money and complete creative freedom, isn’t it? Here’s this thing that he is trying to help build, and to make it work for him as well, and he would rebel against it? I think you are right that it is faux-rebellion. I think listeners can tell the difference between rebellion and biting the hand that feeds.

    Ras – I don’t think I am on crack (well, I’m certain of it), but the real point I would make with what you say is, Stern had to tie himself into something else to make this happen. He put himself out there with a popular (for some reason) show that was in flux and getting lots of attention for the flux. It wasn’t Stern doing something in a Stern-centric vacuum. Yes, he got a lot of attention for it, but then how is he going to follow it up? Who can simply tune in and see what he does next? Yep, only those who pay for it. The fall off rate of this could be interesting to watch. But it was as much – if not more – the American Idol name that Stern was trading on, as his own.

  6. kmax February 16, 2010 at 7:54 am #

    Who the heck is Paul Riismandel anyway??? Talk about insignificant!!
    I completely agree with Ras Pumpkin!! Howard Stern is still a big part pop culture and I for one would LOVE to see him on Idol..maybe then I’d watch that stupid show!

  7. MS February 16, 2010 at 11:17 am #

    Stern is still a large part of pop culture due to the tremendous impact he made years ago. There’s no way he holds the same sway today. How could he? He’s on SATELLITE RADIO.

  8. Bob Burgess March 3, 2010 at 7:56 am #

    The last real King of all Media was Bob Hope; mainly because he was succesful in all types of media entertainment. You can’t just call yourself a king and wish for it to be true; Howard you are not the king of all media.

  9. Julio Rivera September 18, 2010 at 4:02 pm #

    Howard’s fans will all tell you the show has been at its best since coming to Sirius. He is an amazing interviewer and has gotten away from much of the shocking, gross humor from the past (though he still sprinkles it in occasionally). Howard and the gang are at their best when they just talk about everyday life. He built Sirius from an also ran Satellite radio company with 600,000 subscribers into what it is today. They bought out XM and now have over 18,000,000 subscribers. To dismiss Howard Stern, his talent, and his impact on entertainment is simply a matter of not listening to or understanding his show. He has had the number one radio show, movie, book and album in the country at one point. And no, not all of us listeners are young white males.

  10. Bill Deane September 4, 2012 at 2:05 am #

    Divorce also hurt Howard’s bit. While married he could play the little boy wanting to have sex with other women, but couldn’t because he had to remain loyal. Women under 35 loved the frustration he expressed. All gone when he separated and started talking about his conquests

    On the Mancow Muller Show later this morning.

  11. AL STEELE January 1, 2014 at 4:31 am #

    I USED TO LISTEN TO HOWARD STERN AND EVEN PURCHASED SURIUS, BUT AFTER JACKIE AND BILLY WEST LEFT, BECAUSE STERN WANTED TO KEEP ALL THE MONEY FOR HIMSELF…..HIS SHOW BECAME A BIG BORING. HE SOLD OUT ALL HIS FANS FOR THE ALMIGHTY DOLLAR. HE WORKS 3 DAYS A WEEK, BUT IN ADDITON TAKES OVER FIVE MONTHS OF ADDITIONAL VACATION. YOU PAY FOR SURIUS AND HE DELIVERS LESS QUALITY PROGRAMING SO THAT HE CAN PUT MORE MONEY IN HIS POCKET. SHAME ON STERN FOR SELLING OUT ALL OF HIS FANS. I HOPE BETH TAKES ALL HIS MONEY. HE IS BIG NOSED GREEDY BASTARD. I WOULD RATHER LISTEN TO NPR RADIO THAN LISTEN TO STERN.

  12. AL STEELE January 1, 2014 at 4:31 am #

    I USED TO LISTEN TO HOWARD STERN AND EVEN PURCHASED SURIUS, BUT AFTER JACKIE AND BILLY WEST LEFT, BECAUSE STERN WANTED TO KEEP ALL THE MONEY FOR HIMSELF…..HIS SHOW BECAME A BIG BORING. HE SOLD OUT ALL HIS FANS FOR THE ALMIGHTY DOLLAR. HE WORKS 3 DAYS A WEEK, BUT IN ADDITON TAKES OVER FIVE MONTHS OF ADDITIONAL VACATION. YOU PAY FOR SURIUS AND HE DELIVERS LESS PROGRAMING SO THAT HE CAN PUT MORE MONEY IN HIS POCKET. SHAME ON STERN FOR SELLING OUT ALL OF HIS FANS. I HOPE BETH TAKES ALL HIS MONEY. HE IS BIG NOSED GREEDY BASTARD. I WOULD RATHER LISTEN TO NPR RADIO THAN LISTEN TO STERN.

  13. Erica Langeford June 7, 2015 at 6:39 pm #

    I once was a big Howard fan in the 90s, but since about 2004-05 to present day, I just have not been as interested as I was. I think Howard should try to add more diversity to his show, so that it accommodates different people of different ages, rather than the target demo.(White men, 30-60 years old.) His interviews are the only thing that make the news now. As Howard ages, his relevancy period, will decrease. At this point he is 61 years old and has a net worth of 550 million dollars (mainly due to his Sirius XM contracts), he has interviewed just about everybody who is anybody, and is at the end of his career and has nothing left to prove. Quite honestly, I feel he is continuing with his show, just for the large contracts. I hope that their is a new face of radio soon, who has as big of an impact as Stern and can truly gain and relate to more of an audience than just the average White male, 30-60 years old.

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