Online Stern Could be a Net Gain For Fans

Going the podcast route could bring back some old listeners and attract new ones – and prove the King of All Media’s crowning achievement

By Jere Hester
|  Wednesday, Sep 8, 2010  |  Updated 8:30 PM PDT
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Howard Stern could be on the move.

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Back two decades or so ago when Howard Stern declared himself the “King of All Media,” few – save for maybe Al Gore – had even heard of the Internet.

Now Stern reportedly is considering taking his shock jock act online when his satellite radio contract ends later this year. It would mark a bold move that could bring back some old listeners, attract new ones – and prove the self-proclaimed king’s crowning achievement.

Even as Stern has earned oodles of money during the nearly five years in the Sirius fold, he’s lost some of the mass, daily exposure that got him the reported $500 million deal in the first place.

Barring his unlikely return to terrestrial radio, Stern might best maximize his visibility – if not his paycheck – by bringing some version of his show online.  He stands to tap into a younger generation of app-happy folks who find most of their entertainment online and consume media on the go via smartphones or iPods. He also likely would renew his relationship with some of those who didn’t follow him to satellite radio – if the price is right.

The New York Daily News notes that if Stern charged listeners $5 a month – less than half the cost of a Sirius XM Radio subscription – and drew a mere million customers, he’d be doing more than fine financially.

If the inveterate worrier is concerned at all about flopping, Stern need look no further than to the example set by an entertainer he likely influenced: Adam Carolla. After being canned from his radio gig last year, the former “Man Show” co-host started a podcast and quickly topped the iTunes charts.

Carolla’s popular downloads are free, making him reliant on ad revenues. Stern, who drew millions of subscribers to Sirius, already has a track record of fans willing to pay to listen to his bawdy stream-of-consciousness patter. It's also worth noting that in the five years since Stern left free radio, the Internet and app friendly devices have boomed.  

Stern probably doesn’t need a lot of money at this point in his career. Control over his content, a powerful platform – and a lack of interference from the FCC – would seem to be key elements in whatever decision he makes. He’s also, no doubt, at age 56, thinking about his legacy as an entertainer who changed radio, and took his act to TV and the movies with varying degrees of success.

He's clearly antsy, given his talk about moving on, which has included musings about becoming an "American Idol" judge. Stern, who has made a career of self-obsession, also is easily irked at perceived slights, like placing second last month to Rush Limbaugh in Talkers magazine’s ranking of top talk show hosts.

Extending his reign to podcasts and potentially expanding his reach via the Internet could give the King of All Media – and his fans – the last laugh.
 

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.


 

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