Also Credited As:Howard Allan Stern, King of ALL Media
|Actor, Writer, Other|
|Howard Allan Stern on January 12, 1954 in Queens, New York, USA|
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Born on Jan. 12, 1954 in Jackson Heights, Queens, NY, but raised in nearby Roosevelt, Stern was a quiet youth who chose to remain indoors instead of going outside to play, as he was often subject to teasing from classmates. He was first exposed to the world of broadcasting by his father Ben, a radio engineer and co-owner of Aura Recording, Inc. who repeatedly belittled Howard as a "moron." Meanwhile, he attended Washington Rose Elementary School, followed by Roosevelt Junior-Senior High School, where as a minority he received numerous beatings at the hands of his African-American classmates. Out to prove to his father that he was no "moron," Stern attended Boston University after graduating from South Side High School in 1972, where he earned his Bachelor's in Communication and volunteered at the college radio station, WTBU. The bawdy comedy that later made him famous was first developed at the station. One skit in particular, the "King Schmaltz Bagel Hour," later proved to be an early prototype for "The Howard Stern Show," complete with Stern in the anchor seat surrounded by comedians chiming in with random jokes. He had further indication of what was to come when he was fired on the air during his third show.
Stern graduated Boston University magna cum laude in 1976 with his degree in one hand and soon-to-be wife, Allison Berns, in the other. After graduation, Stern began the precarious rise to stardom inauspiciously at a tiny radio station in Briarcliff Manor, NY, making four dollars an hour. He soon left for somewhat greener pastures, battling his on-air nervousness and resultant high voice at stations in Hartford and Detroit. But when he joined WWDC in Washington D.C., Stern scrapped his self-censored style for a more audacious persona, which led to him calling Air Florida Airlines and asking for a one-way flight to the 14th Street Bridge - the site of an Air Florida crash the day before, in which many lives were lost. He was summarily fired, with the station citing the tasteless incident as what led to their decision. But Stern later claimed that the call was actually fake and that the station manager despised him for being continually made fun of on-air, which included routinely calling the management "scumbags." The result was a segue from being a mediocre radio host to a no-holds barred, say-anything bombast that would soon skyrocket him to fame and fortune.
Stern left WWDC in June 1982 and began a tumultuous, but ultimately successful period in his professional life. He made his way north to New York City, where he landed the afternoon drive slot on WNBC-AM. Though originally without sidekick Robin Quivers, with whom he developed a quick and easy rapport in Washington, D.C., Stern soon assembled a supporting cast of characters who would eventually become almost as famous as their fearless leader. Quivers reunited with Stern in October 1982 following a short-lived and depressing stint in Baltimore, though she soon saw behind the scenes all the problems he was having with management, namely John Hayes and later Kevin Methany; both of whom routinely and unsuccessfully tried to reign in Stern's increasingly outrageous behavior. Meanwhile, fellow NBC colleague David Letterman liked the show and had him on "Late Night with David Letterman" (NBC, 1982-1993) as a guest in 1984, which helped propel Stern onto the national stage. By then, he was backed by a crew that included producer Gary "Baba-Booey" Dell'Abate, writer Jackie "The Jokeman" Martlin, sound engineer Fred Norris and Quivers - a core supporting cast that remained loyal throughout his career.
Plagued with non-stop confrontations with management over his borderline vulgar on-air performances, coupled with a long-running feud with NBC's golden boy, Don Imus, Stern's tenure on NBC was short-lived. Stern was fired in 1985 following an on-air skit called Bestiality Dial-a-Date, though the so-called shock jock refused to acknowledge that one particular incident led to his dismissal. True to form, Stern challenged management by publicly vowing to destroy WNBC. In November 1985, Stern joined WXRK, a.k.a. K-Rock, on the FM band. It was during this period that Stern hit his stride and produced some of his more celebrated exploits. In one incident, Stern had radio sex with a female listener: he instructed her to sit on top of a speaker and turn the volume up all the way. Stern then made deep buzzing noises into the microphone until she reached orgasm on the air. In another incident, Stern discussed masturbating to a picture of Aunt Jemima, a comment that cost Infinity Broadcasting $600,000 in fines. Stern was also forced by his employers to apologize when he confessed that he prayed for the death of the chairman of the FCC. Stern hit a personal low point, however, when he joked about his wife's miscarriage on-air - a move that nearly cost him his marriage.
Despite the never-ceasing parade of strippers, porn stars, centerfolds, breast implant recipients and wannabe nude models, one of Stern's core themes was his unfailing dedication and fidelity to his wife. Though his offensive acts cost his employers money and public scrutiny, and raised the ire of religious and family groups hell-bent on taking him off the air, Stern's audience grew exponentially - particularly after the show began its syndication in Philadelphia in 1985 and expanding across the country. In 1990, Stern sought to expand his influence when he launched a television version on WWOR-TV in New Jersey. The soon nationally syndicated "The Howard Stern Show" (1990-91) was essentially a visual version of his radio show that enabled viewers to see the freak show they could only previously hear. His skits were often crude, but hilarious; perhaps most notorious was "Homeless Howiewood Squares," which featured real homeless people as contestants. Meanwhile, fans delighted in all the same fare from the radio show, including "The Lesbian Dating Game" and "The Boob Tube," an hour-long salute to the human breast.
Whether dressed like Madonna and lighting his flatulence on fire for a "Truth or Dare" parody, mimicking Groucho Marx for "You Bet Your Ass," or donning an ass-bearing spandex suit on the 1992 "MTV Music Video Awards" as the flatulent superhero, Fartman, Stern always strived to reach new lows; all of which only increased his celebrity. Meanwhile, Stern's fledgling television series - which failed to last due to budgetary problems - paled in comparison to the infamous "Miss Howard Stern New Year's Eve Pageant" (1993), a pay-per view extravaganza that set a new record for tastelessness. Featuring a host of women, and even one man, competing for the title Miss Howard Stern, the special featured numerous gross-out bits, particularly in the talent portion of the competition, which featured everything from a vulgar song about having sex with the president to a contestant spraying her breast milk toward another masturbating on stage. All in all, the rowdy special was a huge hit with the viewing audience, taking in over $40 million in pay-per-view sales. Following the short-lived series "The Howard Stern Interview" (E! Entertainment, 1992-94), the E! network began airing a heavily edited 30-minute taping of Stern's radio program, "Howard Stern" (1994-2005), which consistently earned big ratings even while bleeping bad language and placing discreet pixilated tiles over the bare body parts routinely exposed in Stern's studio.
Syndication for the radio program continued to blossom throughout the 1990s, as Stern reached cities on both coasts and all points in between, including Los Angeles, New Orleans, Cleveland, Las Vegas and Baltimore. In 1994, Stern made his first, and probably last, foray into politics when he vied to become governor of New York on the Libertarian Party ticket. He ran on a platform that included bringing back the death penalty and eliminating daytime traffic construction. Stern ultimately bailed from the race due to the financial disclosure requirements amidst widespread talk that his candidacy was a publicity stunt. Stern did succeed in eliminating daytime traffic construction, however, when the newly-elected governor, George Pataki, signed the Howard Stern Bill, which restricted construction to nighttime on state roads on Long Island and in New York City. Also in 1994, Stern made national news again after he fielded a phone call from a suicide jumper claiming he was about to plunge into the icy depths off the George Washington Bridge. Though he considered the call to be a prankster at first, Stern soon realized the jumper was for real and managed to keep him on the phone long enough for police to come and arrest the man. In a testament to how large his audience was, police who were listening to the show responded within minutes of the call coming on-air, while traffic on the bridge came to a near instant standstill. Later on the program, Senator Al D'Amato and former mayor Ed Koch called to congratulate Stern.
Though Hollywood came knocking for the unorthodox-looking Stern, they offered nothing more than lame comedies destined to bomb at the box office. Stern resisted the temptation for years and signed instead to do a movie with New Line Cinema based on his Fartman character from the radio show and MTV Awards infamy, but the deal fell through because of merchandising issues. Meanwhile, he sold the rights to his best-selling autobiography, Private Parts (1993), the fastest-selling title for publisher Simon & Schuster in their history at the time, which eventually became a movie of the same name in 1997. Teaming with producer Ivan Reitman and director Betty Thomas, Stern starred as himself in the story of his rise from obscurity to become the self-proclaimed King of All Media, while along the way staying true to his wife, Allison (Mary McCormack). The film garnered respectable reviews and a No. 1 spot at the box office its opening weekend. Following up, Stern published Miss America, which concentrated more on the inner workings of the show. Though not as big a seller as Private Parts, the book did manage to sit atop the bestseller list.
Meanwhile, the potent combination of the radio show and E! Network television series made household names out of Stern's expanding circle of supporting players: actor-comedian Artie Lange, who joined the show in 2001 following Jackie "The Jokeman" Martling's departure; ambush interviewer "Stuttering John" Melendez, whose 2004 departure to serve as the announcer for "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" (NBC, 1992-2009; 2010- ), caused a major rift between Stern and the late night host whom Stern had no problem smearing on-air from time to time; hefty writer Benjy Bronk; highly critical hairdresser Ralph Cirella; strip club aficionado Ronnie "the Limo Driver" Munz and many others. The show also proved lucrative for Stern's "Wack Pack" of grotesque eccentrics, including Beetlejuice, Hank the Angry Drunken Dwarf, High Pitch Erik, Crackhead Bob, Elephant Boy, bodybuilder Nicole Bass, white supremacist Daniel Carver and the rest of the oddities; many of whom landed lucrative public appearance deals from their Stern association. While he began to lure an ever-expanding roster of top celebrity guests, some of whom revealed more private details than they would have hoped, Stern also helped pioneer the mainstreaming of porn by providing major exposure to adult film stars such as Jenna Jameson and Savanna Samson.
In 1999, Stern drew angry criticism when he commented that the two Columbine High School assassins should have had sex with the girls before they killed them. But otherwise his media empire continued to expand with the racy, sophomoric "Baywatch" parody "Son of the Beach" (FX, 2000-02) while he launched the careers of sexpots Jaime Bergman and Leila Arcieri. But as he continued to invade the mainstream, the heart of Stern's act shockingly fell apart. In 1999, he announced that his much-heralded marriage - which even his most ardent detractors had to respect - was ending, reportedly due to his workaholic lifestyle, with Stern and his wife Allison formally divorcing in 2001. After a brief period exploring the female attentions he had always lusted after on the air - including a fling with supermodel Angie Everhart - Stern entered into another long-term relationship with swimsuit model Beth Ostrosky. Meanwhile, Stern scored a major triumph - if it could be called that - during his live broadcast during the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Continuing on-air just blocks away from the Twin Towers, Stern kept a subdued tone during the next few hours, reporting on events as they came in. Over the course of the next several days, many listeners called in to tell their stories. It was arguably the broadcaster's finest moment, as he provided comfort to his New York audience and shared both their heartache and their unflagging spirit with his listeners across the country. Still, Stern was upset with the praise other hosts received for their coverage, while he felt he received no recognition, reinforcing his long-held belief of a media bias against him.
In February 2004, Stern was "indefinitely suspended" by Clear Channel Communications in six markets, supposedly due to his sexually-charged conversation with Paris Hilton's ex-beau, Rick Salomon, about anal sex, among numerous other things. Widely considered to be a backlash for Janet Jackson's breast-baring stunt during Super Bowl XXXVIII, Stern contended that his fervent criticism of President George W. Bush - whom Stern earlier supported - had actually caused his firing, since Clear Channel heavily contributed campaign dollars to Bush and the Republican Party. Not one to back down, Stern upped the ante and went on a one-man crusade against the Federal Communications Commission, particularly then-chairman Michel Powell, and President Bush by encouraging his listeners to vote for Democratic opponent, Senator John Kerry. Fed up with constantly butting heads with the FCC and feeling unsupported by his corporate parent, Stern signed a five-year, $500 million deal with Sirius Satellite Radio. Once on the air, Stern was free of FCC regulations, thus performing his show in a way he had always imagined: lewd, crude and full of explicit talk. The financially risky deal - at least for Sirius - relied on the potential for Stern to draw an estimated one million of his eight million listeners to the paid subscription service. At the time of the deal, Sirius had only 600,000 subscribers. By the time Stern's contract was nearing an end, Sirius had over 15 million; many of whom listened to the many shows on the Howard Stern channels.
Meanwhile, Hollywood continued to court the shock jock. In 2005, he had three projects in development: the first, "Howard Stern: The High School Years," was an animated project looking at the broadcaster's formative years; the others were Stern-produced remakes of a pair of 1980s raunch-fests, "Porky's" and "Rock 'n' Roll High School." Also in 2005, Stern's E! show - still the highest rated program on the network - ended its original run in 2005 with over 2,000 episodes, which E! planned to continue to run. Reportedly E! parent company Comcast was concerned about airing the unfettered content of Stern's planned satellite broadcasts due to increased government scrutiny, while Stern was already in negotiations with several other cable outlets. The prospect of an uncensored Stern television show was intriguing to many bidders, but ultimately premium outlets like HBO dropped out and left Spike TV as the front-runner, leaving Stern's fans wondering if his television series would continue to be heavily edited. As he continued his antics on Sirius Radio, Stern's name surprisingly emerged as a replacement for the outgoing Simon Cowell on "American Idol" (Fox, 2002- ), which naturally caused immediate controversy. While smalltime radio hosts in Sacramento vowed never to watch the show again, the right-wing Parents Television Council petitioned the network for considering someone "who is known primarily for crude profanity and explicit sex talk." For his part, Stern felt he could bring excitement to the show for a $100 million salary. In the end, conservatives need not have worried, as both camps denied there had ever been any real negotiations.
In 2005, Stern's E! show - still the highest rated program on the network - ended its original run with over 2,000 episodes, which E! planned to air in repeats. Reportedly E! parent company Comcast was concerned about airing the unfettered content of Stern's planned satellite broadcasts due to increased government scrutiny, while Stern was already in negotiations with several other cable outlets. The prospect of an uncensored Stern television show was intriguing to many bidders, but ultimately premium outlets like HBO dropped out and left Spike TV as the front-runner, leaving Stern's fans wondering if his television series would continue to be heavily edited. As he continued his antics on Sirius Radio, Stern's name surprisingly emerged as a replacement for the outgoing Simon Cowell on "American Idol" (Fox, 2002- ), which naturally caused controversy. The story was big news for a short while, but the fervor quickly died when it became known that there were never any real negotiations for him to come aboard. Following a public spat with Sirius in 2011, which involved the shock jock suing his employer for failure to pay stock bonuses, Stern was announced as the replacement for outgoing host, Piers Morgan, on "America's Got Talent" (NBC, 2006- ). The news came as a surprise to most, but the reaction was uniformly predictable: the right-wing advocacy group, Parents Television Council, drummed up outrage, tacitly calling for a boycott of NBC by advertisers while expressing concern for the children.
By Shawn Dwyer