Madonna, hot off an embarrassing tumble, did herself a massive PR favor by appearing on the Howard Stern show this week. Unlike her former lover Warren Beatty, Madonna was forthcoming on the show, answering more or less every question. And that cannot have been easy. For one, Howard Stern is one of the most difficult interviewers. His style is very easygoing, but his questions are almost all taboo subjects -- sex, money, celebrity. As someone who has dealt with Liz Rosenberg, Madonna's famously difficult manager, I would be fascinated as to how this interview even ever came about.
Basically, Howard Stern asks the things one generally does not talk about in public, particularly if you are famous. And Howard is astonishingly good at coaxing those answers out of some of the most powerful celebrities. Madonna could have clammed up like Beatty, but she did not. And as a result my guess is she gained quite a few fans from the show, fans that generally might be hostile to the Material Girl, myself included in that number.
Howard Stern's latest coup -- this interview -- comes as he goes to war with the management at Sirius radio. Can Sirius XM survive without Howard Stern? Bloomberg asks. Probably not would be my guess, considering the rabid fan base that he brings to the young radio group. Does Howard Stern even need Sirius in this Golden era of podcasting? Probably not, again, would be my guess, but it is probably reassuring for someone of Howard Stern's Boomer generation to have that Old Media structure -- studio, engineers, staff, security, infrastructure, distribution, the luxury car dashboard and, of course, that massive paycheck -- in place. But, increasingly in media circles the question is being asked, Why?
"It's not even clear who works for who," Howard vented recently. "I'm pretty sure if i left it would be very bad for the company." It would, in PR -- Howard Sterns rabid fanbase tends to go to war with Howard's enemies, just ask Les Moonves or even, at one time, John Bon Jovi -- be a terrible thing for Sirius to make a final break with Stern. As Talkers wrote in 2013:
"Satellite radio was in its infancy in 2004 when Stern signed with Sirius after being courted by both Sirius and its then sole satellite radio competitor XM Satellite Radio. In the year prior to Stern joining Sirius, its subscribers numbered less than 700,000 while XM had 2.5 million subscribers. Upon the announcement in October of 2004 that Stern would be broadcasting on Sirius beginning in 2006, Sirius’ stock went up a whopping 15%. After a year of trumpeting his journey to Sirius radio, Howard Stern had his initial broadcast on Sirius in January of 2006. By this time the number of subscribers to Sirius had risen to well over 3 million." Clearly Howard Stern has been good for the bottom like of Sirius XM Radio."
Clearly Stern has been good for the Sirius XM bottom line, easily and undisputedly their most important content relationship. The Bloomberg article by Felix Gillette makes a strong case for Howard, arguably the biggest star in the medium of radio, to go free and try his hand at pioneering paid podcasting -- perhaps the last great uncharted frontier left in radio. Or maybe Howard could sign, as Felix Gillette suggests in the article, with Apple (although having such a controversial porn-friendly figure might not be a fit for the Cupertino-based company).
Howard Stern should start a paid podcast. Although he has been highly critical of the medium in the past, Stern actually has the clout -- the proven ability to get paid subscribers and advertisers -- that could ultimately revolutionize the growing industry. Stern has always flirted with the digital era -- arguably his time at Sirius is a part of that courting -- but never really gone all-the-way-digital startup in the way that he would be doing if he entered the podcast game. Stern has always maintained that the rockstars of this era are the digital startup CEOs, so this, in a sense, is the fulfillment of his own destiny. Josh Harris once told me that Howard Stern had shown some interest in buying his Pseudo.com network. “Howard and Mel (Karmazin) looked at us,” Josh emailed this blog in 2009. “Howard claimed Pseudo's asking price was too high. Mel did not want to invest in the future. We didn't smell right to two seasoned professionals.” How interesting would that have been had it happened?
Entering podcasting would be a move somewhere in that general digital media vicinity. Yes, it would be filled with uncertainties and a lot more hands-on work by a man who doesn't particularly want to do hands-on work, but it would be the final step in the endless struggle between radio talent and radio management that has been so much the saga of Howard Stern's life. Howard Stern would once and for all bridge the gap between talent and management once and for all by becoming a radio entrepeneur.
Howard has always been at his best when he is against something. In the beginning he was against the local shock jocks in the territories -- NYC, Chicago, LA, Philly -- that he would eventually conquer. Then Howard was against the FCC when he went national. Eventually he went against management over censorship when Les Moonves and Sumner Redstone caved to the FCC and installed a seven-second delay and independent "bleeper," thus interfering with the content of the show. Now he is once again against management in a seemingly endless battle over salary and "respect."
In the golden age of podcasting, Howard could broadcast from his home, from his getaway in the Hamptons or any time of the day he sees fit. He could take vacations when he wants, and charge whatever he wants. Howard Stern could set the benchmark on how much potentially a podcaster could make in a year. It would be an incredibly revolutionary move, starting a new era in podcasting. Howard Stern should seriously consider leaving Sirius XM and becoming a podcaster.