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Archive for Thursday, October 7, 2004

Howard Stern makes leap from FM to satellite radio

October 7, 2004

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— Howard Stern has long had two words for the Federal Communications Commission -- and in 15 months, he can finally utter them on the air.

The self-proclaimed "King of All Media," perhaps the most influential radio voice of the last 20 years, is shifting his salacious act to satellite radio and freeing himself from the increasingly harsh glare of federal regulators.

His new employer, Sirius Satellite Radio, is gambling its new star can rescue a company that's lost $1 billion over the last five years.

In an announcement Wednesday ripping the FCC and media conglomerate Clear Channel Communications Inc., Stern told his loyal audience of 12 million that he was abandoning traditional broadcasting. His debut on Sirius will come in January 2006, after Stern finishes the rest of his current deal with Infinity Broadcasting Corp., the radio subsidiary of MTV owner Viacom Inc.

"I'm tired of the censorship," said Stern, who was involved in the two biggest radio fines ever imposed by the FCC -- including a record $1.75 million settlement reached four months ago. "The FCC ... has stopped me from doing business."

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell responded to Stern's move Wednesday by saying that "it is not surprising that notable performers and journalists are turning to a medium that allows them to paint with a broader palette."

Stern signed a five-year, multimillion dollar deal with Sirius, according to the company. Stern, along with airing his own morning show, will program two additional channels for the company as part of the "reinvention" of a 25-year career that spawned scores of imitators.

"This starts the avalanche," Stern said later in an interview with The Associated Press. "One of radio's highest earners, one of its innovators, is kissing terrestrial radio goodbye."

Under his new deal inked Monday, Stern -- along with a cast of cohorts who will accompany him to Sirius -- will reach every market nationwide. His show dominates the lucrative radio market among males 18-49 years of age and ranks No. 1 in many of the 46 markets where his show is broadcast.

The price tag for luring Stern to satellite, including salaries, overhead and other costs, will hit $100 million a year. But Sirius, which now has more than 600,000 subscribers, hopes Stern can bring along up to 4 million new recruits and catapult its business into the black. They said they'd need at least 1 million to cover the costs of signing Stern.

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