Howard Stern has been nervous all week that he wouldn't get his message about his move to Sirius Satellite Radio across clearly, but the King of All Media came off calm, cool and collected during his appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman.
Dressed in jeans, t-shirt and black jacket, Stern sauntered on stage, rubbed Paul Shaffer's head and greeted Letterman before sitting down and delivering a crisp and well-planned message.
"My career is never normal," Stern said as he sat down to a louder than normal applause. Lettermanís first inquiry was about what precipitated the move to satellite radio, with Stern answering, "In recent years, because of the government interference and whatís been going on with the FCC [and] Clear ChannelBroadcasting, doing my job every day has become increasingly difficult."
Stern then used a Chris Rock analogy to make his point. "If you were to take Chris Rock and put him on my radio station today, you would have to cut out 99% of his material. You would think Chris Rock sucked. Itís become increasingly difficult to do my show. The same show I did a year ago the government will fine me for. I have millions of dollars of fines against me and this is my way of checkmating the US government. Iíve got somewhere to go. Weíre going to build a new future. This is the beginning of a new age."
"Are you suggesting that without dirty material and things that would not be allowed on your radio show, Chris Rock is not funny?" asked Letterman.
"I am suggesting that," Stern replied. "Iíve seen Chris Rock in situations where he can not be himself. I canít be myself anymore on the radio. Iím not looking to get on the radio and say the F-word. Iím not looking to get on the radio and make everything so blatantly sexual. Thatís not what this is about. I'm talking about ten, fifteen years ago, the topics I used to talk about on the radio, Iím now being fined millions of dollars for. Where does it end?"
Stern then brought up the recent furor over ABC's Monday Night Football opening skit this past week prior to the Philadelphia Eaglesí 49-21 trouncing of the Dallas Cowboys, giving him an opportunity to bring FCC Chairman Michael Powell into the conversation. "A woman took off her towel in front of a football player and now weíre talking about possible fines? Whatís happened? It feels like weíre in a religious country. This guy Michael PowellÖwho is not elected to public office, heís telling us what we can hear."
Letterman didnít go down the Powell path, instead bringing the conversation back to Clear Channel, the government and the FCC by asking, "How are those three entities conspiring against you?"
"It is a conspiracy," said Stern, who then apologized for being so serious and joked that he usually comes on the show and does things like letting Letterman rub his buttocks. Letterman let Stern off the conspiracy hook and brought up the recent Rolling Stone article about Clear Channel, saying he was "stunned" to learn how the company has "played havoc with the record industry and the music industry and live concerts."
Letterman next asked why Sternís show wouldnít be subject to restrictions at Sirius. Stern gave his first sales pitch of the evening, admitting he was on The Late Show partially to ask his listeners to come with him to satellite radio. He then made the cable television comparison as to why the FCC would not be able to fine him. "When you pay for something, youíre paying for it to come into your home, much like cable or anything else," explained Stern. "Thatís the reason the government can not regulate it. If you are paying for it, itís not the public airwaves."
After a brief diatribe about the boundaries of sexual talk on the radio, Stern said he hasn't been allowed to discuss his move to Sirius during his show. "Iíve been unable to have this discussion on the radio," he said. "Theyíll allow me to say Sirius radio and things like that, but I canít really discuss with my audience how to convert over to satellite radio."
Letterman then used the opportunity to bring up a favorite topic of discussion by saying, "You can have a conversation using sexually explicit terms and be in trouble for it, whereas on the Oprah Winfrey Show, she can talk about penis all day and nothing happens." They joked over the Oprahís "beloved" reason for lack of a FCC fine, but Letterman left the laughs behind by asking, "Is there a difference contextually if there is a discussion on your show in that context that makes it something we canít have on the radio versus the context of Oprahís show?" "No," Stern flatly replied. "Quite simply, Dave, weíre talking about the fact that nothing is fair anymore. Arbitrary decisions are being made. This has even gotten political. When I was working for Clear Channel, they fired me from nine stations on a whim. One of the reasons they fired me is I didnít support President Bush. Clear Channel is busy throwing parties in markets for the Iraq war. I hardly think that is something you should be throwing a party for. They are throwing rallies. So I didnít support that and the next day I was fired. My fellow broadcasters are not standing up for me. I am turning my back on regular terrestrial radio. I believe in five years, satellite radio will be the dominant medium in radio broadcasting."
Upon returning form a commercial break Ė which in Philadelphia contained a Stern voiced commercial for Infinity Active Rocker (and Sternís Philly home) WYSP Ė Letterman indirectly asked about Opie & Anthony, not calling them by name. Stern handled the question by saying, "I would not support going into St. Patrickís and having sex. Thatís not honoring people who are religious. Iíve never been about that. Iím for outrageous radio. Iíll say whateverís on my mind. I wonít invade somebodyís church and do something. Thatís not my thing."
They next discussed Sternís most recent fine for a caller using the N-word on his show with Letterman asking, "In what usage is [a racial slur] acceptable?" "Thereís a way of disarming that kind of language if you confront it. Thatís what I believe," replied Stern.
"Because of the government regulation, my syndication business has been stopped cold," Stern said while discussing his efforts against President Bush during the election. "I was on my way to being on all over the country. I canít syndicate my show any more. Radio stations are deathly afraid of the religious right. They are afraid of the Bush administration and they are afraid to get on the wrong side of some guy named Michael Powell."
After another commercial break, Stern presented Letterman with a Sirius Satellite radio, explaining how to use it, before his appearance gave way to an Alanis Morrissette performance.