“Okay,” Buchwald responded. Though just in case, Buchwald said, he’d listen to offers.
For years, the morning host to strippers and porn stars—he threw lunch meat at their bare asses—tooled home to Long Island, to a big house with a lawn and a pool. There he sometimes imagined he was living an extended episode of Leave It to Beaver. For a couple of schizy decades, the outrageous morning man did nightly duty as suburban husband and father to his college sweetheart and their three daughters. Howard and Alison had met as undergrads at Boston University. She was his first serious girlfriend. They married at age 24. “I got happily married so fucking young,” Howard says.
It wasn’t really a typical household. Howard followed his own early-to-bed, rise-in-the-dark schedule (masturbating himself to sleep every night, he told his audience). And as time went by, he passed a growing fraction of his at-home time in the basement, where he had a 100-inch TV and double locks on the door. There, he labored to turn flatulence into mainstream humor, and to write two best-selling memoirs, as well as to, uh, do research. For instance, he spent time dialing into online sex-chat rooms, including one called the Howard Stern Room. “The pathetic fact is I . . . seldom emerge, except for meals,” Howard said.
Alison wanted a social life. Howard hated to travel. “To tell the truth,” he said, “I hate every fucking place in the world.” He didn’t especially like to dine with Alison’s friends. They told him what was wrong with the show, and not to make fun of Jews. To Howard, it seemed like the garmento husbands inevitably carped about how they too ought to have radio shows since they were as funny as Howard.
Howard was exceedingly devoted to his wife, while simultaneously forlorn—a bind that would prove one of the great inventions of his career. Howard was an id on a leash, which, Howard knew from the start, made him, sexually, an Everyman. “I want new experiences,” he once explained, “where Alison can’t accuse me of cheating.” And so Howard hatched a vibrant fantasy life in which he was . . . single. “I have my whole single life worked out,” Howard once announced. “There aren’t many girls I wouldn’t fuck. I’d be with somebody every night.”
In the meantime, Howard had women—Howard, old-fashioned, called them “broads”—stop by the studio and get naked. He gave them money to do things, like kiss each other. Soon, spectating wasn’t enough. He spanked women on the air. “Butt bongo,” he called it. Then, one day with a naked woman in the studio, Howard announced he too was getting naked. Cue the superego. Alison, magically, was on the phone to the studio.
“I’m really getting offended,” Alison said.
“You’re not happy because I’m a desirable man. Well, how about giving me sex every once in a while?” Howard told her on the air.
She told him he sounded like “a dirty old man.”
“I love you,” he said sweetly.
“I love you too,” Alison said and hung up.
Then Howard plunged back in, returning to the naked girl in the studio.
Of course, both satellite-radio companies—there are only two—wanted Howard. Sirius, though, needed him more.
For satellite radio, the next mass medium, the value proposition starts with this: Terrestrial radio sucks. The technology is out-of-date; it’s not yet digital quality. Plus, because the real audience is not the fan but the advertiser, playlists tighten, less-popular genres disappear. “Radio was a business that focused initially on passion and music and then, instead, decided it was packaging listeners for advertisers,” says Hugh Panero, CEO of XM, which is the larger satellite company. It proved adept at packaging listeners; Howard’s show has as many as 22 minutes of ads per hour.
Satellite technology offers better-quality audio (though digital radio is coming). And it cut the ads on music stations and expanded the offerings. Satellite reaches the entire country with 120 channels (Sirius) or 160 channels (XM). To get it, you must pay a monthly fee.
In the competition for satellite dominance, Sirius was the category’s laggard. Among other things, XM was first to market with an iPod-size portable player; Sirius debuts its version this Christmas season. Both companies made deals with automakers to install satellite radio into new cars. Again XM led, claiming more deals with car manufacturers. Most important, it has outpaced Sirius in subscribers. By year’s end, it will have 6 million, compared with 3 million for Sirius.
Howard, who has more listeners than both satellite companies combined, could be a momentum changer for Sirius. After all, before Howard’s announcement, it had just 700,000 subscribers. Wall Street treated it like a castoff. A share of XM traded for about ten times as much as a share of Sirius.