“I really did miss, you know, the business stuff,” explains Karmazin, by which he means being “able to solve problems.”
Also, Howard’s arrival intrigued Karmazin. They don’t socialize. Much of Howard’s show has never been Karmazin’s thing. The Craptacular? “Not my taste,” he says. Still, Karmazin had ridden Howard to the top once before. (“His tombstone could read, MEL ROSE WITH HOWARD,” says one industry insider.) Karmazin did his due diligence in a brisk two weeks.
Among his priorities is to make Howard the company’s flagship offering. “Howard is going to be bigger than he has ever been,” Karmazin says. “And that’s going to help our company significantly.”
Of course, the relationship may not be tension-free. Howard has already gotten resistance to his “Howard 100 News” team, a group of seventeen, including “award-winning professional journalists.” Some Sirius executives have complained. They don’t like to walk out of their offices to find Howard’s news team sticking microphones in their faces. Clearly this delights Howard. “You’re going to have to deal with it,” he’s told the uncomfortable execs.
“He’s got no choice,” says Howard. “He’s in the building. He’s going to have to.” This time, Howard’s not prohibited from mentioning Karmazin on the air.
“It ain’t in this contract,” says Howard gleefully. “He’s fair game.”
Before I met the outrageous Howard Stern, I’d been concerned. With Howard, I knew, vengefulness is sport. He finds a person’s weaknesses, zeroes in. “I can fuck you up your ass six ways till Sunday and pick your corpse clean, and you won’t know what hit you,” he delicately points out. But the first time I meet him, my impression is different. I think, Howard might be in recovery. It’s the end of another week of 5 a.m. wake-up calls. He’s bone-tired. At 51, he seems vulnerable. His systems, most of them, suggest wear and tear. He’s towering, a physically dramatic presence, but it’s kind of a sight gag. He’s imposing and thin as a post (even if he thinks he’s fat). He’s not hardy. There’s his fear of germs—“I’m a germphobe,” he announces as a kind of introduction. He’s apparently sworn off several food groups. I watched him approach a buffet of desserts; delicately, he extracted a thin bit of cantaloupe. And then there’s the insomnia. I’d seen e-mails Howard sent to his staff at 2:58 one morning, at 2:53 another morning. Howard’s rich as a god, of course, but he can’t quite subdue his inner Aerosmith. He’s dressed like an off-duty rocker: jeans, Caterpillar boots, a navy tee under an unbuttoned shirt. He has a couple of small gold hoop earrings and, scrawled on a pinkie, an ex-con’s blue tattoo.
Of course, Howard is in recovery from, he says, years of professional compromise. “They just ruined a goddamned medium,” he says. “They ruined me.” Howard mentions this in his Upper West Side penthouse, which is spacious, open, immaculate. It’s done in tasteful earth tones. Howard flops onto a gold couch. “I think I got kind of dead inside and just kind of accepted this,” he says. He leans back. The couch seems to nearly inhale him. Howard says he needs a nap.
Then the topic changes, and so does Howard. Weariness vanishes. He propels himself across the room, heads to his desk, and returns with a black spiral notebook and a folder containing his plans for satellite radio. He spreads them on the coffee table and suddenly pitches his big birdish body onto the floor, landing on one knee, as if he wants to physically get into the material.
“I’ve got some kind of weird rebirth going on,” he says. “All of a sudden, I’m like the old Howard Stern. This shit just rushes into my head.” He makes it sound like mental illness. He’s obsessed, manic. “I’m like out of my freaking mind,” he says. “I hear radio shows in my dreams. I haven’t been this turned on by radio in so long. I can think about nothing else. This is nuts.”
Howard flips through the spiral notebook. He’s pasted e-mails inside and scribbled notes. They’d tried to stop Howard being Howard. Now, with two channels all his own and no FCC, Howard plans to exact revenge: He’s going to be more Howard than ever. He’ll turn what’s inside his head into a radio world. He’s already got “The Howard 100 News,” the brainstorm delivered to him in the shower. It’ll make the whole thing cohere and, at the same time, mock the coherence of that other, you know, “real” world.
Howard will still have a morning show. “Fuck a show!” says Howard exuberantly. He’s back on the couch, but bent forward, his chest nearly touching his knees. “I’m going to give you real action. I got famous for ‘Lesbian Dating Game’? Now I can really do it. We’ll hear the date, and if they like each other, we’ll have the date right there and the sex right there, and it’ll be done beautifully.”