Friday, December 23, 2005

Howard Stern in the Land of No Bleep

Where would Howard Stern be without controversy? The unrepentant bad boy of radio built his career on thumbing his nose at taste, tact, various radio station bosses and the FCC. Having anointed himself of late as a poster child for free speech, he has leveraged his reputation and following to publicize his unquestionably bold move to satellite radio. But when he debuts on Sirius in January he enters new territory, where the f-bomb drops freely -- and as frequently as ordinance on an artillery range. How will Stern and crew fare in a medium where the bleep is an endangered species and the particular brand of controversy that has propelled his career is hard to come by?

Will an unbridled Stern simply amp up the frat-boy antics, or will something else emerge?

Stern is at his best when he asks squirm-inducing questions of his guests -- lampooning pompous celebrities; allowing starlets, strippers and rock stars to demonstrate their intellectual prowess; and providing a platform for racists, fascists and their ilk to bury themselves in uproarious ugliness.

But the occasional moments of genuine hilarity are too often separated by yet another segment of seventh-grade-level obsession with genitalia and/or the digestive process. Stern talking a woman out of her blouse is just not as funny as Stern asking Tori Spelling to name the capitol of New York State (her answer: New Jersey).

So what happens to Stern when there is no need for a 7-second delay, and no threat of whopper FCC fines? Is there any real mystery about what gets bleeped? And if not, is the ability to hear anyone on the Stern show utter even the filthiest expletive enough to keep a satellite audience entertained, especially when listeners can hear all the nasty language they want on any of dozens of other Sirius channels? In the uncensored world of satellite radio, dirty talk is not a distinguishing feature.

Stern's move to Sirius is a milestone in the continuing tectonic shift in media consumption. But the self-described king of all media is likely to find that he will need more than the Seven Dirty Words to keep his crown from slipping.

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