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Radio Digest San Diego archives

Radio Digest open letter 4/19/99


I’ve always had ambivalent feelings about Howard Stern.  I thought his movie was pretty good … an entertaining stretch of reality.  I think he’s a very intelligent, often witty conversationalist.  I don’t like his taste in humor.  I find his show repetitive and boring most of the time.  What I always found admirable was his persona and the single-mindedness with which he has cultivated that persona.   Years ago when he appeared on Letterman (back when Letterman was still hip), Dave asked him who he thought was the all time greatest radio personality.  Without hesitation, Howard said, “Me.  I’m the greatest.  Everybody else sucks.”  Hey, it worked for Muhammad Ali … although he said it more poetically.

That’s why Howard’s fans love him.  It’s not the lesbians.  It’s not the bathroom humor. It’s not the freak show.  It’s the attitude.  Confidence inspires confidence.  And that’s the power of radio.  Once you’ve gained their confidence, they’ll do anything you say.

That’s why big name celebrities are so in demand for personal endorsements.  Whether you’re Howard Stern or Michael Jordan, your word is God …an awesome responsibility.  Something many can’t handle.

Today, as I was reporting on the shooting rampage at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado … working to put together the fragmented facts of the incident … monitoring CNN and all the Denver media … scrambling for sound bites … and somewhere behind the requirements of the job, grieving and commiserating along with all feeling human beings, I had my mind made up for me regarding Howard.  About an hour and a half into coverage of the unspeakable tragedy, one of the Denver TV stations put a caller on the air live who claimed to be a spokesperson for Sweedish Hospital, where some of the wounded were being transported.   The anchors began the interview.  The caller began describing details of the shooting in measured tones and then said, “…and the shooter was Howard Stern.  And Howard said he did it because not enough people were watching his …”  That’s when the director cut off the call.  The anchors professionally drew little attention to the hoax and moved on.

Crank phone calls are childish anyway.  This particular instance was incredibly cruel … perpetrated by an unthinking, insensitive moron who may as well have stood alongside the two “trenchcoat mafia” misfits as they blasted away in the school cafeteria, and poured salt into the victims fresh gunshot wounds.  One can only hope that people like this get star 6-9’d by a Montana militia man.

A lot of people think the Jerky Boys are hilarious.  Many very popular radio personalities have made a reputation for themselves with their crank phone calls … Rick Dees, Gary Burbank … though I never really cared much for the bit, I even made some when I was a “josh dickey.”  But don’t try this at home kids.  Comedy is a serious business.  You’re constantly dancing a fine line that sometimes gets crossed.   Just ask the Greaseman.

Through the urging of Howard Stern and his minions, loyal followers (read:  weak brainless sheep) are encouraged to place phone calls to other radio and TV shows, convince the producers and interviewers of their veracity, then slip in some comment about “mind melding with Howard Stern’s penis.”  Again … childish and offensive, but generally harmless.  This time he’s gone too far … crossed the line to the point of no return.   Making light of the death and wounding of dozens of  kids … some, days away from their high school graduation … living what should be some of the best days of their lives … is unconscionable.  The wounded … the classmates who watched their friends get shot … and all their families are psychologically scarred for life.  About 25 had everything they ever had, and everything they ever would have had, taken away.  And some yahoo, with the tacit approval of Howard Stern, has the gall to make a joke.  Not even a joke … a commercial.  Howard bears direct responsibility for this unforgivable transgression of human decency.

Like all good entertainers, he claims everything he says and does is all in fun … don’t mean nuthin’.  In Howard’s case, the flaw in that logic is that he doesn’t want his own daughters listening to his show.  The truth is, anyone who positions themselves in the public spotlight and achieves that high a profile is, like it or not, a role model with all its attendant responsibilities.  Even if you don’t want to be a good role model, at least don’t contribute to and encourage moral decline.

Go ahead Howard, send Stuttering John out to honk off Jimmy Connors and Donald Trump with loaded questions.  They’re another sad part of your world anyway.  They deserve it.  Feel free to pass gas and obsess over lesbians.   Your 18 to 34 male demographic will continue to worship you.  Your personal endorsement clients will continue to pay you several thousand dollars a holler.  Most everyone else will either shake their heads or sputter with moral indignation.   Just remember … when one of your drones laughs in the faces of the grieving families and friends and spits into the open coffins of the victims of this country’s worst school shooting ever, it’s because you encouraged the mindless chimp to do it. 

Pig Vomit was wrong.  You’re not the anti-Christ.  But you’re helping to train him. Sleep well, king of all media.

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