Love him or hate him, you can't deny his success. Over the last 20 years, 52-year-old Howard Stern and his raunchy, adolescent male humor have changed the face of morning radio and made him number one, with as many as 22 million listeners a day during his heyday, most of them men.
But Stern has also been the subject of more fines for indecency by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) than any other broadcaster in the history of radio.
When correspondent Ed Bradley spent some time with Stern last Fall, he was facing the biggest challenge of his career: a move to Sirius satellite radio, which operates without the restrictions of the FCC. Stern had signed a $500 million five-year contract that pays his salary and the costs of doing there, starting last January, what he did on free radio: entertain millions while offending millions.
"I seem to be some sort of lightning rod. I just really irritate people, you know? I really do," admits Stern.
He's on the air five days a week, more than four hours a day. Part animal house, part madhouse, part cathouse, his show is a steady stream of Stern's consciousness about anything going on in Stern's mind and life, appalling to some and addictive to others.
Stern is unrepentant about the material he has been fined, censored and criticized for, unrepentant about the incessant chatter about sex and excrement, the racial and gender stereotyping, and the vicious attacks on his perceived enemies, like one in 1992, when he talked about former FCC Commissioner Alfred Sikes.
"I pray that his prostate cancer spreads into his lungs and his kidneys. I pray to you Jesus, answer my prayer," Stern said on his program about Sikes.
"Yes. But that is me being outrageous," Stern explains. "I don't know that I would do that now. I'm older. But I don't have to apologize for that. I'm on the air five hours, and I blurt out anything in my head. Dangerous? Maybe. You know, do I say things afterwards that I regret? No, because those are the thoughts in my head, and I share them with the audience."
"Let me ask you something. Did you ever wish anyone dead?" Stern asked Bradley.
"Maybe as a kid," Bradley replied.
"Okay, well, I guess I'm still a kid. Because when I get really angry and fired up and I feel like my back is up against the wall, I will say vicious things," Stern said. "And rather than hide that, I would rather put that out on the radio and let someone see the full range of emotions. If you're going to be strong on the radio, you got to let it all out, even the ugly stuff. And you can't apologize for it."
But you may have to pay for it. The FCC has fined stations that carry Stern almost $3 million.
Did the FCC win and get rid of Stern?
"You could choose to look at it that way. I don't. I look at it that I won. I go to a new medium. I'm uncensored. And for me, it's a checkmate," says Stern.