One or more could fill Stern's vacant morning drive-time seat in January, when the radio icon surrenders his syndicated kingdom for Sirius Satellite Radio. But it's time to face the truth, for better or worse: terrestrial radio may never see another Howard Stern.
"He is irreplaceable," said Michael Harrison, founder of the trade publication Talkers magazine. "Stern is one of a kind, among the very, very small handful of people that were THE broadcasters of the 20th century— and carrying into the 21st."
Love him or hate him, Stern remains an extraordinary industry figure. He boasts a national audience larger than even his ego, advertising revenues bigger than both, a three-decade career that expanded from broadcasting into television and publishing for the self-proclaimed King of All Media.
He's the First Amendment poster boy, warring with the Federal Communication Commission, and the biggest star on satellite before his first Sirius show even airs, with a five-year, $500 million deal.
Most of all, he's a tough act to follow.
Stern's syndicated show hit No. 1 in the ratings in New York, Philadelphia, Washington and Los Angeles — an unprecedented achievement. In the most recent Arbitron ratings, Stern had New York's WXRK-FM at No. 1 in the mornings; in afternoon drive, the station slipped into a tie for 17th.
For the 27 Infinity Broadcasting stations that carry Stern, "he leaves a big hole," said Tom Taylor, editor of the trade publication Inside Radio. "The challenges are steep."
Stern stations were expected to take a major financial hit, with estimates of about $100 million in lost revenue for Infinity. There's the promise of lost audience, too; a July study of Stern fans showed just 5 percent of his estimated 12 million listeners plan to stick with his ex-stations once Howard abdicates.
"This turns a lot of listeners loose," said Taylor. "The competition has been looking forward to this for a long time."