Hey Now! How Howard Stern Became the King of All Media
“There are a lot of people hoping I fail. But I like that,” Howard Stern told Rolling Stone in 1994. “I need to be hated.”
It has been 25 years since that interview, and people still hate Stern. And most assuredly, many of his detractors want to see him fail — the only problem is, it doesn’t seem like he knows how. Over the past 40 years, the 65-year-old radio shock jock has built himself a media empire on crude humor, offensive jokes and stream-of-consciousness on-air rants.
Have you ever wondered how Stern went from a tiny house in Long Island to a mega mansion in Florida, created a massive fan following, earned hundreds of millions and drew the ire of the Federal Communications Commission? Then check out these highlights from Stern’s notorious — and highly entertaining — life and career.
Puppets and Paychecks
Howard Stern was born on January 12, 1954. His father worked a job in radio in Manhattan, his mother was a homemaker and the family lived in a $14,000 house on Long Island (specifically, this house). Stern wanted to get into entertainment at a young age — at 7 years old, his mother bought him marionettes, and he put on puppet shows for friends. One of his first paychecks was for $10 after putting on a “Fiddler on the Roof’ show at a retirement home.
Of course, this is Howard Stern, so things took a turn for the not-so-innocent. As he recalls in his 1993 autobiography, “Private Parts,” “One thing led to another and before I knew it I was doing dirty marionette shows….The shows got more and more perverse when I got a horse puppet.”
Presumably, this did not happen at the retirement home.
He Was Too Scared to Go on the Air
Stern had shown an interest in radio since childhood, and pursued it throughout his young adulthood. After high school he earned a degree in communications from Boston University and a diploma from the Radio Engineering Institute of Electronics in Fredericksburg, Virginia.
But he didn’t make waves when he first started. In fact, he couldn’t even bring himself to go to work at his first real radio job — after graduating, he was offered a job for $96 a week at a station in Westchester County in New York but was so nerve wracked that he couldn’t commit.
“I freaked out. I got real nervous that I wasn’t good enough,” Stern writes.
So He Took Another Gig…Which Ended Poorly
After turning down his first real broadcasting job, Stern, clamoring to make some money and start a family, took a job at the advertising agency Benton and Bowles.
“I lied and told them I loved math to get this bull[****], pencil-pushing marketing job. It was terrible. I had to wear a suit every day and my boss said, ‘Don’t worry. I want you to come in on Sunday, but you don’t have to wear your tie.’ I was miserable,’” he writes.
So he quit without notice…and then returned a day later for another job at the same company. Stern had applied for a position in their creative department they had actually hired him. He was there for three hours before being fired “because their personnel department realized that I was the guy who just quit the other department.”
Then He Went Back to His First Offer
Now seriously questioning his decision to turn down that radio gig, he called the Westchester station, WRNW, back, looking for another chance. He was lucky; the station had an opening, again for $96 a week, or about $403 in 2019 dollars.
However, the boss of the station thought Stern was terrible as a disc jockey, yet somehow this earned him a promotion. He was punctual and good with commercials, so the boss moved him up to program director and increased his paycheck to $250 a week — about $900 in 2019 dollars.
Then He Formed His Crew
After a few years, Stern left WRNW and headed over to the rock station WCCC in Hartford, Connecticut, for a morning host position. There, he met Fred Norris, who would become Stern’s longtime writer and on-air personality.
Stern was at WCCC for a year before quitting after being denied a $25/week raise. It was a good move — after spending some time in Detroit at W-4, he headed to Washington, D.C. at DC-101.
That’s where he met Robin Quivers (pictured), Stern’s right-hand-woman and newscaster that, to this day, Stern says he will quit the show if she leaves. At the time in 1981, Quivers had been working at a small station in Baltimore when Stern recruited her; Quivers received a tape of Stern interviewing a prostitute, she thought it was amazing, and the rest was history.
Turning up the Shock Jock Shtick
When Stern arrived in D.C. in 1981, he was determined to blow away the competition. This included skits and antics such as:
- Calling then-Mayor Marion Barry’s office, demanding a motorcade for his first day on the job, and screaming into the phone that Marion was a “girl’s name”
- Eating breakfast on the air for 18 minutes
- Introducing God as the weatherman
- Having God announce he was gay and living with a man named Bruce
- Reading hate mail on the air (there was a lot of hate mail)
- Talking about his wife’s miscarriage on air (she did not appreciate that)
After one year of Stern’s lewd-yet-intriguing morning show, the ratings had quadrupled. But apparently that didn’t mean more money — according to Stern, DC-101’s manager was angered that Stern was getting all the credit for the studio’s newfound success. When Stern asked for more money, he was denied, and so the shock jock left for greener pastures in New York City.
It would make Stern rich, but he would also be in a living hell at his new job.
Introducing Pig Vomit
At NBC’s radio station, WNBC-AM, Stern was making $200,000 a year. At 30 years old, that’s an incredible salary — but he was going to have to earn it. Within a month, he was suspended for a skit involving God talking about one of ‘his’ video games, which had to do with having the Virgin Mary run away from men at a singles bar in Jerusalem.
To make matters worse, WNBC bait-and-switched Stern about hiring Robin, and had no plans to do so. But he leveraged this to his advantage and told them Robin would have censored him, and that he needed her on air. It worked.
Supervising Stern at this time was someone called Kevin Metheny, whom Stern lovingly referred to as Pig Vomit (shown portrayed by Paul Giamatti in "Private Parts"). According to Stern, Metheny would throw phones when angry, forced Stern to get every skit approved beforehand and attempted to micromanage his show. He even installed a ‘dump bell,’ which would completely cut off the show whenever he wanted. He left passive-aggressive notes and generally made Stern’s life hell. In turn, Stern would go on the air and ridicule Metheny and other WNBC execs for their constant interference. At one point he even put out a promo on one exec, John Hayes, which included a bit about an art dealer wanting to put him in a gimp suit.
Stern was fired in October 1985. WNBC even offered the crew $50,000 if they left New York City. He refused.
Becoming No. 1
Stern quickly signed with Infinity Broadcasting (now CBS Radio) and was determined to beat WNBC in the ratings. He did. At his peak, 20 million people turned into the “Howard Stern Show.” In 1991, the show was syndicated in Los Angeles, and within a year it had become No. 1 in the ratings and earned Stern a seven-figure annual income. During the ‘90s, everyone would know who Howard Stern was, in one way or another.
A $10,000 Costume and the Movie About Farts that Failed
In 1992, Stern descended from the rafters at the MTV Video Music Awards dressed in a gold superhero costume with a short cape, large codpiece and cut-out butt cheeks. Here was Fartman, Howard Stern’s superhero (which was created by National Lampoon years before), whose farts were so powerful they could make him fly and destroy podiums. The Fartman costume cost $10,000 to make.
The character wasn’t just a one-off goof; at one point, studios were seriously considering making a Fartman movie, to be penned by the writer of “Pretty Woman” and “Under Siege.” Variety reported in 1992 that “The Adventures of Fartman” had a budget of $8-$11 million, and was expected to go into production that very year. Sadly, the film turned into nothing more than a fart in the wind. However, Stern’s infamous Fartman costume sold for $10,000 at auction in 2018.
The FCC Wouldn’t Let Him Be
During his time with Infinity, Stern would earn stiff penalties from the Federal Communications Commission. Here are just a few from just the first five years:
- A woman from New Jersey recorded Stern’s 1988 Christmas party sketch, which included jokes about masturbation, a piano player who used his “wiener” to play the keys, lesbian sex acts and jokes about masturbation. The FCC’s fine, which was levied in 1990, was $6,000 ($11,700 today).
- In 1992, the FCC issued a fine of $105,000 for comments on the “Howard Stern Show” about Pee Wee Herman masturbating, anal bleeding, drinking urine, erectile dysfunction (as portrayed via a “Honeymooners” parody skit), female grooming, penile enhancements and well, a lot of other stuff. You can read the FCC’s official complaint and the offending “Howard Stern Show” transcript online.
- A month later, the FCC decided to impose an even harsher fine relating to Stern’s previous comments, and fined Infinity Broadcasting $600,000. Stern calling for the FCC chair’s prostate cancer to spread probably didn’t help.
- By 1995, Infinity settled with the FCC for $1.7 million.
- That’s just the FCC cost. The president of Infinity once claimed the company spent over $3 million to defend him.
Becoming a Best-Selling Author...
In 1993, Stern released his rant-filled memoir, “Private Parts,” and it was a smash hit. At the time, it was the fastest-selling book with the fastest reprint order in Simon & Schuster’s history, selling 250,000 copies within just a few hours and going into its eighth printing within two weeks. It spend 20 weeks on the New York Times best seller list. His next book, “Miss America,” sold 33,000 on the first day it released in 1995 and spent 16 weeks on the bestseller list.
Twenty-four years later, Stern is releasing another book, “Howard Stern Comes Again,” in May 2019.
...and a Movie Star
With the release of his mega-selling book, Hollywood was eager to cash in on Stern’s booming popularity. Paramount released “Private Parts” in 1997, which starred Stern and featured Paul Giamatti as Pig Vomit. The movie had a $28 million production budget and made $41.2 million at the box office.
How to Become the “King of All Media”
You too can become the “King of All Media” with this one simple trick…simply declare it. As he told Piers Morgan:
“It was a goof…I always found it fascinating that Michael Jackson decided to call himself the ‘King of Pop.’ And I said to myself, ‘Wow that’s unbelievable. That’s obnoxious and pretentious, who’s gonna buy into that? Well, after a while, everywhere he was introduced, they called him the ‘King of Pop.’…It started as a joke but slowly but surely it was a name that became attributed to me.”
He Owns a Really Expensive House
Stern might have made up the nickname “King of All Media,” but if you judge him by his house, you might think it was an official title. In 2013, Stern reportedly purchased a $52 million home in Palm Beach, Florida, located within a gated community not far from Rush Limbaugh.
But apparently the $52 million home wasn’t perfect — Stern spent another $13 million renovating the property, which has two structures totaling 39,000 square feet of inside and outside living space.
Fines and a Firing
In 2004, the FCC targeted Stern again, this time with 18 violations from a show that aired on April 9, 2003. The show in question had comments related to “Sphincterine,” a fictional version of Listerine that would go…well, you can guess that one. Aggravated by Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl XXVIII halftime “wardrobe malfunction,” the FCC was cracking down on indecency and had warned Stern’s broadcasting studio that fines would be levied per occurrence, rather than per an entire show. The fine? $495,000. This resulted in the firing of Stern, which led to him moving to satellite radio and away from FCC-managed airwaves.
In total, Stern’s show received $2.5 million in fines from 1990 until 2004.
Monster Contracts Away from ‘Terrestrial’ Radio
After the headaches of the FCC and his broadcasting company increased awareness (and censorship) over Stern’s show, Stern signed a five-year, $500 million deal with Sirius XM Radio in 2006, which would allow him to swear and talk about any body part he felt like. That doesn’t mean Stern received $100 million a year all by himself, as the $100-million per annum check would be split up among operating costs; it’s estimated that Stern brought home over $40 million. In 2010, he re-upped his contract with Sirius for a reported $400 million five-year contract. And in 2015, he resigned again, this time for an estimated $80 million-per-year contract.
His Net Worth
While Stern is pretty secretive about how much money he makes, Forbes estimates that he made $90 million in 2018 and has a net worth of at least $450 million. Not bad for a kid from Long Island who used to play with puppets.