Monday, January 07, 2008

Freeing the Slaves

Howard really can never get a break in the press. What starts out as a nice piece in Variety about his incredible impact in single handedly reshaping the satellite radio market, ends with a slam.


It points out that Sirius subscriptions have grown to almost 8 million, mostly because of Howard. But supposedly, Howard isn't noticed as much as he used to be because he is only on Sirius. Supposedly, his listenership has "dramatically decreased." What the fuck? That's total bullshit.

Now, there have never been any really good numbers on what Howard's original radio audience was, because it was constantly changing as new stations added him, and some stations pulled him, and it fluctuated from day to day. But eight million is just about the top of the number of regular listeners he at at the height of his traditional broadcasting career. By the end, because so many stations were pulling him because of FCC pressure, he had only 6.5 million regular listeners. His audience was shrinking on traditional radio because of too many commercials and censorship restrictions. (Yet, somehow, magically the press started saying his audience had been 12 million after he left. I can't find anything to back up that number. Perhaps it was the number of samples he might have over a week or a month, but I can't find anything to back up the number.)

He took an audience of 300,000 for Sirius and grew it to 8 million in a couple years, larger than his broadcast audience when he left. And his audience is still growing by over 30% a year. Moreover, before Howard could only be heard in some select cities. Sirius is broadcast across the nation and to the world on the internet. And since Howard can be heard twenty four hours, what listeners he does have can hear him for longer periods of time each day.

(Moreover, he's widely pirated over the internet, so you can probably toss in a couple million listeners who are stealing his shows. And while I can't get any sales figures, he has millions of potential viewers on Howard TV.)

If the Sirius XM merger goes through, his audience will instantly jump to 17 million, unquestionably much larger than he ever had. So why would Howard be worrying about his influence? He's got more influence than ever.

Speaking of which we're into 2008 and still no sign that the Sirius/XM merger is going to go through. Mel had promised it would be completed by the end of 2007. Here's an article with the latest take on the situation.


If the merger finally doesn't go through, who will be to blame? Howard?

Here's a spoof piece that blames him by saying that congressmen are trying to punish him:


While it's meant as a joke, there might be a little something to that. There are a lot of conservative politicians that can't stand the idea that Howard has freed himself of FCC oversight. There are some nutty media activists that have been put out of jobs monitoring Howard's latest use of the word penis and trying to get him fined or off the air.

The more serious issue is that there are still a lot of people who don't want a free flow of uncensored material in the world. Its a cabal of giant corporate interests who want information controlled so they can be the only ones that make money from it, to corrupt politicians who want it controlled to keep themselves in power and religious leaders who want it controlled so everyone thinks the way they want them to think.

Subscription cable blew away a lot of censorship restrictions, and the Internet wiped out the rest. Satellite radio gave you uncensored audio for your car and freed Howard of the FCC.

The stakes in all this are higher than Howard just being able to say penis a lot. I don't think it's far fetched to say that a lot of trouble Howard got into with the FCC in his last few years was aggravated by his criticism of the Bush administration. In fact, even his criticism of the FCC was exposing the too cozy relationship between big media and the government.

Today Howard talked about liking what Ron Paul had to say during the Presidential debates.


While Howard didn't really endorse him, he certainly sung his praises. Howard getting behind a politician like that, who is hated by the corporate establishment, could actually make a real difference.

There certainly are some people who would prefer not to see Howard's audience go from 8 million to 17 million thanks to a merger. So maybe it is Howard's fault after all. But as I've said before, it really doesn't matter if the merger goes through or not. Sirius subscriptions are still growing quickly. They will overtake XM in the long run. Before that happens, I'd be willing to bet Sirius and XM would make a side deal to merge programming, while keeping the hardwire sides of the business separate.

But the best way for Howard to really expand his audience is through the internet. Right now, there are too many self imposed restrictions on Sirius over the internet. I believe Howard is too smart not to be aware that he needed to get on people's iPods and iPhones eventually. I think that the merger talks have been holding up that. If the merger goes through he can still do it, and if it falls apart he can still do it.

Listening to the first part of the History of Howard Stern documentary that has been airing on Howard 100 it's really kind of amazing what this guy went through. How hard he kept fighting against every obstacle. Most people would have given up. Howard Stern will go down in history as one of the real heros of the last century fighting against censorship and the corporations and government gatekeepers who used it to try to control the populous. Truly, Howard is kind of a Abraham Lincoln who freed the slaves. The slaves in this case being the American people who were told by the government what they were allowed to think and say.

So regardless of what happens with the merger, I know that Howard will keep on fighting, and his voice will be heard by more people than ever for long after his radio show ends.