With the news that the struggling satellite radio conglomerate Sirius XM may be filing for bankruptcy, fans of fart jokes and Artie Lange death-watchers everywhere are asking the question: What will happen to Howard Stern?
If Sirius XM needs to cut costs, getting rid of Howard would certainly free up some cash: $100 million a year, actually, which would pay for an awful lot of classic-rock deep cuts. But then again, cutting loose Howard Stern is a good way to lose a lot of subscribers. Stern was saying on his show just this morning that there’s nothing to worry about, it’s just a minor snafu and satellite radio will be ruling the free world on schedule. Obviously, that’s what he needs to say — it wouldn’t do to have the flagship host crapping his pants on air. And if it comes to pass that satellite radio does sign off, Stern’s listeners needn’t panic because satellite radio needs him more than he needs satellite radio.
I was e-mailing with marketing wizard and lifelong Sternophile Ernest Lupinacci (here’s some Stern inside-baseball trivia: Ernest is the man who orchestrated the Robert Goulet version of “Restless Restless.” If you’re a fan, you’ll know what that means), and he proposed that Stern could easily do the show on his own and sell it as a daily podcast, using the Ricky Gervais model. “In the new digital age, distribution is fungible,” Ernest wrote, adding that if Stern builds himself a studio, he can record a daily show and then easily distribute it to subscribers. Let’s say he has 3 million listeners willing to pay just $3 per month for daily podcasts. (As compared to Sirius XM’s $12.95 monthly rate.) That’s $108 million in revenue a year. And, Ernest adds, “he could hire a competent sales guy, and if they can generate (conservatively) another million a month in ad revenue — that’s $12 million more.” It ain’t Sirius money, and he’d likely have to pare down his staff, but it’s enough to keep his core group of cohosts and producers happy, with a little money left over for a Purell budget. (You don’t want to know the germs that a guest like Jeff the Vomit Guy will leave behind.)
It’s a great idea. Stern could tape the show in the afternoon, andmake it available right afterward; for the first time in his life, hecould sleep later than 5 a.m. on a regular basis. Sure, there would bedownsides: For example, if he did a show for download only, then he’dhave to tape it in advance, which means no call-ins. But really,haven’t we all heard enough phone calls from Eric the Midget to last usa few years? (He could plan ahead for phoners, though then he runs therisk of something like this.)
I actually think that with a podcast, his audience might grow closerto his old terrestrial numbers. (He used to boast 12 millionlisteners.) A lot of his old fans probably weren’t motivated to buy asatellite radio, thinking it was too complicated or expensive. And thenthere are people like me, for whom satellite radio is impractical: WhenI lived in L.A. and drove everywhere, I used to listen to Stern duringmy commute. But now I live in New York City, and travel by subway towork. (I’ve yet to find someone who has anything good to say aboutSirius’s portable Stiletto receiver.) But everybody’scomfortable with MP3 players these days; even Stern’s yahooiest ofyahoo listeners can figure one out. If a Stern fan discovered he coulddownload the latest show onto his iPod in a minute right before dashingout the door in the morning, he’d sign up.
And one final advantage to a podcast: You can fast forward. If he’stalking to a guest you have no interest in (or his irritatinghairdresser Ralph), you can skip ahead, and aren’t held hostage bySirius’ replay schedule. Wow, just the thought of fast-forwardingthrough Ralph is almost making me hope for satellite radio’s demise.
What do you think, Stern fans? Would you pay for a Howard podcast?