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During a speech delivered March 17, 1994, before the Federal Communications Bar Association in Washington, D.C., Quello explained that if the FCC were to continue granting new licenses to Infinity, that might be "misinterpreted as the FCC endorsing Infinity and Howard Stern's actions, [and] I believe it is antithetical to the public interest to authorize additional stations for probable dissemination of gross indecency and possibly obscene broadcasts by Stern."
Infinity tried, on several occasions, to take the FCC to court: The broadcaster tried to goad the commission into proving Stern was legally obscene and indecent, which is supposed to be determined by a particular community's standards. But the FCC never called the bluff; instead, the government agency engaged in what Stern calls "blackmail," holding up Infinity's licenses until the company paid the exorbitant fines.
"They should have brought me to court," Stern says. "That would have been the honorable thing to do. If they think I am doing something indecent or obscene, take me to court, and I should be in jail if I'm broadcasting indecent material. They never did. Infinity begged them to go to court. We kept filing papers saying we will go to court, but what happened was they delayed all of that for years, and they blackmailed Infinity. They cost them millions and millions of dollars.
"I don't know why this doesn't disturb journalists. I don't read about this. The United States government can't use blackmail in one situation through a government agency to get you to do something in a whole other scenario. What they did was unthinkable. And where were my fellow broadcasters? Where the fuck were these people? Where were the journalists? They think, Oh, I'm not gonna go to bat for Howard Stern. If it was Dan Rather who was having a First Amendment situation, we would go to bat for him."
But Stern was worth the money to Infinity. It was a minute amount compared to how much he brings in for the company and its affiliates every year. Stern won't disclose how much he makes in each of his markets; after all, this is the man who claims he dropped out of the last New York gubernatorial race because he didn't want to disclose his financial records. But it has been reported that his seven-year contract with KLSX-FM in L.A., signed in July 1991, is worth a little less than $1 million a year--plus percentages of the ad revenues he generates (Stern's deal with KLSX is unique in that the station airs his show live from 3 to 6 a.m., then goes to tape delay from 6 to about 10:30 a.m.; no other non-East Coast market airs Stern live). The average Stern makes in the major markets per year is $700,000, usually with a cut of the ad money; such was the deal he cut with Dallas' KEGL-FM in 1992. Figures for Phoenix are unavailable.
The only concrete evidence of Stern's salary in syndication was offered in October 1993 when Stern sued Chicago-based WLUP for dropping his show after 10 months into a three-year deal. The station, owned by Evergreen Media Inc., claimed it canceled Stern because he had lousy ratings and because of his never-ending trouble with the FCC; it was an "unacceptable risk," Evergreen insisted in a response to the Stern suit.
Stern, who's seeking $35 million for breach of contract and $10 million in punitive damages from Evergreen, countered that the company knew about his problems with the FCC and that Evergreen's claims were "made maliciously, with the intent of injuring" Stern's show--meaning it would appear to other potential syndicators that the show just wasn't worth the trouble. Court documents revealed that Stern was to earn $2.6 million over three years with WLUP, which included a flat salary per year and bonus money for an increase in ratings points.
The case, since stripped of its claims of fraud and reduced to a breach-of-contract and indemnity action, is still pending. After Evergreen filed myriad discovery proceedings against Stern and Infinity--just how, the company wondered, did Stern arrive at the $45 million sum?--the files were sealed by the court, but not before they revealed, according to Howard Stern: King of All Media author Paul Colford, that Stern and Infinity claimed Evergreen had succeeded at least temporarily in keeping the talk-show host out of Miami and Phoenix. He's in Miami and obviously Phoenix now, making about $400,000 to $500,000 a year for Infinity.
Evergreen "knows they're wrong," Stern says, his voice rising to a familiar boil. "They owe me the money. They're just doing bad business. They're a bunch of shits. They really are. I knew it the day I signed with them. Shaking the guy's hand--you know, sometimes you get a vibe? I just knew they were evil people, and they've proven it to me.
"They said, 'You know what? We don't want you, and we're not gonna pay you. Go fuck yourself.' And I'm not gonna let them get away with it. That's horseshit. I've honored all my deals. There have been times I would have loved to have gotten out of my contracts. When I was with NBC, I would have loved to have left NBC, but I was in a contract, and I lived up to my end of it.
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