After Shock

Howard Stern's switch to satellite means a whole new world for Phoenix radio. And for me

I used to think I was a big Howard Stern fan, but that was before I met Alice Rubio.

For the past 10 years -- the entire time Stern has been on the Phoenix airwaves -- Rubio has tuned in to his show, every day, all morning, with rapt attention.

She wakes up to Howard, gets ready to Howard, and drives from her home in Glendale to her office in downtown Phoenix, listening to Howard. She even works to the sound of Howard, dispatching calls for Qwest with one ear and listening to her hero with the other. Through no fault of her own, Rubio did miss one month in that decadelong stretch. In 2001, the local station that had been hosting Stern's show switched to a Spanish-language format. Stern was out, and it took another month to get him signed up and on air at KZON-FM 101.5.

"Those were the worst 30 days of my life," Rubio confesses.

Rubio is 43, but her cheerful exuberance makes her seem much younger. She's worked for Qwest for 25 years, until recently in bilingual sales. She's also a shop steward for her union. She campaigned, hard, for John Kerry.

She and her husband, Mario, have raised three boys, now 24, 21, and 14. Thanks to her, all three are fans.

"I got them into Howard," she says.

In some ways, Rubio is a very cool mom. For example: Last month she took 21-year-old Matthew to New York for Stern's farewell to FM radio. (More on that later.) And she sent him, via taxi, to Stern's favorite strip club, Score's, with an admonition not to get in any trouble and to come straight home after.

But she can be tough, in ways that are also related to Howard. When Clear Channel gave Howard the boot, Rubio responded in kind, barring her sons from attending concerts at the Clear Channel-owned Cricket Pavilion.

"I missed the Ozzfest," Matthew Rubio says, matter-of-factly.

"I told them they can't go," Alice Rubio says, smiling sweetly at her boy. "Not after what Clear Channel did to Howard."

In the last month, everything about Alice Rubio's morning ritual has changed.

On December 16, Howard Stern did his final broadcast on FM radio.

Fed up with fines from the FCC and offered a sweet $500 million deal, Stern was fleeing to the satellite service Sirius, which offers its content through specially equipped radios for a $12.95 monthly fee.

And that's when Alice Rubio flew to New York, with Matthew, to witness Stern's farewell show.

When the Yahoo! Webcast -- broadcast online to an estimated 4.4 million fans -- showed the crowd at Union Square, the two Rubios were the first fans to come into view: cold, wet, but undeniably thrilled to be there. Though you couldn't see it on the Yahoo! footage, Alice Rubio was also sporting her Arizona "HWRD 100" license plate around her neck.

It was the first time Alice Rubio had ever been to New York. And by being there, she missed her husband's birthday. (Mario Rubio, despite listening to Stern every morning with his wife, is not a huge fan. "I tune him out half the time," he says.)

To Alice Rubio, there was no question about whether to go.

"I have to go," she told Mario. "I have to be there!"

Stern made her laugh for 10 years.

She felt that she owed him much more than one lousy trip to New York. But at least that was something.

And so there was also no question of what Alice Rubio would do when Stern launched his satellite career this month. She bought the equipment, got a subscription, and spent three long weeks after her New York trip waiting for the Sirius show to start, waiting for the return of her hero.

She loves the Howard Stern Show. This is not necessarily a love she can explain. When I press her, she explains that Howard is honest. That he tells it like he sees it.

But it really comes down to emotion, not intellect.

"If I don't wake up with him," she says, "I'm in a bad mood all day. It's like the sun doesn't come up."

He makes her happy. That's all there is to it.

For me, things are not so simple.


If Alice Rubio, with her three kids and Mexican heritage, doesn't quite fit the image of the stereotypical Howard Stern fan, then neither, I suppose, do I.

I was raised in an emphatically Christian home, so much so that I didn't actually see an R-rated movie until I was 17. When we watched TV, it was nature shows on PBS, or sports.

Nothing with so much as a whiff of sex. I had to sneak over to my friends' houses just to watch Beverly Hills, 90210 -- which, in retrospect, was about as sexy as watching Barbie and Ken hang around their beach house.

I'm no longer under the familial thumb. I've moved cross-country (twice), gotten divorced (once), and announced my plans to join a church that my parents consider borderline blasphemous (Catholic). I'm no 28-year-old virgin.

And while my parents have never had a problem with a glass of wine at dinner, let's just say I now drink it by the bottle. Alas.

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