After Shock

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

By harrumphing about the wrongness of his beliefs, most radio shows would have taken Carver far more seriously than he deserved. By letting him talk instead, Howard made him look like an idiot.

On the Howard Stern Show, a KKK kleagle like Carver wasn't a scary guy in a hood who could kill you.

He was a not-very-bright, not-very-successful redneck who sold racist knickknacks from a post-office box.

83 hours a year of . . . well, what was it exactly?
Dan May
83 hours a year of . . . well, what was it exactly?
Laughing beats road rage.
Dan May
Laughing beats road rage.

Really, Carver's commentaries probably did the KKK more harm than six Jesse Jacksons. If that pathetic dude is a racist, I like to imagine some teenager thinking, why would I want to be one?

It's something Howard's critics didn't get. They'd call in sometimes, or pen op-eds for the newspaper about The End of the World As We Know It, as exemplified by the fact that here was a radio host who was always trying to talk women into getting naked, or letting KKK members talk about black people.

Howard would get testy. "It's a joke!" he'd cry. "Don't you get it, people?? It's FUNNY."

I spoke to a dozen Stern fans in the Phoenix area. When they recalled their favorite moments on the show, none of them talked about the crass bits, or girls getting naked. (Well, okay, one guy did. But he was the exception.)

These were smart people. Lawyers, professors, accountants. At one point, I discovered that even my father -- not just a religion teacher, but an intellectual who hates pop culture -- had actually listened to Howard on occasion. And kinda liked it.

What these people agreed about was that the show was intelligent. That the interviews were good because Howard didn't kiss up to anyone.

That it was funny, and irreverent.

You didn't have to like the parts with strippers, or the farting. The only thing that mattered was that you didn't take anything too seriously -- especially yourself.

After all, you could get offended, but then you'd just miss the next joke.

Most people who like Stern as much as I do bought Sirius subscriptions back in December.

"I've listened to other shows in the morning, like the Edge, when Howard is on vacation," explains Donald Ortiz, a 29-year-old who lives in Mesa and works in a machine shop. "They're funny, but they just don't keep me as interested."

Ortiz's wife hooked him up with Sirius for Christmas. "In a perfect world, I'd prefer he was on FM radio," Ortiz says. "But it's not like I wasn't going to keep listening."

Brittany Ogden, 21, who works in college admissions, bought Sirius equipment last month for her house and her car.

"Howard was definitely the main motivation," she says. "He's frickin' hilarious."

Before the satellite service announced last summer that Stern had signed with it, Sirius had 662,000 subscribers. Today it's got 3.3 million, says spokesman Patrick Reilly, and counting.

But even with Sirius' rising subscriber base, satellite channels still only account for about 3 percent of radio listeners.

On FM radio, Stern was thought to draw 12 million listeners a day (see "What's the Frequency, Phoenix?"). Even with three million-plus going to satellite, there are plenty of regular listeners who decided not to make the move.

One of them is me.

Despite my affection for Stern, I long struggled with my appreciation for the show. I vowed to give it up more than once.

My feelings hit a fever pitch this winter.

The catalyst was a segment involving a regular caller named High Pitch Eric, who was chiefly popular because he has a permanent falsetto that he uses to great effect in prank calls.

This, I must admit, was not interesting to me.

And it got worse.

Someone on the show got the idea of taking bets on how much, in pounds, that High Pitch excreted over the course of a 24-hour period.

Yes, they planned to weigh his crap.

That's about the most disgusting image I could possibly summon, short of anal ring toss, which, come to think of it, they also once tried on the Howard Stern Show.

I wanted nothing to do with this.

So I changed the station, faithfully, whenever the High Pitch/crap concept was discussed.

I found myself drifting over to National Public Radio. Most of my friends, even the ones who used to listen to Stern back in the day, seemed to be starting their sentences lately by saying, "This morning on NPR . . ."

While I, of course, was limited to, "So Howard had this porn star on . . ."

I started to wonder if I was shallow. And, if I wasn't, why did I listen to a show that's obsessed with weighing some freak's fecal material?

I'd been trying to convince my boyfriend that the show really was intelligent, and he had challenged me: What, exactly, he asked, had I ever learned by listening?

And this was all I could come up with: When Fred Durst was on the show, he volunteered that, down below, Britney Spears does not prefer a tidy Brazilian wax.

She's got an old-school '70s-style bush.

Of course, it was huge news. (This is when Britney was still hot.) I called my friend Erin the moment I got to work, and we must have gasped at the horror for a good 10 minutes.

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