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.
"They're like, 'Hey, what jury's gonna believe Howard Stern?' I'll take my chances with the jury. I'll sit down and tell them what's what. Anybody who works for a living, who has done a day's work and hasn't been paid for it because somebody decided to stiff them, they'll understand."
Then he sort of half smiles, the hurricane reduced to an exhausted, resigned breeze. "This is just another case of: Fuck it, it's just Howard Stern."
Gary Dell'Abate is perhaps the best known of Stern's associates. The producer of Stern's radio show, the man who actually keeps the runaway train if not on the tracks then at least near them, the large-toothed Dell'Abate has become sort of the show's mascot--"Baba Booey" he is called, so named because he once mispronounced the name of cartoon character Baba Looey, and the name stuck.
Dell'Abate recalls the moment he realized Stern had transcended stardom and become a true celebrity. It occurred during the 1993 Private Parts book signing in Manhattan, when Stern closed down an entire Manhattan block. "I rode over with Howard to his very first book signing," Dell'Abate says. "And Howard had no idea. We got stuck on Fifth Avenue six blocks before the bookstore, and we're thinking there must be an accident up ahead. And when we got two blocks away and we saw the crowd, that's when it started to hit him that that's what was going on. As we got closer, as we got about a block away, everybody surrounded the limo and started pounding on the roof. It was like the Beatles! I got scared because they were out of their minds. All you could see was a sea of bodies, and I remember thinking, 'He's fuckin' big now, man. Wow!'"